As probation ends for 'Baucus 8,' group vows to press for single-payer health reform

Jan. 8, 2010

Margaret Flowers, M.D.,
Carol Paris, M.D.
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006,
WASHINGTON – Members of the “Baucus 8,” a group of doctors and health advocates who were arrested at a Senate Finance Committee meeting last May for standing up and asking why single-payer proponents were not being allowed to testify, appeared at the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse today for their final hearing following six months of probation and, for three of them, 40 hours of community service.

Dr. Pat Salomon, a retired pediatrician, commented on the circumstances that prompted their original action. “When we looked at the list of 41 people testifying in the three days of the Finance Committee’s roundtable on health care, we saw that not a single witness was an advocate of the principle that health care should be a fundamental human right for all in America, nor was there anyone to speak for the majority of the American people who support single-payer Medicare for All,” she said.

Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., chair of the Senate Finance Committee, had convened the May 5 roundtable to kick off the public consideration of the 111th Congress’ legislative proposals for health care reform. Weeks before, the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, a coalition of nurses, doctors, labor, faith, health advocate and community groups representing over 20 million people nationwide, had sent a request to the Finance Committee for one of its leaders testify.

When the request was denied, thousands of single-payer supporters across the nation contacted the committee to request that single payer be included in the discussion of health reform proposals, Salomon said.

“Despite the outpouring of requests, we were clearly told that we would be excluded,” said Katie Robbins of Healthcare-NOW. “This cemented our growing impression that the health care debate was at best, political theater, and that we would have to try a different tactic in order that the only really affordable health reform solution that addresses the real health care needs of 100 percent of our nation be heard.”

Robbins and the seven others then decided to stand up and speak out in a dignified way, one by one, at the Finance Committee and risk arrest for committing nonviolent civil disobedience. They were taken into custody by the Capitol Police, charged with “disruption of Congress” and released several hours later. Another five single-payer advocates were arrested the following week after taking similar action.

Kevin Zeese of ProsperityAgenda.US called the committee “pay to play” because, as he said, “Every seat at the roundtable was bought by the lobbyists. Sen. Baucus received nearly $2 million in campaign contributions from the health industry in 2008 and the entire Senate Finance Committee received over $13 million in 2008.”

“Congress and the White House keep calling the medical industry corporations ‘the stakeholders’ in this reform process,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). “But we know that the true stakeholders are those who provide and receive medical care, not those who profit off the current situation.”

Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action said, "After we were arrested, Senator Baucus admitted that it was a mistake to take single payer off the table. Clearly it was. Both the House and Senate bills would require Americans to buy a junk insurance at an inflated price. This bill is a bailout of the insurance industry. Instead of bailing out the private insurance companies, we ought to get rid of them and replace them with one public insurance pool. Everybody in, nobody out. Congress ought to defeat this monstrosity, start from scratch and pass single payer. We will get single payer sooner or later. Better sooner."

Dr. Carol Paris, also of PNHP and a practicing physician in southern Maryland, said, “Wendell Potter, formerly of CIGNA and Humana, calls the legislation pending in Congress ‘The Private Health Insurance Profit Protection and Enhancement Act.’ And we agree, because the final legislation will benefit the medical corporations, further strengthening their ability to buy members of Congress, and will continue the expensive and complicated health situation that we have in this country right now which makes it difficult for patients and doctors to focus on health care.”

In fact, as an example of the revolving door between those who are lobbyists and those who are staff, several members of the group pointed to Liz Fowler, former vice president of public policy at WellPoint, one of the largest health insurers in the nation. Fowler left her lucrative position to work as the point person in the Senate Finance Committee to oversee the legislation, they said, and her name appears as the creator of a Baucus document titled “Framework for Comprehensive Health Reform” issued last September.

Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer said the group’s action has been vindicated by the subsequent actions in the Senate. “The current deplorable proposals for health care reform under consideration in Congress show what happens when you start bargaining by conceding all of the terrain to your opponent. Any shop steward in America would have done a better job than the leaders of the political party in control of overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress.”

In addition to requesting that the eight be put on probation, the prosecutor insisted that the three defendants who lived in the Washington area also perform 40 hours of community service.

“I spend every day serving my community,” said Adam Schneider, who is employed by Health Care for the Homeless. “I’m proud of the stand we took and had no problem doing an extra 40 hours of service to my community. But if there was any justice in the world, Sen. Baucus and his corporate sponsors would have also been required to spend 40 hours with my clients to understand their desperate need for access to health care before they give a $500 billion bailout to the private health insurance industry.”

The group is unanimous that no matter what passes this year, the push for genuine health care reform is not over. Patients will continue to suffer and die needlessly, families will continue to face bankruptcy and foreclosure because of medical debt until we have a national publicly financed and privately delivered single-payer, Medicare-for-All health system. Such a system would be transparent and accountable to the public, unlike the current situation in which private insurers are experts at hiding information from the public and at violating their own written rules without recourse.

This year saw tremendous growth in a national movement for Medicare for All, they said. They vowed to continue to do whatever it takes, even facing arrest again, to get an honest and open-minded debate about what type of health system is best, so that people of the United States can be healthy and productive and stop worrying about what they will do if accident or illness strikes.