Chicago celebrates Medicare's 50th anniversary

Medicare is as American as apple P.I.E (Protect, Improve, Expand).

By Anne Scheetz, M.D.
Illinois Single-Payer Coalition, Aug. 2, 2015

So proclaimed approximately 200 representatives of National Nurses United (NNU), the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition (ISPC), Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP), and more than twenty Chicago labor and community groups on July 30, the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid.

Chanting slogans such as "Health care is a human right! Fight, fight, fight!" and "This system, let's stop it! Our health is not for profit!" the crowd, led by disability/single-payer activists propelling wheelchairs, marched on the Chicago office of Humana, third largest health insurance company in Illinois, and the largest purveyor of Medicare Advantage Plans (MAPs).

There, medical student and SNaHP leader Scott Goldberg denounced the $22.9 billion overpayment Humana's MAPs received from Medicare between 2011 and 2014--the excess over what traditional Medicare would have spent for the same patients. (Read the speech here.)

A delegation then entered the building and attempted to present an invoice for this amount to Humana. They were not received and left upon being told they were trespassing. Although Humana promised to send a representative to meet with the delegation outside, no one appeared. 

Returning to a nearby park, people ate apple pie supplied by NNU and listened to a series of inspiring speeches.

Susan Aarup for ISPC and Michael Grice (also an ISPC member) spoke about the importance of single-payer heath care for people with disabilities (read their speeches here and here.)

Katie Jordan of the Illinois Alliance for Retired Americans spoke about the important contribution of Medicare to seniors' ability to retire with dignity (read her speech here).

Byron Sigcho of the Pilsen Alliance spoke about health care justice for immigrants (read his speech here).

Mack Julion, President, National Association of Letter Carriers, and Executive member of the Chicago Federation of Labor, spoke of the universally detrimental effect of health care costs on contract bargaining.

Rev. Wendy Witt, First United Methodist Church, Chicago Temple, spoke on behalf of the People’s Lobby, which works for economic justice including publicly funded and administered health care.

ISPC member N'Dana Carter spoke of the Chicago Mental Health Movement's fight for access to public mental health clinics.

Victoria Crider of the South Side Trauma Center Campaign spoke about the fight for an adult trauma center in an area of Chicago that is at once a trauma care desert and a center of gun violence; and about the inability of residents of surrounding communities to access care at University of Chicago Medical Center because of financial barriers--a discrepancy that would be resolved by Medicare for all.

Jean Ross, NNU Co-president, spoke out of her personal experience as a nurse, as well as addressing attacks on Medicare by health insurance companies and politicians. Promising that nurses will do whatever it takes to prevent the suffering that these attacks would produce if successful, she concluded, "We will never acquiesce to a system based on the idea that some deserve more care than others." Read her speech here.

Keynote speaker Dr. David Ansell of PNHP demanded that insurance companies be limited to insuring buildings and cars, not people's health, and led the crowd in chants of "Everybody in, nobody out!"

Emily Henkels, PNHP national organizer, together with members of SNaHP, engaged the crowd in social media.

State Prepresentatives Mary Flowers (31) and Will Guzzardi (39) joined organizers on the stage at the conclusion of the program.

Flowers is the chief sponsor of the Illinois Universal Health Care Act, currently HB 108, which she first introduced in 2007. In 2008, she held hearings around the state on the need for Medicare for all, and she has re-introduced the bill in each subsequent General Assembly. The bill passed out of committee on February 18 of this year with the help of first-term representative Guzzardi, laying the foundation for continued organizing in the upcoming session.

Additional organizations that endorsed the event: Alliance for Community Services, Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, Champaign County AFL-CIO, Chicago ADAPT, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, Chicago Jobs with Justice, Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, IIRON, Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice, Progressive Democrats of America Illinois, Radical Public Health, Reclaim Chicago, and United Electrical Workers Western Region.

Members of still other organizations participated in the day, including Access Living, ADAPT of Chicago Productions, American Federation of Government Employees, Chicago Gray Panthers, Fearless Leading by the Youth, Friedman Place, Illinois Green Party, Illinois Media Progressives, Progress Center Illinois, and United Auto Workers Local 557.

Members of ISPC's People with Disabilities Committee noted that the sign language interpreter (supported by ISPC) was very good; and that sound system and the wheelchair ramp to the stage worked well.

ISPC members signed up about 75 new supporters of single-payer health care.

While celebrating the past 50 years, organizers of this wonderful event see it as the foundation for a broader fight for single-payer health care in Illinois and nationally, and for continuing the struggle for social justice of which health care is one part.

ISPC members will follow up with newly identified supporters.

The collaborating organizations look forward to working together in the future. 

Next event: The national single-payer strategy conference, sponsored by Healthcare-NOW!, the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare, and One Payer States, with a simultaneous conference by PNHP, will meet in Chicago October 30 to November 1 (more information here). We hope to see you there!