By Healthcare-NOW!

June 3, 2009

Legal charges against the “Baucus 13” were settled in a series of court hearings held earlier this week. The 13 were charged with disruption of congress after they attempted to speak on behalf of single payer healthcare reform at two Senate Finance Committee hearings on healthcare in May.

Senator Baucus, the chair of the Finance Committee, had refused repeated requests to call witnesses who could speak on behalf of single-payer at the May public hearings and had publicly stated that single payer healthcare reform was “off the table”.

The protesters demanded that Senator Baucus put single payer on the table. They were immediately arrested by the Capitol Police. The arrestees included five doctors, two nurses, an advocate for the homeless, a labor organizer and leaders of other organizations promoting universal, single payer healthcare for all Americans. Eight were arrested at the May 5 hearing and five more on May 12. The May 12 hearing also witnessed dozens of nurses—members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee—in hospital scrubs standing in silent protest for several minutes.

The arrests sparked a public outcry and widespread media attention. In the weeks after the incident, single-payer advocates were invited to testify before the Senate Health, Education and Labor (HELP) Committee as well as the House Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and HELP Committees. Senator Baucus was forced to concede that it was a mistake to rule out a single-payer plan because doing so, “alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama’s proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.” (NY Times, 6/24/09).

All members of the Baucus 13 vowed to continue their fight to establish healthcare as a human right for all Americans. “If Senator Baucus thinks this is over, he is sadly mistaken,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland physician. “This is just the beginning. We will not stop until every American has the right to healthcare.”