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December 17, 2009

By Donna Smith

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Sickening. Saddening. Maddening. And the stuff of future determination in the political struggle for healthcare for all in the United States.

On the floor of the U.S. Senate today, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont rose to offer his single-payer, Medicare for All amendment No. 2837 and to begin debate. Then, one of the two Republican doctors in Senate, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, demanded a full reading of the 700-page amendment.

From the Senate gallery, I watched as Sen. Max Baucus told Sanders the only way to halt the Republican delay tactic would be to withdraw the amendment. Sanders stated emphatically to Baucus, “I will offer this amendment.” But both men left the chamber as the amendment reading went on.

The Republicans seemed to be pleased with the procedural maneuver. Periodically one of the Democratic leadership would walk over to Coburn and chat. He’d smile and lean on his stack of documents – everything being very well staged for the C-SPAN cameras.

I thought how cold and callous it all looked from the gallery – healthcare is not a laughing matter for millions of us. This crisis has killed thousands of our fellow citizens and bankrupted millions more. I fail to find any of that remotely funny or something over which any Senator ought to feel pride as he or she blocks progress towards a better healthcare system.

The words of the amendment were clear and clean. And though not many were there to actually listen, I couldn’t help but hear the details of the amendment and wish people could grasp the simple beauty of knowing each of us, all of us would have the care we need when we needed it at a lower cost. Instead, we’re going to have more of the mess we have now – more insurance company influence over our lives and our bodies, and in many cases at a higher cost.

Single-payer, amendment number 2837 sounded pretty good to me. I was more than willing to wait out the Republican mischief and the Democrats’ worry about not passing something – anything – before Christmas. I was more than willing to listen to every word.

After two hours of reading page after page of the amendment, Sanders stepped back up to his desk and withdrew the amendment. The reading stopped. And the fight for single-payer, Medicare for all died for this Congressional cycle.

Senator Sanders stood proudly and defiantly at the microphone and delivered the floor speech on behalf of single-payer. By then it was all over except for getting his intelligent remarks and his passion on the record. Those who care about where we need to go with this nation’s healthcare system should listen to Senator Sanders’ floor speech from today, December 16, 2009.

The fight will go on. As surely as the deaths attributable to a lack of access to healthcare in the United States will continue to mount and as surely as the number of bankruptcies directly related to medical crisis will also continue to rise, so too will the cry for real healthcare justice. This Congress and this President are not going to get to the place we needed them to go. They are not extending healthcare as a basic human right to all of us.

It makes me wish I had purchased a little health insurance stock along the way. Because as soon as Joe Lieberman made sure that he cleared out any chance of any public insurance expansion at all from this bill, the for-profit health insurance companies saw their stocks begin to rise again.

So, how do we get through this cycle? Will there be a conference committee effort to restore a state based single-payer amendment to health reform legislation? Or will we just watch as Congress passes some messy piece of something that isn’t likely to do very much at all to mitigate the healthcare crisis in this nation just to claim they did something?

And what of the single-payer advocates and movement? Well, in the words of the brave nurses who never took “no” for an answer on other healthcare issues from the “Governator” or anyone else, “We’ll be back.” Healthcare is a human right now and it will be when we win this struggle. It’s just going to take more time and, unfortunately, more suffering to get where we need to go.

Meanwhile, many of us wait anxiously for reports out of Pennsylvania where they were having a state Senate hearing today on their state single-payer bill. We have miles to go before we sleep.

By Donna Smith

Healthcare-NOW!

As my grandmother used to say, “I was born on a weekend but not last weekend.” The latest insult to Americans hungry for a bit of healthcare justice for all comes from the news that the Senate health bill now allows insurance companies to place annual limits on payments for some catastrophic illnesses, like cancer.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Another day. Another lie uncovered in the process. Another piece of this reform bill that favors the for-profit health insurance industry.

Associated Press’ Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes, “Health care loophole would allow coverage limits”: “A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.

“The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.

“As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not ‘unreasonable.’ The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.”

Read that passage again folks. The bill was “tweaked.” No official or legal amendment required when the insurance industry needs a tweak they damn well get a tweak. And this is quite a tweak.

Just hours ago, I continued to read reports that claimed our healthcare reformers in Congress were doing away with pre-existing condition clauses and also ending lifetime caps on coverage. Some patients and families were thrilled with this change alone, and most especially those people struggling with serious illnesses.

This summer, a friend of mine in Colorado was asked to introduce President Obama at a forum in Grand Junction. Nathan Wilkes was selected to do so because he could speak clearly and passionately about his family’s troubles keeping enough insurance coverage for his son, Thomas, who has a serious blood disorder. My friend has been and is a supporter of Medicare for all, single-payer type reform, but this opportunity to introduce the President and weigh in about eliminating lifetime benefit caps was a powerful pull. Nathan gave an intelligent and emotional intro for the President, and he was later invited to Washington to watch Obama’s address to Congress on healthcare reform.

Well, the joke’s on you Nathan and on a lot of others who trusted the details of reform being sold by members of Congress and President Obama. Only this is not at all funny. Families like the Wilkes family will go broke trying to keep kids like Thomas alive. And kids like Thomas will die without the care they need.

Nathan responded to the latest news out of the Senate with the clarity of a father who has fought hard to support reform that would make our system better not more problematic, “Now it looks like such plans will have a floor before they start covering (beyond the deductible/out-of-pocket) and a ceiling at which they stop (no “unreasonable annual limits”). That is the sweet spot for profiteering health insurers. They avoid paying the common and the catastrophic, while soaking up premiums from all of us.”

The death panels allowed by this legislation are those set up and protected by the insurance industry – and tweaked into law by Congress and the President.

You simply cannot do this sort of tweaking and not have people notice. Did you think the Wilkes family wouldn’t notice when the annual cap is reached for Thomas and they have to start paying out of pocket or stop treatment?

This process has been fraught with disclosures of the misleading marketing of various details in the reform legislation from all involved. Who can the American public trust on this? Anybody?

As we sit on the verge of 2010, we citizens have some more political work of our own to do. We need to do some tweaking in the streets and at the polls. Because we surely are not going to get healthcare as a basic human right from this Congress and this administration. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem to get it.

When we do the math for ourselves and when we watch you all play a deadly game of push-me, pull-me with our healthcare reform legislation, we know for certain you are only maneuvering for political advantage while we are out here fighting for our lives, our health and for our financial security. You didn’t hear us loudly enough at the polls in 2008, apparently.

Let me get this straight. You will force us to buy private insurance products that will not guarantee approval of treatment or payment for treatment. You will tax our insurance benefits if our employers offer those deemed as “Cadillac coverage” regardless of whether or not we make less than $250,000 a year. You cannot guarantee that employers will keep our current insurance plans and provider networks or that insurance companies will keep benefits and providers the same – therefore we cannot keep what we’ve got if we like it. You’ve crumbled on the notion of any real public option for coverage at all much less a “robust” option — whatever that squishy word ever meant. And now insurance companies will decide when we’ve had enough treatment for serious illness each year.

Wow. Sweet tweaking indeed for the profit-takers — and without so much as a debate or airing on the floor of the Senate. It seems only the things that would benefit real people require an appropriate following of legal process in Congress and full debate — amendments like Senator Bernie Sanders’ single-payer amendment aimed at strengthening real reform haven’t even gotten a hearing. We’re still fighting for that.

Please don’t insult us any more by selling this legislation as healthcare reform or even health insurance reform. This seems more and more like health industry protection and less like anything at all to do with providing what President Obama declared as a basic human right during the campaign. Even he said the only way to get to full coverage is a single-payer plan. And that’s a tweak too far from profit protection, it seems.

Hang on, fellow citizens. This healthcare mess is about to get messier and make you wonder if anyone told us the truth at all. Then we’ll have some serious tweaking of our own to do in 2010 and 2012. We will not forget this.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

By Joseph Huff-Hannon for The Huffington Post

New York, NY. December 10, 2009 — On Thursday morning, a group of friends and colleagues, mostly middle-aged, sat and chatted over coffee at a midtown deli near Grand Central Station. Then Laurie Wen, an organizer with the Mobilization for Healthcare for All, showed up with a box of granola bars and a bag full of T-shirts, and everybody cheerfully rolled up their sleeves to write the number of an attorney on their forearms.

Two hours later most of them were in jail, and the “fourth wave” of a nationwide campaign to use civil disobedience to push for a single-payer plan had delivered its demands to the doorstep of Senator Chuck Schumer’s midtown Manhattan office.

It’s a particularly poignant day for Rich Marini, one of the advance team of people sitting here today — and not in a good way.

“Ironically, today is the day that my company stopped providing health care to its employees,” says Marini of Staten Island, a programmer at an IT firm called Tango Inc. “Henceforth all employees will have to pay in out of pocket about $8,000 a year. We were all told we have the “opportunity to re-enroll.” On the second floor of the deli, Laurie reminds everybody that in at least 20 other cities across the country, people are sitting in at the offices of health insurance companies and politicians. Senator Chuck Schumer has raised the ire of these activists in New York because of his role in recent negotiations in the Senate to lower the age of eligibility of Medicate from 65 to 55. The catch: this is viewed by many as a way to abandon the public option, or any anemic version thereof that remains in legislation currently being considered by the Senate.

This bit of horse-trading is seen by activists here as a paltry trade-off, and one that reflects the senator’s friendliness to the insurance industry over the desires of his constituents. According to OpenSecrets.org, Schumer is the biggest recipient in Congress of donations from the HMO/Health Services category, raking in $99,650 in campaign contributions this year. At press time a message left with Senator Schumer’s New York press office was not returned.

“The frustration of his constituents is very real,” says Dr. Laura Boylan, a neurologist who and member of Physicians for a National Health Program while marching in a boisterous picket line in front of Schumer’s office before giving a brief address to the crowd. “He’s claimed to be for single-payer in the past, but he hasn’t moved on anything. I don’t want to see any more people who have bleeding in heir brain because they can’t afford to take care of their diabetes. We’re not going away.”

One thing that’s impossible to ignore about this emerging movement is the willingness of health care professionals here in New York, and across the country, to risk arrest and the resulting legal headaches, borne out of their experiences in the trenches of America’s dysfunctional health care system.

“In my work, I see a lot of poor women who won’t be covered by the Democrats’ new plan,” says Dan Murphy, a 35-year old medical student with close-cropped blond hair wearing dark blue scrubs. Dan, who specializes in OBGYN, is one of the first to link arms with fellow activists in front of Schumer’s office, obstructing foot traffic in and out of the building. And he’s one of the last to be handcuffed and pulled to his foot before being deposited in a paddy wagon nearby. At the end of the action nine had been arrested on the relatively light charges of disorderly conduct.

“I think we’re going to see many more of these, because the fight is far from over,” says Laurie Wen, busy exchanging contact details with the legal observer on the scene. “Nothing important was ever won in this country by us accepting crumbs.”

Click here to view pictures from the sit-in.

The Prescriptions Blog at The New York Times also published an entry on the sit-in.

by Matt Schlobohm, Public Policy & Poltical Mobilization Director, Maine AFL-CIO, and Charlie Urquhart, Organizer, Maine Labor Group on Health

On Friday October 23, 2009 the delegates at the Maine AFL-CIO’s 27th Biennial Convention unanimously passed a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to convene, after the current healthcare reform process in Congress concludes, a democratic strategic planning process to develop a long term strategy to win Single Payer national health insurance.

The resolution was enthusiastically supported by the delegates and is rooted in the belief that to win a Medicare for all single payer system the labor movement needs to pursue a different strategy – one that is rooted in building a broadbased social movement, taking a long term approach to this fight, organizing around basic principles and pursuing relentless rank & file education and mobilization.

Maine AFL-CIO Vice President & IBEW 567 Training Director Don Berry laid out the Federation’s position, “Most union leaders are clear that we need a single payer system to solve the healthcare crisis. Yet as a labor movement our strategy has not been clearly, solidly and unambiguously behind single payer. We think it is time for us to commit to and stick with a long term strategy to win Medicare for All. That’s the only thing that’s going to get us out of the healthcare crisis we face at the
bargaining table and in society at large and its high time we put our full force behind it.”

Building on the momentum of the National AFL-CIO’s historic and unanimous passage of Resolution 34 that called for the creation of a Medicare for All, single payer social insurance program, the Maine AFL-CIO saw this resolution as an important step to making that resolution real and pursuing some important next steps.

In this spirit the Maine AFL-CIO unanimously passed the following resolution:

RESOLUTION # 5

Single Payer Healthcare Resolution
Whereas the National AFL-CIO unanimously passed Resolution 34 strongly endorsing a Medicare for All single payer health care system;

Whereas 39 State AFL-CIO Federations, 134 Central Labor Councils, and 572 different labor organizations have endorsed HR 676;

Whereas as a State Federation we strongly believe that a Medicare for all national health insurance system with single payer financing is the solution that is required to solve the healthcare crisis union members face at the bargaining table and that we face collectively as a society;

Whereas regardless of how the current healthcare reform effort concludes in Congress it will not come close to solving the current healthcare crisis;

Whereas historically, significant structural changes in this country have occurred when progressive forces have built powerful social movements that organize around a long term strategy that involves relentless rank & file education, organizing around basic fundamental principles, having rank & file leaders lead the movement and committing to a long term approach to the issue;

Whereas we strongly believe that to win a single payer national health insurance system the labor movement needs to pursue that kind of strategy and work to build a broad based working class social movement and;

Whereas we believe that had we collectively pursued such a strategy after the last healthcare policy failure in Congress in the mid 1990s – by staking out a strong single payer position, educating our membership as deeply as possible, pushing for political support of single payer legislation and sticking with that approach for the last fifteen years – we would be in a much stronger position today to win meaningful healthcare reform;

Therefore, we call on the National AFL-CIO to convene, after the current healthcare reform process in Congress concludes, a democratic strategic planning process to develop a long term strategy to win Single Payer national health insurance. We think this process should:

1. Start with a Single Payer labor movement summit

2. Involve, among others, Central Labor Councils, State Federations and rank & file single payer union activists in the planning process

3. Do an assessment of how we’ve historically built powerful social movements in this country and put our best thinking forward about what would need to be done today to build a social movement powerful enough to win single payer

4. Include a commitment of resources from the AFL-CIO of no less than the resources that have been devoted to the current health care reform effort

5. Include a commitment from the AFL-CIO to support state’s efforts to pass single payer legislation

Submitted by: the Western Maine Labor Council to the Maine AFL-CIO’s 27th Biennial Convention

Approved unanimously by Maine AFL-CIO Convention delegates: Friday October
23, 2009

Distributed by:
All Unions Committee For Single Payer Health Care–HR 676

By Jeff Muskus for The Huffington Post

While Democratic leaders abandoned the public option on Thursday, one senator reignited his push for an amendment that would allow states to test-pilot single-payer health insurance systems.

No matter what federal health care reform finally looks like, the Senate should give interested state governments the right to prove single-payer critics wrong, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said during a floor speech Thursday.

“I think we have got to give states the option, the flexibility to go forward with a single-payer system if that is what they want to do,” Sanders said. “Once they’ve done it and done it well, other states around the country will say, ‘We want the same thing. It’s the cost-effective way to provide comprehensive health care to all of our people.'”

Sanders said his state single-payer amendment “could pass and could have the Republicans’ support.” Given the death of even a weak public option from which states could opt out, he shouldn’t bet on it. Sanders acknowledged he won’t get much support for the federal single-payer amendment he penned with Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Roland Burris (Ill.), but he wants the chance to fight for it just the same.

“One of my concerns as we hurdle down to the finish line here, I don’t know who will be able to offer amendments,” Sanders said. “I offered the amendment, I want the right to have that debate. I don’t need 20 hours, I don’t need five days. I would love to discuss with my Republican friends that issue, Democrats, that’s an amendment that has a right to be offered and should be offered.”

States would still run the government insurance system even in Sanders’ federal single-payer model, but the feds would cover the costs with additional payroll and income taxes. Though he said the current bill marks progress, Sanders said the needed debate and changes are far from over, and one change tops his list.

“I do not think we are at the two-yard line. I think a lot of work has to be done to improve this bill,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, the only way you’re going to provide comprehensive universal health care to all is with a Medicare single-payer system, which ends hundreds of billions of bureaucracy and waste engendered by the private insurance companies.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Healthcare-NOW!

Health professionals, patients demand expansion of Medicare

Chanting “55 is not enough, Medicare for all,” 9 protesters were arrested at a sit-in at Sen. Schumer’s office in mid-town Manhattan this morning.

Referring to Schumer’s push to lower Medicare age eligibility to 55, advocates for Medicare-for-All state that opening it up to only one portion of the population is not enough and will not begin to tackle the real culprit of skyrocketing costs of the whole healthcare system: private health insurance.

“We need to spread out the risk pool and take out the profit motive of private health insurance. That’s the only way to cover everyone and control costs,” says Laurie Wen, an organizer at Healthcare-NOW!, which organized the action.

Those arrested include patients who have experienced abuse from private health insurance companies as well as a doctor, a nurse, and a medical student.

Sen. Schumer has been the center of attention since news broke Tuesday evening that Democrats had reached “broad agreement” on certain parts of the Senate healthcare reform bill. He led negotiations among a group of ten liberal and moderate Democrats, where a key proposal emerged to lower the age eligibility of Medicare from 65 to 55.

Bev Rice, a retired nurse who was arrested, says “Throughout my career I’ve seen so many people suffer and die prematurely because insurance companies denied the care they needed. I have Medicare and it works. Making Medicare available to people from age 55 on is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. It should be open to everyone.”

“I want a publicly funded healthcare system because my life should not be in the hands of insurance CEOs who profit from denying me care,” says Kate Barnhart, whose doctor ordered a brain scan for a tumor in early September, but the procedure’s approval has been repeatedly delayed by her insurance company. Barnhart was one of 17 people arrested at a September sit-in protesting against an insurance company’s frequent and sometimes deadly practice of denying care. “I had been paying $900 a month for my premium,” she says. “Last week, my insurance company terminated my policy. Does my senator think this is OK?”

Medicare was established in 1965 and has since become one of the most popular government programs. It’s financed through taxes, and seniors have the freedom to choose their doctors. Advocates say a Medicare-for-All system is the most cost-effective way to deliver health care.

“It’s very simple: you take out the private middleman, and what do you get?” asks another arrestee, Dr. Laura Boylan, referring to the private health insurance industry. “$400 billion worth of profits, CEO salaries, stock options, and administrative waste.”

A neurologist who is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, Dr. Boylan sums it up, “Expansion of Medicare to everyone would save money and lives; we’d all be better off.”

The New York sit-in was organized by Mobilization for Health Care for All, a national civil disobedience campaign advocating for a Medicare-for-All system. The campaign has organized over 35 sit-ins across the country in the last two months. On December 10th, International Human Rights Day, 20 actions are taking place at senators’ offices in 16 states and Washington, D.C. For a complete list of participating cities, go here.

From Democracy NOW

On Veterans Day, a new study estimates four times as many US Army veterans died last year because they lacked health insurance than the total number of US soldiers who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same period. A research team at Harvard Medical School says 2,266 veterans under the age of sixty-five died in 2008 because they were uninsured. We speak to the report’s co-author, Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, professor of medicine at Harvard University and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Video and transcript are available at Democracy NOW.

By Kevin Gosztola for OpEdNews

November 10, 2009

The grassroots organization, Mobilization for Healthcare for All, returned to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) D.C. Office on Tuesday morning and confronted Lieberman for taking money from insurance companies and opposing healthcare as a human right.

Sam Pullen, who engaged in a sit-in at a Blue Cross office in Los Angeles on Oct. 15th, was arrested, and then pledged to stay in jail in L.A. until Blue Cross stopped denying care to those that need it most, participated in the action along with others from the Washington, D.C. area.

The action involved a visual act of theater where someone playing Sen. Lieberman appeared enlightened as music was playing and agreed to give the money he had accepted from insurance companies like Aetna back to the companies so they could use it to cover consumers.

Pullen explained this was designed to “provide an image of what it would look like for a senator to give back the money that they’ve received from insurance companies and agree that they’re going to fight for healthcare to be a basic right for all.”

Those who entered Lieberman’s office hoped to catch Lieberman before he was able to sneak out the back exit like he did last time they came to confront him. And, they were prepared to risk arrest and go to jail.

Pullen was prepared to be arrested and stay in jail so he could continue to bring attention to the need for real healthcare reform.

“This really is a critical time, things are moving forward, and there’s probably a little bit over a month to influence the political process with our grassroots,” said Pullen. He added, “There’s a long tradition—which I’m proud to be part of—of citizens who speak their conscience even if that means landing themselves in jail.”

To those skeptical and cynical toward Pullen’s pledge to remain in jail, he said what he is doing is part of “inspiring the American people to speak out” and demand that healthcare be a right for all Americans.

This action from the Mobilization for Healthcare for All came less than a week after a similar act of civil disobedience occurred in Lieberman’s D.C. Office on Thursday, November 5th. It occurred simultaneously with an action at Lieberman’s office in Connecticut.

And, it took place as the national coordinator of Mobilization for Healthcare for All, Kai Newkirk, and one other single-payer advocate from Connecticut, who were both arrested last week for taking direct action against Lieberman, remain in jail in D.C.

One might wonder why the single-payer movement is still mobilizing and making sacrifices for healthcare reform after so many stunning defeats last week.

Between Thursday and Saturday, the movement witnessed Pelosi’s refusal to allow any amendments on single-payer to come to the floor, Obama’s message to Congress to not allow a vote on single-payer so close to a vote on his health insurance bill, Kucinich’s and Conyers’ decision to not support a vote on single-payer in the House, and a vote on an anti-choice amendment brought to the floor by conservative Democrats and Republicans after Pelosi declared no amendments to the bill would be allowed to come up for a vote.

But, assistant national coordinator of Healthcare-Now!, Katie Robbins, suggested people look past recent failures to build support in Congress and remember how far the single-payer movement has come this year.

“We’ve come from being completely blocked out of the conversation in many ways to leveraging our way in to having congressional hearings and having single-payer advocates testify in Congress,” said Robbins. “I don’t think Democratic leadership expected single-payer legislation to be alive at this point.”

Robbins and other advocates now turn their attention to the Senate as the health insurance enrichment bill moves onward.

As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) contends that the House bill with a weak public option is “dead on arrival,” as Senate Democrats and Obama continue to suggest this for-profit healthcare system can be made to work for the American people, single-payer advocates now turn their attention to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who they hope will bring his single-payer amendment (S.703) to the Senate floor.

“As a movement, it’s important for us to continue to educate people that this is not enough, it’s not sufficient, it’s not addressing the problem that we have, it’s not going to be universal or financially sustainable,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, who is with Physicians for a National Health Program. “And, at this point, it’s important to turn our attention to the Senate. We still have an opportunity at the very least to try and get the Sanders single-payer amendment that would allow states to pass single-payer legislation.”

Update:

At least five were arrested in Lieberman’s D.C. office today after engaging in a theatrical demonstration urging Sen. Lieberman to stop taking money from health insurance corporations.

Fake dollar bills were thrown throughout the building. Printed on the money was Lieberman’s face and the words “Insurance Money Kills Democracy.”

One single-payer advocate protesting marched throughout the building with a cardboard cutout of Lieberman’s face yelling, “I’ve had a change of heart,” and scattering the fake money in the hallways and foyer of the building.

Lieberman did not agree to meet with any of the protesters.

From PDA via Healthcare-NOW!

“The October 20 ‘Healthcare for All’ rally at the capital rotunda in Harrisburg, Pa., was a huge success,” said Tim Carpenter, PDA National Director. “Anywhere from 700 to 1200 supporters turned out during the course of the event.”

The rally was organized in support of Pennsylvania’s single-payer healthcare legislation and was co-sponsored by many state and national organizations advocating for healthcare system overhaul, including the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP), the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, Healthcare for All Pennsylvania, Progressive Democrats of America, Healthcare-Now, Physicians for a National Health Program, the Western PA Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare, and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, and Wendell Potter, former CIGNA executive turned whistleblower (pictured above) were among the many speakers at the event and have become “unlikely friends,” according to Smith. During Potter’s tenure, Donna and her husband Larry were bankrupted due to medical crisis even though they carried health insurance coverage, disability insurance and a small healthcare savings account.

Donna told Wendell, “I forgive you.”

Wendell worked as an executive in the private, for-profit insurance industry (for Humana and then CIGNA) until May of 2008 when he finally decided he could not play a part in the suffering that resulted from so many of the practices of the industry.

The crowd of hundreds cheered, as Wendell teared up, embraced Donna and said, “God bless you.”

Keith Martin at the IFA webnews site reported:

Advocates of state or federal sponsored universal health care, including two Pennsylvania state legislators, gathered at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., to promote their solution to the nation’s coverage crisis.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh) and State Rep. Kathy Manderino (D- Philadelphia/Montgomery) were among the speakers at a rally Oct. 20 to call for action, including increasing attention paid to two bills they have sponsored to bring a single-payer system to Pennsylvania.

“We need real solutions to solve our current healthcare crisis,” Ferlo said. “The single- payer strategy is the only way to remove the waste in the system and provide universal coverage.”

Ferlo has introduced the Family and Business Healthcare Security Act (SB 400), which would employ a pair of new taxes to pay for universal coverage. A 3% personal income tax for individuals and a 10% payroll tax on businesses would be levied. The new taxes, along with existing Medicaid/Medicare, tobacco settlement funds and other existing health care dollars would pay for the single-payer approach under his proposed legislation.

Ferlo said among the goals in his bill are quality medical, dental and mental health care for every Pennsylvania resident, the establishment of a Health Care Trust owned and controlled by residents as the single payer for health care, eliminating “the existing wasteful and inefficient system of multiple third party payers” and relieving employers from the responsibility of selecting, pricing and administering health insurance.

“We have organized a very diverse group that allows us to demonstrate wide-spread support for the single payer concept,” Ferlo said in a statement. “The last step is to bring our story and solutions to other elected officials so that they can understand and appreciate that a single payer system is the best path to take.”

Manderino’s proposed legislation (HB 1600) would create the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan, a statewide, comprehensive health care system providing comprehensive coverage to all state residents. Like Ferlo’s plan, Manderino’s bill also would create a state health care trust fund, within the state treasury office, and the same individual and business taxes to help fund the new program.

From Democracy Now!

On Thursday [October 15th], Sam Pullen was arrested at the Los Angeles offices of the insurance giant Blue Cross. He refused to give his information to police and vowed to remain in prison until Blue Cross agreed to hear demands that it stop denying doctor-recommended medical treatment to seriously ill patients. Despite his resistance, Pullen was finally ordered released from jail on Monday, against his will. In protesting Blue Shield, Sam Pullen was following in the footsteps of his late mother, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was a teenager. Leanna Bell staged a one-person sit-in in front of Blue Cross after the company denied her coverage for a bone marrow transplant. Blue Cross gave in, and the transplant helped extend her life for several years.

Click here for the full story (video and transcript).