First Person: Mad as Hell Doctors Fight for Single-Payer Healthcare

By Marc Sapir
Thursday September 17, 2009 - 09:46:00 AM

On Sept. 14, I joined the Mad as Hell Doctors for single-payer Health Care in Denver, part way into their national tour. I’m writing from one of the Care-a-Vans for single-payer Health Insurance. My partners today are Barbara Matthews from the University of Washington and Bob Seward a retired Oregon internist who worked for the VA and in private practice. We rotated drivers every couple of hours all day on the way to our single-payer event in Des Moines, that drew an incredibly energized crowd. The event in a church was organized by the Des Moines, IA Catholic Worker movement with support from four other churches. Asked to speak up as to why they were mad as hell, a near endless lineup of people from as young as teenagers to the elderly came forward and passionately told their brief stories, all video-recorded and to be found via www.madashelldoctors.com. The panel of docs was as moved by the audience and the Catholic Worker folks who have been arrested fighting the health insurance industry here as the audience was moved by the docs. The youngest arrestee came up and gave a beautiful plea for people to move their concern to a higher level of activism and involvement to protect their grandchildren’s futures. She was 10 or 11 years old and has been to a Washington, D.C. speakout for single-payer. 

With the support and organizing of HealthCare for All Colorado we held two events in Denver, the second a picnic presentation at the Washington Park, and then headed east at 8 p.m. I rode in a different van with other folks. The hot topic of debate and discussion inside the docs group is what to do after the last event across from the White House on September 30. Few of us (maybe none) are convinced that President Obama will heed the petiitions or thousands of e-mails asking that he meet with the Mad as Hell Docs and hear us out on why single-payer has to go back on the table or he should convene a commission of the real players—patients, public advocates, and service providers (not the private profit interests of the insurance industry) to report and provide him with evidence of the best solutions to the healthcare crisis. 

Indeed a White House staffer contacted Mad as Hell Docs staff and asked when we were going to stop telling people to send all those e-mails to the White House telling the President to meet with these docs. The White House admits they are being inundated. I heard that staff (perhaps Adam Klugman) told them we weren’t going to stop and so they blocked e-mails coming off the website. Countermeasures: staff fixed the website so that the e-mails now come from you all, the senders, not from us. Keep it up.  

Of course we don’t take bets on the president meeting with us, but there is some hope that he might call on Kathleen Sieblius or another representative to meet with us. But what to do in either case? We need the administration to at least acknowledge that the nationwide support for single payer is not just the “left” of the Democratic Party, but a question of public need, and public wishes, and that a case can be made that it’s the only viable solution that will bring the changes the president has advocated On the other hand the administration is stymied from even its minimum goals by Montana Senator Max Baucus’ (the greatest recipient of health insurance blood money at $2.4 million) blocking maneuvers in the Senate Committee he chairs. That committee must approve any healthcare reform bill. And so the discussion about the next step after Lafayette Park on Sept. 30, goes on. Keep tuned and get involved.