Health Care, Essential to Democracy

by Katie Robbins & Andy Coates –

Two weekends ago, after the bait and switch of a vote on single-payer for a vote on an anti-abortion amendment, we felt wizened to the possibility of unknown threats in the legislative churn on health reform. As insurance and pharmaceutical companies, Catholic bishops, and the right wing throw in dollars, lobbyists, and pressure for no votes on the final bill, it is clear we who are in the business of protecting and improving our rights to access to health care, including abortion, must remain vigilant and ready to challenge these threats.

First, a little history is in order. In mid-July Rep. Kucinich passed in the Education and Labor Committee an amendment to the House bill for health insurance reform that would make single-payer easier to enact at the state level. On July 31st Rep. Weiner and 6 other members of Energy and Commerce Committee brought to committee an amendment to that would substitute the text of HR 676, the national single-payer bill, for the House bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a floor vote on single payer — if Rep. Weiner would withdraw the amendment from committee.

Single-payer advocates embraced these efforts wholeheartedly. And we counted upon our champions in the House of Representatives to stand with us.

Vigorous activity ensued, a fourteen week campaign involving millions of people in phone calls, petitions, forums, local protests and vigils, emails and faxes, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor and personal visits. There were conscientious objectors. 158 single-payer supporters were arrested performing acts of civil disobedience, peaceful sit-ins to register their outrage in the offices of health insurance companies and Congress across the nation.

As the grassroots clamor rose, Reps. Weiner and Kucinich sought to surf the wave. The crescendo grew and grew, until one day before the House vote on health insurance reform.

And then — poof! — single payer was back off the table.

Rep. Kucinich’s state-based amendment was out of the bill, “dead as a doornail.” And Speaker Pelosi explained that the substitute amendment couldn’t possibly have a debate and vote, for if it did, amendments to restrict health care for women and undocumented immigrant workers would also get to the floor. Congressional leaders suddenly opined that a losing vote for a single-payer amendment would be “tantamount to driving the movement off a cliff.” Even the President weighed in to discourage a vote on single payer. Rep. Weiner withdrew the amendment.

Yet the next day the Speaker allowed the anti-abortion amendment to the floor, where it passed and was added to the bill. In the end, the only progressive Democrats to vote against the House bill, abortion ban and all, were Reps. Kucinich and Massa, both single-payer supporters.

The people expected universal health care, and the House of Representatives delivered an anti-abortion bill.

Worse, the Democratic Party traded away fundamental women’s rights for a Massachusetts-style mandate, a law to criminalize the uninsured and subsidize unaffordable private insurance premiums with tax money, something we know already will not reduce costs and will not cover everyone, will not lessen disparities and will not improve the health of the nation.

It is astounding to think the Democratic Party has made a bid for the United States to join a few shameful nations that severely restrict women’s access to abortion. Earlier this year we watched, with great dismay, when Mr. Obama chose not to strike the Hyde Amendment from his federal budget proposal. The President has now gone farther, re-affirming the prohibition of federal funding for abortion as a “principle.”

Reproductive rights cannot be bargained away for any reason. Autonomy over our bodies is essential to health care and to democracy.

No nation on earth can call itself a democracy without equal and full access to health care. No nation on earth can call itself a democracy without allowing full personal autonomy over all health decisions, including abortion. These values are severely threatened under the proposed legislation. It is time for protest.

As single payer advocates, we firmly believe that health care decisions must be made between the provider and the patient, with full protection of privacy. Women must be able to access abortion if determined necessary — by either the patient or the doctor.

We call upon the President and the Congress to start from scratch and ask you to join us. Senator Bernie Sanders will introduce a single payer bill in the United States Senate in the coming weeks. Demand that your Senator vote for this bill. In addition, join the National Organization for Women, strong single-payer advocates, in organizing days of action in DC and Pennsylvania to protest the Stupak-Pitts amendment.

The solution to the health care crisis must provide personal freedom from a dysfunctional and unsustainable system that ties health care to the employer and to the spouse. When Medicare was enacted, it reduced poverty in those over 65 by 60%. By this measure, a universal, single-payer system would also provide economic freedom, by raising over 22 million people out of poverty, while providing each of us with full and necessary access to health care. Nothing less will do.

Katie Robbins is National Organizer of Healthcare-NOW! Andy Coates, MD, is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.


  1. James H Harless on November 24, 2009 at 4:03 am

    There has been great concern by members of the House and Senate about government funded abortion in the new healthcare reform bill, I want to know if my tax dollars will be used to pay for unnecessary, religiously propagated, mutilations of male genitalia aka circumcision. This should be addressed as I don’t think that A. the people should pay for religious procedures and B. a child should not undergo torture or surgical mutilation because of what the child’s parent/s believe. We would prosecute a Native American for boarding their child’s head, in order to reshape its skull as is a traditional custom of some tribes.

  2. Richard Heckler on November 25, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    What does anyone think about this piece? Like we all know socialism is all over the place yet ignorance of the fact takes precedent. Can we as a team turn this around to work for Health Care NOW!

    Shocked Shocked To Find Socialism in Ameirca

    East Otis, Mass. – The less some Americans know, the more strident and voluble they become. Take socialism. The wailing about it over healthcare reform proves my proposition.

    Shrill critics menacingly brandish “socialism” to terrify the unthinking, forgetting – or willfully ignoring – that while the United States is capitalist, it’s also hip deep in various modes of socialism.

    Republicans apparently don’t know that it was their beloved President Theodore Roosevelt who in 1912 proposed national health insurance for all.

    Some American critics of socialized medicine cite nightmarish accounts of bungled medical treatment abroad, boasting that America has the best medical system in the world.

    As a foreign correspondent, I lived in Britain, Germany, Israel, and the Soviet Union and did not discover any sapping of a nation’s vital essences because the public enjoyed publicly funded national health insurance.

    As a US citizen who lived more than two decades abroad, I found socialized national health insurance programs are often more compassionate and charitable than what I have seen with profit-driven, private insurance companies in the United States.

    Some years ago my former wife took my sons on a driving tour of Britain and became involved in an accident. My elder son had a badly broken leg and was taken to a hospital for six weeks until his leg healed. Although I didn’t live in Britain at the time, the British National Insurance system paid all his hospital and doctor bills. When I offered to reimburse the hospital, the British charitably declined and only charged me $35 for a crutch my son used to hobble aboard a plane home to America.

    A decade ago, a federal report shocked the nation by suggesting that our modern medical system was one of the leading causes of death in America. It called for cutting the rates of medical mistakes in half within five years. But it’s only gotten worse. Today, preventable medical injuries kill some 200,000 Americans each year.

    Earlier this year, a friend entered a suburban Chicago hospital to have a gall bladder removed. The surgeon was scheduled to go on vacation immediately after finishing the operation. In the process of making a large incision, the doctor unknowingly nicked the lower intestine and punctured the aorta. My friend nearly bled to death before the surgeon discovered his error.

    Where is the statistical evidence that private healthcare outperforms national health insurance programs? The United States ranks 37th on health outcomes, according to the World Health Organization, and it has one of the highest infant mortality rates among developed countries, suggesting that socialized medicine may afford better patient care in some situations.

    Opponents of the White House healthcare plans deliberately distort the extent of government involvement in such programs, when the only thing to be “socialized” was the so-called public option health insurance plan – and that may be dropped. Doctors and hospitals would remain private. Critics appear to have deliberately polarized public opinion to scuttle President Obama’s initiatives.

    Meanwhile, members of Congress enjoy “cradle to grave” socialist medical and retirement benefits that outstrip those of the old Soviet Central Committee members.

    Many thousands of the poorest Americans and illegal aliens already have access to taxpayer-funded socialized medicine and hospitals through existing Medicaid benefits. One physician tells me that Medicaid recipients get free hospital care plus stipends at taxpayers’ expense. Yet tens of millions of working Americans whose taxes subsidize Medicaid have no access to any health insurance of their own.

    Particularly lame are the complaints of healthcare critics in the southeastern US who benefit from the regional socialism of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a government-owned-and-operated supplier of electricity for tens of millions.

    America’s Social Security program is Bismarckian socialism. Medicare, especially with its prescription drug benefit program is socialistic. Government aid to parochial schools is sleight-of-hand socialism.

    Socialism’s most vocal critics are often beneficiaries of corporate welfare with all its perks: expense account meals, free NFL box seats, free corporate cellphone use. One firm for which I worked held foreign correspondent meetings in Rome, enabling the executives to visit tailors and shop for Christmas presents in Italy. Exploiting US tax codes, corporate America has long enjoyed its own brand of socialism subsidized by taxpayers.

    Like most Americans, I am not overly keen on socialism. History shows that it can curb important personal freedoms and stultify entire economies. But it is not inherently evil. And by the way, if you enjoy your 40-hour workweek, with weekends off, you owe those to an earlier generation of socialist-leaning labor leaders who championed that and so much more that Americans now take for granted.

    Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN. He writes a biweekly column for the Monitor’s weekly print edition.

  3. Dee Ann Royce on November 30, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    We all know what is behind theinsanity called congress and the total US GOVT. It hasn’t been a DEMOCRATIC GOVT>of, for, or by the people for at least 40 years, and it looks like $$ greed and theCORPORATE Capitatalist have declared WAR AND think they can still our legislative body, our coutry, our planet, and our individual lives and take eveyones last dollar doing it. I hope they can prove to themselves that there IS NO GOD!!!!!

  4. Guest on April 29, 2013 at 11:40 am

    The big bad word “Socialism” Certain things in every society needs to be socialized. You have Police, fire Dept., Public Schools, National Security (THAT IS FOR EVERYONE RICH OR POOR.)These services is what makes a Democracy strong and healthy. And HEALTHCARE NEEDS TO BE ON THAT LIST BECAUSE EVERYONE RICH OR POOR HAVE A RIGHT TO HEALTHCARE!!! It is a basic human need like food and water! All other industrialized nations know this and have this for all their citizens. You can point out that their system isn’t perfect either BUT they do COVER all their citizens!