The Office

Today we bring you behind the scenes into our office at Healthcare NOW. Just like the TV show The Office, we have our hijinks and wacky characters, including some very smart interns! They have prepped some of their burning questions for this episode.

First, from Intern Noah from Boston College:

In your opinion, what is the most effective way to organize/advocate for Medicare for All? 

Talk to one person, then another person, and then another! It doesn’t start with money, marches, or celebrity endorsements (though if Oprah wants to support M4A, she should give us a call!) Those feel good, but without authentic relationships and networks, they don’t make change. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts in organizing; we have to build the power ourselves.

Do you have any funny stories from an experience meeting a member of congress?

Gillian remembers meetings with former Republican U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown. Unfortunately all Senator Brown cared about was how the policy she was advocating for affected Dunkin Donuts.

Gillian fondly remembers the time former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank told her that her hometown in New Jersey smelled bad. He also told a room full of constituents “the only thing that marches on Washington put pressure on is the grass in Washington, DC.” Epic one-liner that we don’t necessarily disagree with. (He already supported M4A so it was all good.)

Intern Gulmeena, a public health student asks:

When we talk about Medicare for all – are we thinking of a system with government run hospitals and government employed medical professionals? Do you think such a concept garners resistance or are people open to that paradigm shift?

One of the most common attacks on M4A is to call it “socialized medicine.” Very few countries actually have real socialized medicine, where insurance is public, all healthcare facilities are owned and operated publicly, and the healthcare professionals are public employees. In the United States, Medicare for All legislation does not socialize the facilities or professionals. By focusing on the payment mechanism, it would give the government a lot of power to reign in the worst parts of for-profit healthcare. Ben notes he has seen a poll showing a majority of Americans support socialized medicine, so who knows, maybe that’s the future of the movement.

Would Medicare for All include long term care for the elderly such as nursing homes and hospice?

This has been a debate within our movement for a long time. Both M4A bills include long term care. The House version is more generous and comprehensive. The Senate bill would cover home-based long term care but not institutional. Currently most people get long term (which also includes care for people with disabilities) care through Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poorest Americans; this forces patients to spend down all their assets to qualify. Medicaid also has an institutional bias: it’s much more likely to cover care in residential settings rather than homes, which is usually more expensive. If you’re interested in advocacy around this issue, check out Caring Across Generations.

Intern Ioanna (who hails from Greece, a country with universal healthcare):

Considering that you have been a part of the movement since before Medicare for All was introduced by Sen. Sanders in 2017, how did you first hear about single payer healthcare, and what drove you into the movement at a time when it was not getting much or any (?) media attention?

Back in the day of phone books and print newspapers, Gillian learned about universal healthcare from Ben! When her own employer-provided healthcare left her underinsured, a friend in the finance field told Gillian “if your job doesn’t give you good health insurance, that’s capitalism’s way of telling you that your job isn’t important and maybe you should get a new one.” Learning about Medicare for All convinced Gillian it’s actually ok to expect to have a rewarding job and healthcare.

Ben learned about universal healthcare when he lived in England, and learned about the American movement for single payer at an in-person job fair, which led him to apply for a job with MassCare.

What could be done to get more support from academics (economists, sociologists, public health professionals, etc.) in advancing the movement? Existing research seems to show that there would be many gains for the federal government and the American public, so why aren’t more researchers advocating for it?

Gillian (a former adjunct professor) thinks that we’re currently seeing academics becoming more radicalized, and we may see them in the streets more. One of the things that works against us is that academics in the U.S. are under attack; for example, in many states “anti-woke” laws limit their ability to teach. Traditionally academics have felt like they should be distanced from the world as impartial observers. As they’re learning that their impartiality won’t save them, maybe we’ll start seeing more of them taking action.

Ben notes that a large segment of academics are unorganized, exploited workers like graduate students and non-tenured, part time professors without benefits. The basic answer to why they’re not involved is because we haven’t organized them yet; in fact big groups of unorganized workers give the movement more potential activists to tap into. (As efforts to form unions by these groups pick up steam and success, these workers are naturally going to be organizing around healthcare issues when they bargain their first contracts.)

Intern Lucy from Tufts University asks:

What do you feel like is the hardest part of running this organization? How do you prevent from getting burnt out?

The hardest part for Ben is fundraising. Healthcare-NOW depends primarily on individual small donors, which can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. Healthcare-NOW’s donations also follow the political cycles; when single payer champions run for national office, they stop giving to us and start giving to them. It’s tough and stressful, and if you want Ben to sleep better at night, please chip in a little bit to support this important work!

A lot of non-profits work their employees to death, and think that they’ll do it happily for “the cause.” Ben and Gillian organize volunteers to help build power, and avoid working themselves to the bone as much as they can.

What is something Healthcare-NOW has achieved that you feel proud of?

Ben is proud of how far the movement has come since he began at Healthcare-NOW 10 years ago: more activists, more local grassroots groups, record numbers of legislative co-sponsors. He’s also proud that Healthcare-NOW has taken on the role of elevating the people most affected by the healthcare system, rather than the policy wonks who led the movement in the past, who may not have been directly impacted by the healthcare system.

What are some common misconceptions about the work you do?

Ben and Gillian are the only employees of Healthcare-NOW, so they basically do everything from bookkeeping to building grassroots power. Gillian’s mom doesn’t know what she does, she just doesn’t want Gillian to get arrested.

What are some smaller action items people can take to support the movement (i.e. what are some of the most accessible aspects of supporting this movement for people who feel as though they may not have the time or energy to devote a lot of themselves to it?

We don’t usually ask people for a big commitment at the start; as a first step, go to the website and sign up for the email list to get in the loop, and tell your healthcare story to help build the movement. Talk to your people! And it’s quick and easy to donate to Healthcare-NOW if you’re able.

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