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Doctors Risking Arrest for Healthcare for All, Challenge System That Makes Them Complicit

Kevin Gosztola

At least three doctors will be risking arrest in civil disobedience actions during Mobilization for Healthcare for All's third wave of actions this week, which are being held to demand an end to insurance abuse and to demand real health care reform for all.

Ken Weinberg, who will be risking arrest at the Wellpoint Offices in New York City, says it dawned on him that this is a moral issue, he needs to be out there, and he is risking arrest because he doesn't know what else to do. "I've met with my senators and congressman and nothing works," says Weinberg. "I think what really pushed me over was the new study that came out from Harvard that showed that 45,000 people die each year because they don't have health insurance and that to me is criminal."

Weinberg adds, "Our elected representatives are so in the pockets of the insurance companies that they're not doing anything. They're not responsive to the American people. So, this is a wake up call to them as well. "

Matt Hendrickson, who will be risking arrest at the Cigna Offices in Glendale near downtown Los Angeles, says he's "inspired by the people that have already gotten arrested in the last three weeks."

"They're just as angry as I am by how the private insurance industry is ruining our healthcare system," says Hendrickson.

Additionally, Hendrickson cites the fact that 50 percent of his patients either have no insurance or they are underinsured, being a self-employed doctor whose premiums are going up 15% a year, and previous human rights movements (civil rights, anti-war, self-determination, etc) as reasons for being willing to risk arrest.

Margaret Flowers, who will be risking arrest at Carefirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Baltimore, Maryland on Thursday, explains that as the Senate Finance Committee hearing started hearings on health care single-payer advocates were excluded. This really showed Flowers that America's democratic process was not in tact and functioning.

She explains at the first meeting "there were 41 people that testified. They had AHIP, Pharma, and Big Business " but nobody was there "that really represented the health providers and the patient's point of view." And, there definitely was no person advocating for a national health care program. So, at the second Finance Committee hearing on May 5th, she and other single payer advocates showed up at the hearing to ask why their voices weren't being included in the debate.

Since the spring, there has been an effort to discount and outright ignore the single-payer action movement that has been carrying out several campaigns to push back against anti-health care reform agendas and improve any reform that may funnel or divert money into the hands of insurance companies for profits instead of patient care.

Despite snubs from Democrats and Obama, the single-payer action movement has momentum and is why the public option is being considered. "The reason why the public option was introduced, according to congress people that have spoken to the single-payer movement, was because of the single-payer movement," says Hendrickson. "There was such an upswell [by progressives] for single-payer that [leaders] opted for some compromise that would not have been given if there wasn't so much support for single-payer."

So, why are progressives settling for incremental change? Why are they settling for a public option that has proven to be a failure in states like Tennessee, Oregon, and Massachusetts?

With the public option now being outfitted with an opt-out provision, with leaders doing everything they can to make sure the option will fail to compete with insurance companies, and with Sen. Joe Lieberman publicly declaring that he has no problem with obstructing a vote on health care on behalf of for-profit insurers, isn't it time to up the ante?

And isn't it time for more doctors and nurses to come out of the woodwork for real healthcare reform?

"We swore an oath when we finished our medical school and part of that was to practice our professional dignity and honor and to keep the health of our patients first and foremost," says Flowers. "So, how can we continue to be silent in the face of a private insurance market-based model of healthcare which is literally killing our patients?"

"We're all complicit in this. We're forced to be complicit," says Weinberg. "What we want is patient care. We want the best possible patient care for people and we are constantly having to play games to skirt around what the insurance companies are forcing us to do."

Or, as Hendrickson so eloquently puts it:

"It is a personal decision and everybody knows when it's the right time to make that sacrifice. Doctors do have an enormous moral authority in our society. And when you see physicians that advocate for a status quo approach that the American Medical Association has basically pushed, it really hurts our image as physicians.

We as physicians have a noble duty to care for our patients. And to be given an opportunity to make a relatively small sacrifice ---spend a few hours, maybe a night in jail--- in exchange for bringing this issue of the private insurance industry and how much harm they're doing to medicine [to the forefront]--- I think it's a phenomenal opportunity.

And, Hendrickson hopes the physicians getting arrested tomorrow and others planning to be arrested in the next wave in November will give "more confidence, more motivation, more inspiration to follow suit because so many of us know how badly the insurance industry is harming our ability to practice medicine."

Flowers is a pediatrician and mother who quit her practice a few years ago to educate legislators, colleagues, and others on real healthcare reform.

Weinberg is an emergency care physician who has been practicing for twenty-five years and who has been advocating for single-payer for fifteen years.

Hendrickson is a self-employed doctor.

Each of these doctors will be participating in actions, which will occur Wednesday, October 28th or Thursday, October 29th. will post updates on the actions as they are received.

To join or support the campaign that is motivating doctors to risk arrest, visit Mobilization for Health Care for All and sign up today.

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Kevin Gosztola is a trusted author who publishes his writing regularly to OpEdNews and Open Salon and he is a 2009 Young People For Fellow.

He is a documentary filmmaker currently completing a Film/Video degree at Columbia College in Chicago. Currently, he is working on a documentary project on Renaissance 2010 and Chicago Public Schools.

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