Absurd Week Inside the Beltways for Patients

Surreal. I am writing this while in a hematology/oncology office in Maryland. The fact that I'm writing an essay while receiving treatment and have done two conference calls and all my work today is mind-boggling in itself and speaks to the very real world many patients navigate every day now. If we are lucky enough to access care having run the gauntlet of our insurance companies and providers, we then must negotiate the time to care for ourselves. The patient "beltway" is very entrenched.

But this week, I've seen so much contradiction inside the more traditionally titled DC beltway and in my state's seat of power, Annapolis, that my mind is swimming with images and conflicting energies.

First, this is not the early 1990s. It is not the Clinton era. And this was not and is not the Clinton health reform effort which will pass or not nationally and then be followed by years of the quiet desperation of the suffering masses.

The crisis surrounding healthcare in this nation has advanced exponentially since those days, and from that precipice there is no return. This suffering and pain will not be stopped by forcing the purchase of the for-profit financial product that is private health insurance and the nation's costs for providing healthcare will go up and keep growing ever more difficult to fund.

And, the movement to bring an improved and expanded Medicare for all system to this nation is much deeper and stronger in 2010 than it was in the 1990s. Though the Tea Party insanity has garnered the more intense media attention in order to create controversy and boost ratings, the movement for a social insurance model for reform has grown much more insistently.

Just this week, I watched single-payer, improved and expanded Medicare for all activists rally in DC in solidarity with 89 other Congressional district rallies around the country, for an end to war and for healthcare justice. Led by our shared convictions that this can and must be about we the people not they the corporations or those they fund so generously. The brown bag vigils will continue on the third Wednesday of every month as part of the "Healthcare Not Warfare" campaign.

As we left the demo outside the Rayburn House Office Building in DC, I stood in the security line to enter Rayburn and we all watched four men wearing buttons that said, "Proud to be a Banker," boldly walk right past the 50-75 people in line -- and right through the security checkpoint with minimal screening. When one of the proud bankers came back to get more friends, one of our activists reached out and said, "Wait a minute sir, there is a line here." When the banker did not acknowledge it, my friend did reassert himself. The banker didn't care. And why should he? He feels he owns the place - our Congressional House Office Building - and everyone in it. He is, by God, a banker, so proudly says his button for all to see. I was so proud of my fellow activists for very directly telling a banker to hold on just one minute please. We've bailed you out. We've handed you billions if not trillions. If we ever needed more tangible proof of the disdain the bankers we bailed out feel for us, this was living, breathing and walking proof. Thank you to my friend Stephen for standing up for us in that instant.

Inside Rayburn, it was business as usual except that every Congressional member who has been with us in the single-payer movement has felt the need to bail out at this juncture (or much earlier) on the effort to bring single-payer into the light - the full and honest light of public scrutiny. It has been a difficult week in watching this unfold, yet not unexpected.

In Annapolis, MD, this week, the first House of Delegates hearing on HB767, the Maryland Health Security Act, was held. A MD state Senate hearing was already held. Those of us waiting to testify watched other hearings packed with insurance and pharmaceutical industry witnesses - giddy with excitement when they spoke and quite obviously familiar and friendly with members in ways the average patient and citizen is not. It is troubling that these folks lobbying in Annapolis, like the bankers in Rayburn in DC, are more comfortable in our own government buildings and the hearings than we have ever been.

When it was my turn to testify, I was afraid I would not garner the same sort of attention to my testimony. I was wrong. The room grew silent. I felt their eyes watching, and I shook as I tried to tell them all in words they would hear, despite all you want to think about how protected you may be with private, for-profit health insurance, my story could become yours - easily. A little cancer, a little chronic illness and your home could be gone, your savings wiped out and your spot in the middle-class destroyed. Insurance is not the protection you hope it to be. It is a profit-making financial product sold to protect your health and wealth which often does neither. Period. The testimony went well. The hearing was rounded out with other terrific testimony - and the groundwork for the future has been carefully set in motion.

Then we had a great phone conference with state-based single-payer activists from all over the nation - coast to coast. The synergy of efforts and energy is building all the time. I think of just a few years ago when those working in the states often did so in isolation - not any more. The state-based single-payer effort is filled with committed individuals who believe states have the right to boldly confront the injustices in the healthcare system by passing and implementing true healthcare for all. I was so grateful to be one of the people on this call.

Finally, here I sit. In a treatment area with other cancer patients. All here for different reasons but all hooked up to IVs. I am the youngest at the moment. My stop in the finance office went better than it often has in other provider settings. The financial counselor told me my responsibility will be $171. That was a relief, because it could have been worse and I could have not had the money as has been the case many, many other times in my life.

So, I write this blog leaning back in one of those stiff hospital recliners. I have my cell phone on the table next to me, and I am hoping the drug drip finishes soon. There are more single-payer battles ahead, and this would be time spent in medical care would be time away from the front while those bankers and insurance lobbyists play in the buildings that are yours and mine to own.

Peace. Next week's single-payer work is yet to unfold. Join us.

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