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People’s Action members stage a protest at Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C.

People’s Action members stage a protest at Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C. (Photo: People's Action)

Why I Got Arrested For #MedicareForAll

So many lives are lost every day to our broken health system.

A few weeks ago I was in handcuffs, one of six People’s Action members arrested at Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C.. We engaged in a peaceful protest after we asked Mitch to step out of the way of #MedicareForAll, and he refused.

Why was I there, willing to put my body on the line? Because I believe health care is a human right, and I don’t want to see any more lives sacrificed to health care profits.

To those who say we can’t afford to offer universal health care, I say we can’t afford NOT to – because it’s not ok to let people die because they don’t have money for health care or medicine.

I’m Mary Gerisch from Vermont, and this is my health care story.

I grew up in Detroit, where my mom was a nurse, and my dad a cardiologist – he founded the first free clinic there in the 1940s, after a woman died on the lawn of a hospital. They wouldn’t take her because she couldn’t pay for services. He knew that wasn’t right.

My parents – who spent their whole lives offering care to those who needed it – were also denied coverage after they were nearly killed in a deck collapse at a Salvation Army fundraiser in Atlanta. My dad’s head injury kept in him in the hospital for six months; my mom was wheelchair-bound with a severed spinal cord.

Their insurance company called these “preexisting conditions.” My parents lost their house, and I lost mine, to pay for their medical bills. That’s not right.

I also have a cousin who was diagnosed with cancer. She, too, had insurance, but couldn’t afford the medication. The doctor and my cousin kept calling, calling and calling, trying to get it through, and it didn’t happen. Finally three days after my cousin died, the medicine arrived.

That’s not right.

Sadly, my cousin is just one of the twenty people who die every minute in the United States for lack of health care. And there are millions more who don’t get care until they’re dying, because they can’t afford copays, or their insurance won’t cover it. So even as our costs spiral out of control, more people die. That’s not right.

Health care has to be a public good, just like schools, ambulances, and the fire department. Do we tell kids they can’t go to school unless they can pay? Or “Oh, I’m sorry – your house is going to burn down if you can’t pay the fire truck.”

No! That’s not what it means to be human beings. We’re better than that as a country.

What we really need is a health care system, like other countries have – like Britain, Germany, and Canada, where health care is free, and outcomes are much better. We don’t have one. What we have is a broken health insurance system.

People think there’s an equals sign between insurance and health care, but there’s not – not by a longshot.

All that our health insurance system ensures is astronomical profits for executives at insurance and big pharmaceutical companies. They literally spend billions a year to keep us from getting Medicare For All – because they, and their shareholders, make a lot of money from their standing in the way of what we really need.

Mitch McConnell is no exception, which is how I found myself in handcuffs outside his office. He proudly calls himself the “grim reaper” because of his refusal, as Senate Majority Leader, to advance the Improved Medicare For All bill and other common-sense legislation to a vote.

On this, Mitch is right – he is a Grim Reaper. So many lives are lost every day to our broken health system. Because of their obstruction, he and other lawmakers are directly responsible.

Why does he do this? Does he really think that if people can’t afford medical care, that it’s better if they die, so they’re not a drain on the resources of the country? It makes me wonder.

But I still have to believe that anyone, if they’re still a human being, can have a change of heart when they look you in the eyes, and hear what people endure because of our country’s failure on health care.

I know Washington can be a very sterile, and money-driven environment. If, like Mitch, you spend your days in committee rooms with other legislators, you may lose contact with your humanity, emotions and morality.

I get it, Mitch. I feel your pain.

But the thing is, we can’t wait – I can’t wait. I have multiple sclerosis, and my insurance doesn’t cover the weekly injections I need. Fortunately, I have a doctor who – like my father, and other compassionate providers – gives them to me anyway. But you shouldn’t have to be lucky to stay alive.

The truth is we’re all human beings, an the reality of our human frailty that we all need different things, whether it’s cancer care, mental health, vision and hearing, long-term care or help to overcome addiction. So equity in health care means you get what you need, not what someone else needs.

Corporate money has a big influence, but we still have one thing that corporations don’t have – our vote. And if we can get enough people behind health care –if we were to all stand together, from all walks and life and say to our lawmakers, “You represent us, we pay your salary, this is what we need,” then we can do it.

Right now, it feels like we’re up in the air on a teeter-totter, and they’re down there with all their money. But if I can get millions of people with me, then we can raise them up in the air – because they still can’t vote, and we can.

And I can speak, and put my body on the line for what’s right.

That’s why I found myself in handcuffs outside Mitch’s office, and why I’ll continue to speak out, as long as my voice can make a difference.

If we can raise our eyes and voices beyond the influence of the big pharma, medical device and insurance companies that make money off of our misery, then we can certainly tip that balance of power in favor of the people, nationally. I really believe that.

That’s what I believe. Mitch, what do you believe – and what will you do?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Mary Gerisch

Mary Gerisch is past president of the Vermont Workers’ Center. She is a task force member of the U.S. Human Rights Network (USHRN) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as the Co-Chair of the Universal Periodic Review task force for USHRN, and sits on their International Mechanisms Coordinating Committee.

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