Hundreds march in Baltimore calling for the passage of a single-payer, universal healthcare system
Protesters organized by Health Care is a Human Right – Maryland took to the streets in Baltimore demanding healthcare as a basic human right.
“We didn’t start a movement to be anti-Obamacare or to be anti-CareFirst or anti-Kaiser,” says Sergio Espana of Health Care Is a Human Right – Maryland. “We started a movement for something. And it was to remind ourselves that there are fundamental public goods. And we understand that we need to fight to make sure that they’re actually protected. And chief among them, in terms of our organization, our campaign, is that health care itself is a public good.”
The march route included the headquarters of CareFirst, one of Maryland’s largest health insurance providers. CareFirst says they plan to increase rates on January 1 because President Obama’s healthcare reforms will increase their costs. They will increase the cost of their individual policies by an average of 25 percent.
“We didn’t have a debate during the health-reform process,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program. “It was completely scripted to pass this piece of legislation that props up the health industries. And so now that the exchanges are opening and people are going to see that the market-based system doesn’t work, more and more people are going to have problems affording the health care they need.”
Universal health care advocates in Maryland say they hope to emulate successes in Vermont, which will be launching the country’s first single-payer health care system in 2017.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Obamacare was the target of the Tea Party-led government shutdown, and the media’s spotlight remains on the numerous glitches facing the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.
But on October 26 in Baltimore, protesters took to the streets in an attempt to change the conversation. Their message: access to quality health care is a basic human right.
ERNEST BEAR LINDSAY, UNITED WORKERS: My name is Ernest. Everybody in United Workers calls me Bear.
It was important for me to come out here today because Maryland does not have universal health care, our country does not have universal health care. I myself had to fight and go without health care for about four, five years, which I now have because I’m on SSI and I’m also a vet.
But this country can be the world police. Why can’t we have universal health care? Other countries, like Italy, Germany, France, have universal health care.
We need to take care of our own here first. You know. And you’ve got people running around that don’t have health care that have to pay–decide whether they’re going to pay for medicine or rent or phone bill. And that doesn’t need to be so.
NOOR: The event was organized by the group Healthcare is a Human Right – Maryland, and activists used the opportunity to flyer and talk to residents about why they think everyone be guaranteed access to health care. The march was met with a favorable reaction from local residents.
DARIA MILLER, BALTIMORE RESIDENT: My name is Daria Miller. I’m a resident in the neighborhood. And I absolutely agree with them. Health care is a human right. It’s a basic human right. Absolutely.
NOOR: So right now it’s not a guaranteed right. Obamacare’s expanding coverage, but it’s still going to leave 30 million people uninsured. Like, in Maryland it’s more than about, like, 300,000 or 400,000 people. Why is that a concern to you?
MILLER: This country’s rich enough for us to be able to have health care for every single human being. It’s at the core of who we are.
NOOR: And so they’re part of a campaign to get universal health care, single-payer, in Maryland. Do you support that? And do you think that momentum might change in places like Maryland for that to actually pass?
MILLER: I absolutely do. And that’s one of the reasons why I like living in Maryland, because it is a catalyst of change for movements like this. So I absolutely support any movements like this, yes, for health care.
NOOR: The march route included the headquarters of CareFirst, one of Maryland’s largest providers of health insurance. It along with some other insurance companies across the country plan to increase rates on January 1, because they say because President Obama’s health care reforms will increase their costs. CareFirst proposed to increase the cost of their individual policies by an average of 25 percent.
Many participants of the march shared their own horror stories of not being able to afford health care, or like 20-year-old Brandon Johnson, who, even with insurance, faced extreme economic hardship when faced with medical problems.
BRANDON JOHNSON, UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE SUPPORTER: I’m 20 years old. Around the time I was about 13 or 14, we had a lot of trips in and out of the hospital, in and out of the doctor’s. My stepmom was pregnant with a baby, so she was going in and out of the doctor’s.
And they’re hardworking individuals, my parents are. My dad and my stepmom are both hardworking individuals.
And other stuff started piling up, having to go back for checkups due to the baby. I broke my arm. Me and my brother both broke out with severe psoriasis, had to go to the dermatologist multiple times. I broke out with an allergy condition called angioedema. I was in and out of the hospital and we didn’t know what it was. It took forever for them to diagnose it.
After all this–and in the midst of all this, bills piled up. We couldn’t pay them. And then bankruptcy was the next step. We had to switch insurance companies. We’re currently on Blue Cross Blue Shield. And like we said, they’re about to go up 25 percent.
And there’s no reason for that, that hardworking individuals, or anybody, for that matter, should be told that they’re not worthy enough to be taken care of when they’re sick or they’re injured. That’s unethical.
NOOR: But Organizers say they want to do more than simply take on health care companies and Obamacare.
SERGIO ESPANA, HEALTHCARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT – MARYLAND: We didn’t start a movement to be anti-Obamacare or to be anti-CareFirst or anti-Kaiser. We started a movement for something. And it was to remind ourselves that there are fundamental public goods. And we understand that we need to fight to make sure that they’re actually protected. And chief among them, in terms of our organization, our campaign, is that health care itself is a public good.
You know, what we have under the ACA, you know, was something written by the Heritage Foundation, by the insurance industry, you know, by a bunch of bought-up senators at the finance committee that basically maintains the private system in a way that guarantees them, you know, tons more profit now by basically doubling the numbers without necessarily ensuring that everyone gets quality care.
You know, under the ACA here in Maryland alone, there are still going to be over 400,000 people without coverage. There’s going to be, like, tens of thousands of people at the very least that are going to be underinsured, that are going to be getting these just crappy plans, you know, under the exchanges, of, like, getting 60 percent coverage. You know. But on top of that, you have a $3,000 deductible, and you’re paying $200 a month at the minimum. You know. So it’s kind of ridiculous to think that that actually helps you out.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS, PHYSICIANS FOR A NATIONAL HEALTH PROGRAM: Well, we didn’t have a debate during the health-reform process. It was completely scripted to pass this piece of legislation that props up the health industries. And so now that the exchanges are opening and people are going to see that the market-based system doesn’t work, more and more people are going to have problems affording the health care they need. Yes, we absolutely believe this is the time to organize and demand that America finally do the right thing and pass Medicare for all.
NOOR: Universal health care advocates in Maryland say they hope to replicate a similar effort to Vermont, which will be launching the country’s first single-payer health care system in 2017.
Reporting for the Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.