The Baucus 13

Single-Payer Criminals

By Richard Rhames

Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (reading from script): “The comments from the audience are inappropriate and out of order. Any further disturbance will cause the committee to recess until the police can restore order.”

Sen. Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the committee (quietly and folding his hands to obscure his mouth): “I would ... I would rule right now.”

Baucus (after several removals, laughing): “We need more police.”

Grassley (turned toward Baucus, hand to his head): “Is there someplace—isn’t there someplace they can watch it on television?”

May 5, 2009, Washington, D.C.—8 arrested

On May 12, the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, DeAnn McEwen, R.N., and Sue Cannon, R.N., were arrested in Washington, D.C. Their crime (and the crime of three others arrested with them that day) was to crash the party thrown by Sens. Baucus (D-Mont.) and Grassley (R-Iowa) for assorted profiteers.

In the name of so-called health care reform, Baucus, Grassley and the pay-to-play establishment have been running a dog-and-pony show/PR pageant before the Senate Finance Committee. The hand-picked cabal allotted seats at the Baucus-Grassley table have included gruesome outfits like the Heritage Foundation, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Blue Cross, Blue Shield, insurance-companies-by-other-names like AARP, the US Chamber of Commerce/Business Roundtable/NFIB claque ... well, you get the idea. Hopefully.

The invitee list specifically did not include any advocate for a national single-payer health insurance plan. Though adoption of such a system could help civilize and modernize this violent imperial back-water — belatedly heaving us into the 20th century — we are instructed that such action is politically impossible. Financial tribute to corporate CEOs must come before the needs of the many. It’s simply the “fundamentally-American” Way. Doubtless you’ve heard.

On May 5, eight people, including three doctors, were arrested for “disruption of Congress” because they rose individually and inquired of Baucus why no single-payer proponents were granted seats at his table. As the docs were led away they reminded the assemblage of the Urban Institute’s recent statistical body-count.

Using methodology pioneered by the Institute of Medicine (IoM), the UI found that by 2006, 22,000 Americans were now dying annually because they were uninsured (See “Uninsured and Dying Because of It,” 1/8/08). In 2002 the IoM estimated that 18,000 people were dying yearly for lack of money and insurance. The UI estimated that, from 2000 to 2006, 137,000 had died as their health problems ran afoul of their economic status.

On May 12, 40 RNs stood in silent protest before Baucus’ committee. They wore red scrubs. Turning their backs to the committee they revealed signs reading: “Nurses and Patients First. Stop AHIP. Pass Single Payer.” As Baucus prattled, they exited to applause. Outside the hearing room, the previously arrested Baucus 8 stood vigil. They wore black T-shirts. The fronts read, “Put Single Payer On the Table.” The backs quoted Baucus: “We Need More Police.”

Inside, California nurse DeAnn McEwen offended official order by declaring, “Today is Florence Nightingale’s birthday. [She] said if there is none to hope for any better, there would never be any better. This country needs a single payer health system.” She was led away.

Then stood RN Sue Cannon: “The people at this table have failed this country for 30 years. We want single payer at this table. Healthcare is a human right. We want guaranteed healthcare. No more Blue Cross’s double crosses ...” Then, as she was led away, “No more Aetna or Cigna bosses ... We want to see our doctors when we need and get our pills that are guaranteed. We’re tired of private insurance greed ... HR 676 (the Conyers bill, languishing in congress) guarantees healthcare.”

Maine resident Jerry Call stood next. “60% of Americans and 60% of physicians want a single payer system. Why do you insist on spending more money when the single payer would ... [cover all of] us at a price we’re spending now? Sixty percent! Why not 60% of the people in front of you want(ing) single payer?” Nearing the door, he called back, “This is a sham! All you’ve got is special interest groups up there.”

Baucus riffed on his favorite refrain, calling for fuzz to restore order. “I’ll ask for the police, please come more expeditiously.”

Said California Nurses Association Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro of the tawdry affair, “What a disgrace that RNs and physicians are shut out and arrested while the insurance industry is given a seat at the table. ... The Baucus Committee can arrest nurses but they cannot silence the voices of RNs who will continue to speak from their hearts on behalf of their patients who want and deserve real reform.”

The AP granted this latest insurgency approximately 100 words. None of the quotes above were included. They missed a great story. Neo-Nero-ists fiddle while the New Rome burns within and without.

Richard Rhames farms near Biddeford, Maine. This first appeared in the Biddeford Journal Tribune.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2009

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