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Single-Payer-Minded

Local health-care practitioners explain why they're willing to go to jail in the name of health-care reform

Jennifer Daniel
Photographs by Frank Klien
Dr. Carol Paris
Charles Loubert
Dr. Eric Naumburg
Dr. Margaret Flowers

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 2/3/2010

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No matter how strongly we may feel about the health-care debate--and no matter which side of the debate we're on--most of us stay safely out of it. Aside from a few boisterous town-hall meetings, we monitor the dealings in Congress from couches, desks, and smartphones, where we can keep tabs on the action, make donations to the activist groups of our choice, and post our opinions on FaceBook or Twitter.

But as the discussion about health care has shifted from coverage for all citizens to a system that will force people to purchase private health insurance--without the controversial "public option" that would offer some kind of government-run health plan for those who wanted it--pockets of unlikely activists are mobilizing. Health-care practitioners are expressing their opinions via old-fashioned civil disobedience. Many of these protestors say the solution to the nation's health-care dilemma is in what's known as single-payer health-care--a government-funded medical system, much like Medicare, that would cover all citizens from birth to death. So far, the notion of single-payer health care has not gotten much serious play in the current discussion. But this new breed of professionals-turned-activists feels strongly enough about the topic that some of them are putting themselves on the line to draw attention to it.

On May 5, 2009, eight representatives of several activist groups, including Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare-Now of Maryland, and Single Payer Action--three of whom were doctors, two of them from Maryland--sat in on a Senate Finance Committee roundtable discussion chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana). They observed that no representatives at the roundtable supported single-payer health care, and repeatedly requested that they be permitted to speak at the hearing. Baucus had all of them arrested.

On May 12, at a second roundtable sponsored by Baucus' committee, five more health-care practitioners who were not given a seat at the table crashed the hearing, spoke out in favor of single-payer health care, and were arrested.

And in a series of actions that took place across the country this fall, more than 150 people--many of them working health-care providers--were arrested for staging sit-ins at the offices of health-insurance companies and Congressional representatives, such as senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). One such action took place in Baltimore on Oct. 29, 2009, resulting in the arrest of two doctors, a retired psychologist, and a schoolteacher.

City Paper asked some of these individuals to tell us what made them feel so strongly about health-care reform that they were willing to go to jail for it.

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