A Civilized Riot: A Movement for Health Care Justice

A Civilized Riot: A Movement for Health Care Justice

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Florida) has been waging his own war on corporate insurance forces determined to maintain the fiscal “slaver’s whip” by proposing a straightforward public option plan through the existing Medicare network. Rather than the 2,000-plus-page proposal endorsed by the president; Grayson’s bill is a robust … 4 pages.

In short, he proposes to extend Medicare benefits to anyone from birth to age 64 with a simple “buy-in. ” Curious to find out more, I sent an email request to interview Grayson upon receiving part of a mass email addressed to various advocacy groups, pushing for H.R. 4789, aka the Medicare buy-in. A few hours later, I was contacted by Grayson’s Congressional aide, Todd Jurkowski, regarding that request. In less than 24 hours, I had my interview. When money usually dictates access to Congress or the president, this response was refreshing.

After a few preliminary comments, I asked Grayson how this Medicare buy-in plan compares to the president’s plan as well as the single-payer plan recommended by the group Physicians for a National Health Plan.

His first response regarding the president’s plan was startling in its simplicity and direct tone. “Well, the President’s plan is lacking a public option, and THIS IS A PUBLIC OPTION. This would be a wonderful supplement to the President’s plan, BUT IT ALSO STANDS ON ITS OWN.”

In fact, the short title of H.R. 4789 is listed as the “Public Option Act,” or the “Medicare You Can Buy Into Act.”

Amazingly, the mainstream media somehow missed this fact, publicly accessible through the Library of Congress.

Grayson then went down the list of reasons the Medicare buy-in would benefit many Americans. According to the Congressman, the Medicare buy-in will generate the same cost savings of any large group using already existing Medicare networks of providers and hospitals. Consequently, this introduces an element of competition in a market saturated by a handful of private insurers, which now have a virtual de facto monopoly.

To quote Grayson:

This will enormously help people who live in areas of the country where only one or two private insurance companies have 80% of the market or more, which is true in many parts of the country. And also it improves on the President’s plan by taking existing valuable resources in the Medicare provider network and opening it up to sixth eighths of the population that cannot benefit from it.

Grayson also pointed out that this bill forbids any discrimination based on pre-existing conditions or gender differences as exists now in our for-profit system. The only distinction in price would be based on six age cohorts, ranging from birth to age 64, which reflects the reality of medical care provision costs.

The practice of policy rescission is a particular sore point to Grayson and would be illegal. Grayson explained that far too many people discover this rescission practice after its too late.

“The problem with private health insurance is that you can get all the care you need, providing you don’t need it.”

He attributes this practice to the profit motive and asserts that private insurers have a “conflict of interest,” which makes them a poor choice for the administration of medical care. Adding further, this plan has no high deductibles or co-pays, no lifetime cap, (the president’s plan has a lifetime and annual cap and is administered through private insurers); and no second opinions are required.

To put it bluntly, Grayson added that there would be … “NO HIGH-RISK GROUP GHETTOS.”

Finally, this plan coincides with the Senate bill/affordability bill provision of subsidies or financial help in paying the premiums for the average family of four, earning up to $88,000 a year.

As for the comparison to single-payer systems; Grayson explained that the Medicare buy-in provides the same services; it is merely the method of payment which differs.

When asked if he would back a bill establishing the right of individual states to create their own single-payer, statewide system, Grayson explained that the Senate bill already provides for this tool. I then asked if he would push to have “reconciliation” language placed in the upcoming budget, which would allow this to be accomplished with 51 senate votes, and the very gregarious Grayson said, “Yes.”

Still worried about CBO figures and the use of these budgetary contrivances to stall real reform – I asked if the Congressman would back an alternative plan to cut spending in areas such as defense, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and transfer those monies to domestic needs such as a single-payer system, or a more generously subsidized Medicare buy-in. Groups such as the National Priorities Project have projections which identify war spending as one of the chief drains on domestic budget problems. Grayson’s response was direct:

I’ve said a million times that I think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have to end…We have to take care of ourselves, and when I say we have to take care of ourselves, I meant that our healthcare, education, roads, bridges, our human needs.” “I’m not saying that we should end the war for the purpose of enacting single-payer…I think we should end the war for the purpose of eliminating the headlock that the military-industrial-complex has on America, um and meeting our human needs.

Grayson clearly views the health care divisions in our country as a national disgrace, which reflects on our values as a society. This is the Congressman who stood on the House floor this past September and characterized the GOP plan in two short phrases: “first, don’t get sick, and second, die quickly.” Facing snarling members of Congress demanding an apology for his alleged “outrageous behavior,” and his contempt of Congress, Grayson gave this “apology”:

I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this Holocaust in America. [Emphasis added.]

Somewhere in this health care debate, Congressman Grayson must have been “channeling” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who once proclaimed, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

This Congressman is just beginning, building a coalition, a movement for health care justice. Whether this Medicare buy-in leads to eventual single-payer, tax-funded medical care as it exists in other civilized nations remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, this movement is becoming a “civilized riot,” made necessary by corporate dictatorship and the politicians who act as collaborators in this growing “Holocaust.”

Once again, Dr. King is quoted on the nature of “riots”: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Perhaps, if the public had formed riots during the first Holocaust, six million murders could have been prevented. How many murders must occur in this Holocaust before our politicians grow a conscience like Congressman Grayson?