Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nationwide Demonstrations Spark A New Civil Rights Movement

By Alexander Prisant

In what organizers are calling “the largest non-violent civil disobedience movement” since the 1960’s marches for civil rights, over a thousand grassroots health care activists of all ages have staged a second round of sit-ins and controlled confrontations at corporate health insurance offices across the nation.

Some sit-ins are being led by veteran front-line emergency room and pediatric physicians willing to go to prison in Los Angeles, New York and Baltimore, all for the cause of better health care.

Typical of the activist physicians is Dr. Ken Weinberg a 25-year emergency room doctor in the New York area who put it bluntly: “The insurance companies are criminals,” he declared at a press conference.

The protesters say nothing being considered by Senator Harry Reid will provide a workable system. However, the doctors said there are still other bills in Congress that could transform the system.

Virgilio Marquina, 72 of Miami, faced down a score of police alone (photo above). He was cuffed and arrested for simply standing outside a building with a CIGNA office in South Florida. “I have Medicare,” he said. “I’m doing this for my family—they have nothing.” At the scene, a veteran journalist was held back by a Sunrise, FL police officer who claimed: “You can’t be a journalist—you’re wearing funny shoes.” Protestors were outnumbered 3 to 1 by police, who were waiting with a hovering helicopter, riot van and full fleet of police cars nearby. Demonstrators simply asked that CIGNA allow physicians permission to give life-saving treatment to CIGNA patients facing death. The company refused.

Two hours later in Glendale, near Los Angeles the father of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan--- who died when CIGNA refused to allow a liver transplant---spoke passionately at the company’s door to sit-in volunteers, including Dr. Matt Hendrickson--and police preparing to arrest them.

“Can our system work anymore?” said Dr. Weinberg. “This is our attempt to make something happen before, I believe, it will get vastly worse for Americans needing care.”

The doctors provided recent accounts of having to turning away the seriously ill—from those attempting suicide, to a mother of three with aggressive cancer-- because insurers denied hospital admission. “We see it every day,” said Dr. Hendrickson, a veteran Los Angeles ER physician.

The protestors are staging sit-downs and facing arrests at the front doors of for-profit insurers in nearly a dozen cities. It is the second round of such protests in two weeks. But this week the protests spread from Virginia Beach to Portland. From San Francisco to Columbus, Ohio. Further demonstrations are planned for additional cities later this week.

The for-profit companies being picketed are spending on average $1.4 million per day in lobbying fees on Capitol Hill. They include Humana, Blue Cross, United Health, Cigna, WellPoint, Aetna and others.

“Within little more than a month we’ve grown into the largest non-violent civil-disobedience campaign since the Civil Rights movement,” says Kai Newkirk of Mobilization for Health Care Now. “We must create the moral imperative.”

One observer noted: “The American people are beginning to feel that health care is really about civil rights for the individual and the grass roots are responding the way it did in Martin Luther King’s day.”

It was Dr. King who famously noted: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking.”

Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician, put it in her own words: “Doctors watch the continuous decline in quality health care because of insurance hurdles, every day.

“We’d hoped for real debate this year,” she explained. “But the Washington debate is not between the stakeholders in health care—doctors and patients. It’s only between the stockholders of for-profit companies in the industry.

“The market model has failed our nation. For decades.” she concluded.

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