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YYY: Single-payer advocate says keep the heat on those in power

Single-payer advocate says keep the heat on those in power

 Street Roots (USA) 20 May 2019

(Originally published: 12/2009) Peter Shapiro is a retired mail carrier, now deeply committed to universal access and single-payer health care for all US residents, including undocumented immigrants workers. Health care is a human right. Health needs don’t recognize national borders. Shapiro serves on the Portland Jobs with Justice Heath Care Committee, which has long endorsed John Conyers’ HR676 single payer legislation. Shapiro was among a group of demonstrators arrested Oct. 15 for gathering at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in Portland. (944 words) - Jay Thiemeyer

Peter Shapiro is a retired mail carrier, now deeply committed to universal access and single-payer health care for all US residents, including undocumented immigrants workers. Health care is a human right. Health needs don't recognize national borders. Shapiro serves on the Portland Jobs with Justice Heath Care Committee, which has long endorsed John Conyers' HR676 single payer legislation. Shapiro was among a group of demonstrators arrested Oct. 15 for gathering at Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in Portland. Regence was a logical choice to target, according to demonstrators at the site. At a time when the whole world is watching WTO's meeting and remembering the direct action in Seattle, Regence charted a history of unobstructed rate increases that are rubber stamped by the Public Utility Commission. The civil disobedience was organized by the group Portland Mobilization for Health Care for All as part of a national day of action organized in nine cities across the country. In Portland, according to organizers, 30 people attempted to meet with Regence CEO Mark Ganz but were turned away and the building was locked down. Protesters then sat at all the doors and driveways, attempting to get Ganz to meet them and agree with their demands, which included changing predatory corporate practices which put real health care out of reach for many working, low-income Oregonians, in contrast to single payer universal access health care, as defined in HR676. Eleven people were arrested, including Shapiro, who spoke with me about the reasons why he felt it was time to lend his voice to an issue that must not be lost in the Congressional miasma.

Jay Thiemeyer: Why was civil disobedience necessary?

Peter Shapiro: For me it was necessary because I'm fed up with talking to recalcitrant congresspeople and their aides. The reality is that the health insurance industry has so much clout in Washington that our elected representatives, even the more sympathetic ones, are reluctant to cross them. As a result, a desperately needed reform of our health care system has been turned into a taxpayer bailout of a $12 billion industry. We've been demanding a publicly financed health care system like most other developed countries have; what Congress proposes to give us would make it illegal not to buy private insurance. I felt like it was time to put the heat back on the people who got us into this mess and are doing everything they can to prevent our getting out of it. So when I heard that there were nationwide actions being planned at insurance company offices, I jumped at the chance to hand these guys a little change.

J.T.: Tell us something about the nationwide actions?

P.S.: I don't know the current figure, but well over 100 people were arrested in cities across the country during the month of October, and the actions are continuing.

J.T.: What was Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield's response to the demonstration?

P.S.: Aside from calling the cops? They claimed to be baffled as to why we'd singled them out. Their public relations person told the press they shouldn't be the target of a protest of insurance company profits, because they're a nonprofit. For tax purposes that may be technically correct, but in terms of the way they operate it's impossible to distinguish them from any for- profit insurer. They protect their bottom line by denying claims, refusing to cover people they think will cost them too much to insure, jacking up their premiums 20 percent while giving their CEO a $100,000 raise. They gave Sen. Ron Wyden $40,000 for his re-election campaign next year. And they do more than their share to contribute to the massive administrative waste that has rendered health care increasingly unaffordable in this country. When Blue Cross started out in the 1930s they really were nonprofit - a co-op of health care providers who wanted to make medical care affordable at a time when a huge number of the people simply had no way to pay for it. But in the 1950s commercial insurance companies muscled their way into the health care market, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield realized they were going to have to adopt the business model of their competitors if they wanted to stay in business.

J.T.: Why do they get away with raising their rates like that? Isn't someone supposed to be regulating them?

P.S.: Health insurers are supposed to be regulated by the state, but it's a pretty toothless regulation. And in a sense it's naive to expect otherwise. When you talk about regulating an industry, you're assuming that industry has something constructive to offer and it's just a matter of making sure they do their job right. But what is the job of health insurance companies? What actually do they contribute? They exist to restrict people's access to medical treatment, and the more effectively they do this, the more financially successful they are. What does it mean to "regulate" something like that? The plain truth is we would be better off without them.

J.T.: What can voters and consumers do?

P.S.: Just keep the pressure on, and recognize that we're in this for the long haul. Whatever the outcome of the current congressional debate over health care reform, without single payer, insurance costs are going to keep rising, and health care is going to keep getting more inaccessible to more people. Sooner or later, we're going to get single payer. We really have no alternative. We have to keep organizing until our voices are louder than those of the insurance industry lobbyists.

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