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First person perspective: Lobbying for single-payer healthcare

by Burkely Hermann

Lobbying usually gets a bad rap, and sometimes for good reason: it can be part of corporate special interest money’s current corruption of the political system. But during the first-ever national Single-Payer Lobby Day events in May, real people lobbied for a good cause that benefited the general public, not just a wealthy few.

As Congress’ August recess approaches and activists prepare to make in-district visits with their lawmakers’ offices, now is a good opportunity to recall my experience lobbying for single-payer.

As an undergraduate student who is currently interning with Public Citizen, I participated in the second day of events, which kicked off with a training for participants. I saw many different faces in the room, which was filled with about 75 people, ranging from nurses, who are part of National Nurses United, physicians who are members of PNHP, union leaders fighting for healthcare justice and concerned citizens who want a universal and inclusive healthcare system.

Next was an informational panel featuring single-payer advocates, labor leaders and physicians railing against the unjust lack of coverage, administrative waste caused by billing multiple insurance companies and urging Congress to pass a Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system. Representatives Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) also spoke to participants about their single-payer bills, H.R. 676 and H.R. 1200. Rep. McDermott focused on building on the existing reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act, while Conyers advocated directly for single-payer.

Participants in the lobby meetings spoke of single payer as a fair and comprehensive solution to the many shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I joined my fellow Marylander single-payer lobbyists, consisting of physicians, labor leaders, concerned citizens and a dietician. A member of PNHP, which advocates for a national single-payer healthcare system, led our lobbying team, but the group still made decisions collectively.

For each lobby meeting, different members of our group took different roles. The group’s deepest strength was the diversity of stories told in favor of single-payer. A nurse who worked in D.C. talked about how, even under ACA, healthcare was not affordable and told a story of how her colleague didn’t bring her kids to the doctor because she already owed the doctor a co-pay. An elderly private citizen recalled being treated by Austria’s single-payer healthcare and explained how she wanted the same sort of system in the U.S. A single-payer activist talked about surveys conducted by his organization, Healthcare-NOW! of Maryland, showing that a majority of those living in 10 of Maryland’s counties support single-payer healthcare. Other individuals, like the labor leaders and seniors, stated that they were glad they had Medicare and wanted to expand it to others.

Our main message was simple: to have a healthcare system based on human need, not profit, and which would cover everyone, including undocumented immigrants, from birth until death.

We visited five different House offices and two Senate offices. In most instances, representatives’ or senators’ staff members met with our lobbying group to hear our stories about why we support a single-payer health care system. We also had the opportunity to meet directly with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who made an impromptu stop by our scheduled meeting with his staffers. When asked by our group about support of single-payer legislation, he was not able at the time to provide an answer as to whether he would lend his support for single-payer healthcare in the future (though he made an important point about Republican governors denying Medicaid expansion money). The lobby day highlighted the solidarity between doctors, concerned citizens, labor leaders and others around a common cause. It was exciting and empowering to see that my fellow group members were willing to engage in action to support something they cared about.

While the two days of events helped shine an important light on the need for single payer, many of the offices we met with stated that their current task was to defend the recent healthcare reforms from political attacks.

People are “mad as hell” about the current healthcare system, built around greed, not human need, and pushing for a single-payer system is the antidote. That sentiment is why it’s so imperative that citizen activists contact their members of Congress and Senators about the urgent need to implement a national single-payer system. If concerned citizens and activists from multiple organizations can lobby lawmakers, sometimes face-to-face, then so can you.

To start this process, sign up to let us know you’re interested in lobbying your member of Congress during the August recess.

Burkely Hermann is a summer intern for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and part of Public Citizen’s Online Action Team