We kicked off UHCAN’s monthly call in July hearing about dedicated physician activists taking on two extremely important issues ¬ – women’s access to abortion services and immigrant rights. Provider activism is at the heart of the health care justice movement, and, crucially, clinicians are active in other social justice movements, too. Doctors, nurses and other health care professionals get it: Health is part of nearly every issue that matters to people. And every breakthrough on any social justice issue is good for our health.

Vanessa Wellbery, Senior State Legislation Manager for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), spoke about growing physician opposition to extreme anti-abortion laws. Severe restrictions, amounting to virtual total bans on abortion have passed in several states, including Alabama, Georgia and Ohio.

Here’s how ACOG, the specialty society for OB-GYN physicians, expresses their strong opposition to these bans (excerpt):

“Lawmakers must support health policies based on sound science and evidence. Politicians must seek to improve access to care, not restrict it. Legislative restrictions fundamentally interfere with the patient–provider relationship and decrease access to necessary care for all women, and particularly for low-income women and those living long distances from health care providers.”

It was heartening to hear that more physicians across the country are mobilizing to push back against unconscionable restrictions on this essential part of women’s health care and, also, are defending their profession from inappropriate and misguided interference by legislatures. The good news is that physician activists have joined with grassroots organizations in Maine, Illinois, Nevada and Rhode Island to win new protections for abortion.

There is a long tradition of progressive physicians being on the front lines of social movements. Dr. Parveen Parmar, Chief of the Division of Global Emergency Medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, and California representative for Doctors for America, told us how doctors are following in that tradition by working to address the humanitarian crisis of immigrants on our southern border.

Immigrants and refugees, including seven children, have died while being detained in appalling conditions. While some doctors are traveling to the border to provide aid, they are finding that they have very limited access to patients. Those who have examined or treated migrants have reported that medical care in the facilities has been virtually non-existent and have found evidence of infection, malnutrition and psychological trauma. In addition to providing medical care, physicians also volunteer to partner with attorneys who are documenting abuse and neglect of detainees in order to fight back against barbaric practices in court.

Words matter in the Medicare for All fight. When the main stream media repeats right wing and insurance industry talking points and language they routinely confuse or even scare the public while obscuring the facts.

It was maddening to hear how the word “government” was weaponized by our opponents in order to make people fearful of any health reform that expands public insurance. For example, in the recent Democratic candidates’ debate, the CNN moderator posed this question: “Who here would abolish their private insurance in favor of a government-run plan?” This implies that “government” is a dirty word, while at the same time obscuring the fact that private industry actually plays a large role in government programs.

Ben Palmquist, Campaign Manager for the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), shared highlights from a new report, Parroting the Right, that takes on the framing distortions we have become so used to hearing. Here’s a pithy excerpt:

“This language was not adopted by chance. As this report details, a series of leaked strategy memos and decades of news articles and polls reveals that the word “government” was rarely used in surveys before the 1990s or in the mainstream press before 2007 as way to define publicly financed and administered health care. Only after the health insurance industry and a small cadre of Republican strategists crafted and pushed this phrasing for their own financial and electoral gain did the press and pollsters widely adopt this terminology.”

The NESRI report proposes new frames that juxtapose “public” health care when referring to “private” health care and saying “corporate-run” health care when also referring to “government-run” health care. NESRI is calling on journalists, editors and pollsters to drop the insurance industry language and adopt these new, more balanced frames.

The July UHCAN call also featured terrific speakers who announced two new grassroots campaigns that take on Big Pharma, Affordable Insulin NOW and Lower Drug Prices Now, as well as provided updates on Medicare for All organizing campaigns that are succeeding in getting cities and towns to pass local resolutions supporting Medicare for All and organizing door-to-door voter conversations. The threat to the ACA posed by the Texas v. US lawsuit was also on our agenda, as well as these state and local updates:

  • Philadelphia, PA: The fight to save Hahneman Hospital, a critical safety net hospital closed by its private equity owner in order to sell off its real estate
  • Tennessee: The fight to stop the state from choosing to block grant its Medicaid program

See the FULL AGENDA for the July 2019 UHCAN call here.

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UHCAN’s conference calls for state health care justice leaders take place monthly,
usually on the second Tuesday, at 12:55 pm (E).
Sign up for UHCAN’s listserv here.

UHCAN is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and nonpartisan organization.