Due to other obligations Saturday, I was not able to stay for the entire Medicare for All Town Hall & Health Fair. But I sure was glad I went, not just because there was plenty of good information on single-payer health care systems, but because all the speakers saw the struggle for single-payer as an important piece in a larger puzzle. Although no one on the panel actually spoke the word aloud, one of my favorite buzzwords kept buzzing through my mind as they gave their spiels:
UPDATE: Egberto Willies got some video of the speeches from the Town Hall.
About 250 health care wonks and other interested parties showed up for the gathering, sponsored by several local progressive groups, including Socialist Alternative. Some announced candidates for public office in 2018, including TX-36 Congressional candidate Dayna Steele, showed up to meet & greet the mostly progressive crowd.
Sadly, the Harris County Green Party did not request or receive a table at the fair, and that's partly my fault. If I'd had any snap last month, when I found out about the event, I would have done more than just put it on my personal calendar. Just as sadly, there were only a few Green Party members in attendance, and that is not my fault at all. Even sadder, the Harris County Democrats did have a table—and we know where the Democratic Party stands on this issue, don't we? Actually, we don't.
The literature tables featured great information about the issue of universal health care, HR 676/Expanded Medicare for All, and the various groups present to advocate for real health care reform.
Four panelists spoke for about 15 minutes each, and then took questions from the floor. The organizers at least had the perspicacity require that attendees write their questions on index cards, rather than standing at a microphone and turning their "questions" into additional 15-minute speeches. After Q&A, there was lunch.
Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works
Saturday's first speaker, Alex Lawson, does not work directly on the issue of health care reform. The primary mission of Social Security Works is to save Social Security from politicians and their sugar daddies who propose cutting it; the secondary mission is to improve and strengthen it. His group has maintained a record of success mostly because Social Security is an immensely popular government program with an 80-year history of rescuing people from abject poverty.
In his 15-minute address, Lawson's main thrust was that a popular proposal such as single-payer health care could benefit from some of the same tactics his organization uses. On top of that, organizations that have overlapping aims can work together and share resources. Although it may seem as if citizen advocacy groups no longer carry influence on Capitol Hill, with Congress long captured by Wall Street, SSW still finds ways to communicate to Representatives and Senators how easily they can lose their jobs if they weaken, dilute, dismantle, or even threaten Social Security benefits.
Memorable words: "Never forget what you're fighting for." That's easier for single-issue advocacy groups than for big-picture groups like the Green Party. But it's also important to understand, whether your focus is Social Security, Medicare for All, or any other position, what you're really fighting for is a more just society.
Dr. Stephen Chao, Health Care for All Texas
Dr. Chao, who calls himself an "accidental activist," may be doing wonderful work in provided health care to underserved communities, but he is not the most compelling presenter I've ever seen. His slideshow and speech started with his personal story, how health care activism found him, and wandered quite a bit. He made several references to the history of Asian-American activism in a variety of arenas, including the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, citing where his own work with HCFAT might fit into that picture.
If converting the US to a single-payer system can do one thing well, it should be able to fix the shocking health disparities he sees in his daily work. Minority and immigrant communities in the US—particularly in Southern states—face lower life expectancies, higher levels of chronic disease, and starkly higher levels of maternal mortality, among other gaps. (The maternal mortality figures, already quite large at the beginning of this decade, shot upward dramatically starting in 2011.) Less affluent families are less likely to seek care because they are less likely to afford care, even if they have insurance through their employers.
Chao pointed out that, while Greater Houston is justifiably proud of its diversity, diversity in itself means little without inclusiveness. And much of the Houston area, when it comes to medical care, is not very inclusive. Consider Harris Health, formerly known as the Harris County Hospital District. While its centerpiece Ben Taub Hospital provides top-notch care, especially its famed trauma unit, for non-emergency care a patient can expect to wait in its expansive waiting room for multiple hours or even overnight. Its neighborhood health centers will serve the uninsured, but not happily. The Harris Health Gold Card does not entitle its bearers to free health care, but to deferred payments for services. But at least Harris County has a system. If you live in the neighboring counties, you don't even have that, and you're not entitled to make use of Harris Health facilities. Outside the county, only the poorest of the poor in Texas can take advantage of Medicaid. The ultra-diverse Fort Bend County, amid all its relative affluence, has a growing number of immigrants and ethnic minorities without access to care.
Judith Lerma, National Nurses United
Let's get some controversy out of the way at this point. NNU was a major sponsor of the recent People's Summit in Chicago. Its connections with the movements for Social Democracy/Democratic Socialism are strong. Although NNU derives from the California Nurses Association, which heavily promoted the Nader/LaDuke ticket as early as 1996, somehow in 2017, Green Party leaders who sought speaking parts at the People's Summit were snubbed. The Greens had a table but had not speakers on the schedule.
That said, Judith Lerma gave a short but powerful speech that could easily have been a capsule summary of the GPUS Platform. I tried to take notes as she listed all the changes which ought to accompany single-payer health care, but got may be half of them. "I can't talk about health care without also talking about," issues like racist policing, Black Lives Matter, the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, gender equality, income equality, rape culture, immigrant bashing, climate change, fracking, endless war, US imperialism, etc. This is that very vision of another world being possible that the Green Movement embodies.
Timothy Faust, Chapo Trap House
While Lerma and her vision provided the biggest "Yes!" moment of the morning, Chapo podcaster Faust was the undisputed rock star of the health fair. Like Chao, Tim Faust is a Rice University alumnus. Unlike Chao, Faust is a very polished speaker and presenter. He has his facts down by heart, and he articulates them with heart. Like Lawson, he can get righteously angry about the particular issues surrounding our horribly inequitable health care non-system, and how it siphons billions of dollars every year from consumers to CEO's.
Faust drew a picture of how the health insurance game really works, leading to one main conclusion: The bigger the risk pool, the less we pay for health care, and a universal risk pool is as big as it gets. That is precisely why the insurance and financial industries do everything they can to prevent universal health care, and to continue profiting off our suffering. His big intersectionality moment came from envisioning health care as transcending what hospitals and health professionals provide: Adequate housing and food can also be seen as health care, since without decent food and shelter people suffer more illnesses. Epiphany!
A parenthetical aha! moment came when Faust casually mentioned that Rep. Beto O'Rourke, currently campaigning for US Senate, will not go on record as supporting a single-payer system because—guess what—three of the four largest for-profit hospitals are right here in Texas. (I couldn't verify that, but in terms of number of beds, three of the top eight and ten of the top 30 are located here.)
I hadn't even heard of Chapo Trap House before Saturday, but I have just bookmarked it. Gimme some more of that.
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