Chanting, "Patients, not profits," a few hundred single-payer health care advocates took aim at the health insurance industry late Friday afternoon with a rally outside the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in downtown Chicago.
The protest came on the first day of the national Single-Payer Strategy Conference taking place in Chicago this weekend. Healthcare-NOW!, Labor Campaign for Single Payer and One Payer States are organizing the conference, which is said to be the biggest gathering of the advocates from across the country in support of a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type health care system.
Representatives from the Physicians for a National Health Program, which is also holding its annual conference in Chicago this weekend, were also at Friday's rally. The advocates carried signs reading, "Health care for all now!"
"We must come together to advocate for a health care system that is fair and just for all Americans, not just a few who can afford it," Dr. Robert Zarr, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, told the crowd outside the Blue Cross Blue Shield building, 300 E. Randolph St.
"Please join me in the fight for what is right and telling the truth about the evils of the for-profit insurance industry whose primary interest is in making a profit for their shareholders. We can democratize health care by democratizing our health insurance. We do it by making health insurance public."
Here's more from Zarr, plus comments from United Steelworkers International Vice President Tom Conway and scenes from the protest:
Stephanie Nakajima with HealthCare-NOW! said about 300 people have signed up to attend the Single-Payer Strategy Conference.
At the gathering, being held at the Chicago Hilton, advocates will discuss how to "strategically implement single-payer at the state and at the national level in the following year, and kind of assessing where we are as a movement," Nakajima said.
Among those attending the national single-payer strategy conference is Donna Smith, executive director of Health Care for All Colorado.
Smith detailed some of the state-level campaigns for a single-payer health care system.
"Oregon," she said, "is working hard on a single-payer measure in their legislature, and there are other states like Minnesota, Hawaii -- Texas, believe it or not -- New Mexico, places where sometimes folks wouldn't think about there being a lot of single-payer energy. People are really realizing that there may be few ways to get at health care costs and at access issues other than going to what a lot of the rest of the world already does."
Smith appeared in Michael Moore's 2007 documentary, "Sicko," which showed her family's experience of dealing with medical debt and ultimately going bankrupt because of health care bills.
"My husband Larry and I have been married for almost 40 years. We raised six children. We've always had health insurance, but we saw what many Americans were seeing -- a shrinking of what was covered and a rising of premiums," she told Progress Illinois. "When my husband had his third open heart surgery and I was diagnosed with cancer, it overwhelmed us pretty quickly, and we ended up going bankrupt. So we worked a lifetime to have some retirement security. It's all gone. Lost our home. Lost everything we had because of our health care needs. That should not be happening in this country, and it need not be happening in this country."