NEW YORK NURSE: September 2009
by Janice Howard, Legislative Chair, District 1 Professional Nurses Association of Western New York
Our nation’s Capitol provided the backdrop on July 9 for the celebration of Medicare’s 44th birthday and a rally supporting a single-payer health system.
More than 1,000 single-payer advocates from across the country attended, including NYSNA nurses proudly displaying their NYSNA buttons. I was joined by Mary Herbst, Sarah Buckley, and Candy Dato, who along with 25 nursing students and NYSNA Director of Governmental Affairs Shaun Flynn, came to sing “Happy Birthday” to Medicare and to lobby their legislators for passage of single-payer health care.
Our first stop was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) office to speak to her staff (the Senator was at the Capitol for a vote) about the need for single-payer legislation. There was a large group lobbying, but NYSNA’s voice was heard. We were able to get across a few salient points as to why maintaining the current healthcare system, with a few modifications (the position supported by Senator Gillibrand) would not work.
Next came the rally. The blazing Washington heat was no match for the heat generated by the enthusiasm of the single-payer proponents. With banners and hand-held fans, the crowd gathered in the Upper Senate Park as Washington cab drivers slowly circled the Capitol in support of single-payer legislation. The Raging Grannies from Rochester, N.Y. belted out their version of “Happy Birthday:” “Medicare, you’re red white and blue. Uniquely American, and we all want you too!”
Once the singing ended, the serious business of getting HR676 single-payer legislation passed began with a wide variety of speakers. These included Donna Smith, a community activist and legislative advocate, whose story of financial bankruptcy was featured in Michael Moore’s film, Sicko, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D) of Ohio, author of the Kucinich Amendment to HR3200, the America’s Affordable Health Choice Act.
The amendment would grant a waiver from ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) for states that enact single-payer plans. For the first time, the single-payer health care option would be shielded from an ERISA-based legal attack and the way would be open for states to pursue single-payer options on their own.
Also among the speakers were Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a pediatrician who was arrested during a Senate hearing when she tried to bring single-payer to the table; David Scheiner, President Obama’s personal physician of 22 years; Jonathan Tasini, a Democrat seeking to run for the U.S. Senate from New York in 2010; Senator Eric Massa (D-NY), plus many other legislators from across the nation who support single-payer.
The afternoon ended with a briefing on state-based single-payer healthcare reform. It was refreshing to see the passion displayed by individuals as they articulated their support for HR676 and the Kucinich amendment to HR3200.
With a renewed commitment to the cause, it was time for us to head back to the bus. But before we left, we were joined at dinner by Andy Coates of the Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP)/ New York Single Payer Coalition. He has participated in NYSNA-sponsored conference calls on single-payer. His statement that, “We can’t do it without the nurses,” has made him our hero! Everyone in, no one out!