In the Advocate September 2023:
Seattle Crowd Shouts:
“Medicare For All. Everybody In, Nobody Out!”
A big crowd at the Seattle FederalBuilding on Aug 1 cheered and
applauded as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and others blasted medical insurance companies for reaping bil-lions from fraudulent overcharges to the Medicare Trust Fund while denying urgently needed care for millions of patients.
The rally, sponsored by PSARA and their allies, celebrated the 58th birthday of Medicare and Medicaid, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 30, 1965.
A giant banner held by protesters in front of the Federal Building read, “Stop Raiding Our Medicare.” Another, held by Backbone protesters dressed in black, read “Merchants of Death.”
Jayapal told the crowd she is proud to be the lead sponsor of a bill, “Medi-care for All,” to expand Medicare cover-age to the entire population.
“Medical debt is ruining the lives of millions,” Jayapal declared. “Medicare is under threat. I want to make one thing clear: I will fight Medicare privatization tooth and nail!”
She added, “Medicare Advantage is privatizing Medicare, and we will not stand for it…Just recognize that if we took the billions – with a ‘b’ – that the Medicare Advantage program over-charges the government, we could plow that back into expanding Medi-care. We could afford dental and vision. We could eliminate co-pays and de-ductibles instead of subsidizing private insurance companies.”
Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Washington, D.C.–based Social Security Works, asked the crowd, “Why does the United States have the shortest life expectancy of any developed nation in the world?” “Lack of health care!” the crowd shouted back in unison. “The lat-est scandal?” Lawson declared, “It is $75 billion in overpayments. That’s a shame on our country! We are up against evil! People who kill people for profit. They are allowed to delay and deny care. That is what Medicare (Dis)Advantage is doing.”
Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who served 10 years on the staff of the AFL-CIO, said Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are key benefits in a democratic society, vital to equalizing income in a country with a handful of billionaires and a majority struggling to survive.
“Equality….Guess who hates that?” Mosqueda asked. “Corporations, capi-talism, CEOs, billionaires, private insur-ance companies. and those venture capitalists.” The crowd erupted in boos. “That is so wrong in the richest country in the entire world. You can see through that corporate greed.” She led them in a chant: “Medicare for all! Everybody in, nobody out!”
PSARA Co-President Jeff Johnson, former president of the Washington State Labor Council, chaired the rally. He pointed to a purple, papier mache octopus sitting on the sidewalk, each of its tentacles one of the Medicare Advantage providers. One of them was Amazon’s One Medical.
“Amazon spent more than $4 billion buying One Medical. Now, Amazon is
reaping millions in profits from One Medical. And soon, there will be $1.6 trillion in the Medicare Trust Fund, money Amazon and other Wall Street firms are scheming to get their greedy tentacles on.”
Claude Burfect, a leader of the Coali-tion of Black Trade Unionists, charged that Medicare privatization is stripping millions of their right to health care. He blasted President Trump’s so-called “Direct Contracting Entities” (DCEs), renamed and re-packaged as “ACO REACH” by the Biden Administration. Both opened the doors wide for the private takeover of Medicare by private, for-profit outfits, he charged.
Cindy Domingo, a Filipina leader of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alli-ance and LELO, praised PSARA. “Power concedes nothing without a struggle, and that is why we are here today,” said Domingo. “We need to stop the over-charging of these private insurance companies that totaled $75 billion…We must educate our communities….fight for Medicare for all.”
Bryce Walker, in his fourth year at the University of Washington Medical School and a youth representative of Physicians for a National Health Pro-gram, said he has seen 2,000 patients, ranging from infants and children to senior citizens, afflicted with cancer
or other lethal diseases. He said he is moved by their “grace.” Not one of them “told me how they love their private health insurance,” he said. “These enormous corporations are reaping profits from publicly-funded health care dollars.”
A delegation led by PSARA Co-Pres-ident Karen Richter went up to meet in the office of US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). Cantwell was not present, but the delegation met with Cantwell’s senior staff adviser, Josie McKinley. After the delegation returned, Richter told the crowd, “It was a pretty good meeting. McKinley had never heard
of PSARA, but after she had agreed to meet with the delegation, she read every edition of the Retiree Advocate that was filled with commentaries on the menace to Medicare from runaway privatization.
Jaisri Lingappa, MD/PhD, a retired infectious disease reseracher from Port Townsend, was in the delegation that met with the Cantwell aide. She urged the crowd to “keep up the struggle be-cause this fight is a long-term fight.”
Richard Timmins, a retired veterinari-an from Whidbey Island, also joined the delegation. A leader of PSARA, Timmins’ referral to a dermatologist to examine a lump on his ear lobe was delayed by his Medicare Advantage provider, Premera. By the time it was approved, it had tripled in size, and was diagnosed as a malignant melanoma. “Ms. McKinley was very receptive,” Timmins told me. “She had read our articles about Medi-care privatization. I was able to tell my story. She told us they know that this is an issue. But the staff has not received a statement from Sen. Cantwell about privatization.”
Tim Wheeler is a vetran activist and journalist, and a leader of PSARA's Clallam County organizing committee. Versions of this story also appeared in the People's World and The Stand, the online newspaper of the Washington State Labor Council.