Save one life, you’re a hero. Fight to save countless lives, for generations to come, you’re Ady Barkan.
Nurses celebrated Medicare for All’s historic first congressional hearing — by continuing to fight. We’re greatly moved in that fight by a fellow organizer and patient who risked his life to testify.
Registered nurses make an oath to advocate for the health and safety of all people. On Tuesday, when Medicare for All received its first-ever hearing in congress, nurses across the country were moved to tears recognizing that same unshakeable public advocacy — in a dying patient.
“I’d rather be at home with my wife and son instead of trying to wake the conscience of this country’s lawmakers,” said 35-year-old Ady Barkan, who — in the late stages of ALS — used a computer to communicate. An organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy and the Be a Hero Project, Barkan conveyed the indignity of having to spend his final days crowd funding $9000 per month for residential care.
National Nurses United cannot thank Barkan enough for being such a fierce warrior in the grassroots movement for health care as a human right. Our RN members have been at the forefront of that movement for decades, and we know Medicare for All has been propelled into the mainstream (with support among 70 percent of Americans), and into its first-ever Congressional hearing — by people power.
That’s why nurses marked the hearing day by continuing to fight. While Barkan and other witnesses testified to the House Rules Committee, 300 nurses from 27 states and the District of Columbia converged in the capital Tuesday, lobbying legislators to sign on to the house and senate Medicare for All bills.
Nurses will never give up until Medicare for All is law because we are beyond tired of watching our patient suffer and die needlessly, simply due to inability to pay.
Hearing witness Dr. Farzon Nahvi, an Emergency Room doctor, summed up the cruelty of our current system with the story of a patient who couldn’t afford her own medication — instead overdosing on cheaper fish antibiotics and ending up in the ICU. Another of Nahvi’s patients asked for her IV to be removed and left the hospital to try to heal her appendicitis at home, fearing an astronomical surgery bill.
“All I want is to practice medicine in a world where I no longer have to watch a patient walk out of the ER without medical care that could save their life because they are worried about going bankrupt,” said Nahvi. “All I want is to never see another patient who thinks their best option for medical care is to go to their local pet store. To simply treat someone for a problem so simple as appendicitis and to have human patients take human antibiotics from a human pharmacy are not radical ideas.”
Nurses were heartened to hear meaningful discussion in the hearing, as rules committee chair Rep. Jim McGovern called the Medicare for All Act of 2019 a “serious proposal.” Rep. McGovern also stressed that a federal government which doesn’t bat an eye at funding ongoing wars — should instead have the political will to find funding for guaranteed health care.
“Not only does [Medicare for All] deserve to be part of the discussion, it deserves to move forward,” said Rep. McGovern. “I vote today is just the start. I know we won’t pass it overnight, but we won’t pass it unless we start the dialogue.”
Just as the Rules Committee hearing concluded, nurses heard the incredible news that the dialogue would go forward in Congress, at and impending hearing in the House Committee on Ways and Means. The pressure nurses and our allies have kept on legislators is paying off! (Hundreds of nurses visited the office of committee chair Rep. Richard Neal, earlier in the day, ahead of the hearing announcement.)
On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)’s release of an analysis on Medicare for All also showed the power of the growing, grassroots movement — in forcing Congress to take this legislation seriously. The CBO report confirmed that Medicare for All can be designed and implemented in the United States so that everyone has quality care, can be done in such a way to save the country money, and can be designed with a progressive taxation financing mechanism that will be beneficial to working Americans.
We can do this. We have to do this. We are growing the people power and building the political will to take Medicare for All across the finish line.
What we don’t have, for those suffering and dying in our present system, is endless time. Nurses call for swift action, on behalf of patients like our heroic brother Ady — who reminded legislators that every day they wait, countless lives are lost.
“Our time on this earth is the most precious resource we have,” said Barkan. “Some people argue that although Medicare for All is a great idea, we need to move slowly to get there. But I needed Medicare for All yesterday. Millions of people need it today. The time to pass this law is now.”