How I Spent My Summer Vacation, or: Why I Disrupted the Senate

This originally appeared in the Forward newspaper. It is by Zackary Berger, MD, PhD, C4PC's Treasurer.

I stood, legs apart and face to the wall, in the Capitol Police Vehicle Maintenance Division. In other words, a garage. And I thought: I want to shake the hand of the person who invented plastic zip ties. They’re probably doing extremely well for themselves.

But let’s start from the beginning. How did I get here, hands cuffed behind my back, and why did I still feel, all in all, pretty good?

I’m a doctor who’s been in practice almost 10 years. During my training I wasn’t that involved in politics, and after 2009 even less involved. I was complacent after Obamacare passed.

In the following years it became evident that more and more patients were able to seek me out and start seeing me as their new doctor because of the insurance available through the Affordable Care Act. Sure the legislation wasn’t perfect.

Everything can always be improved. I even rolled my eyes and acted supercilious at those who wouldn’t shut up about single payer. Why rock the boat? Then Trump happened. During the run-up to the election I understood the abstract possibility that he could win. Though I’m certainly no prophet and I didn’t come near to predicting what eventually happened, I was really worried that a President Trump would wipe out the progress of the past few years: the millions more Americans with insurance; the decrease in the rise of healthcare costs, the improvements in population health.

I was shocked in November, and after the inauguration it was as if I had woken up from a long nap. With mounting fear and panic I understood that the priorities of Trump and his Congress collaborators are different from mine, and those of my doctor and nurse colleagues — and certainly different than what my patients think is important. Many Republicans believe that government should not help the sick, because being ill is a moral failing. The sick need freedom to cure themselves.

As a response, I founded a social media group called Doctors Against Trump which later, with the help of expert friends, I converted to a political action committee to support candidates who believe in progressive health policies. I started calling my Congressmen and Senators regularly,  and I made use of various on-line tools that connect blue-state voters with red-state constituents, urging them in their turn to call their elected officials.

This was something, but it didn’t feel like enough to me. I wanted to physically and concretely demonstrate support for my patients (sick, weak, old, marginalized), that I wasn’t sitting doing nothing while people were trying to take away their insurance. Once or twice I went and had a polite discussion with a senator’s health aide. That didn’t hit the spot either.

I saw that two separate groups were collaborating in a Senate protest action: those from various faith traditions (priests and ministers, rabbis, ordinary Jews and Christians; probably others too), on the one hand, joined also by health professionals: doctors, nurses, dentists; together with patients ready to tell moving stories for an audience and media. I joined them on a sunny morning in Washington, DC, at a Lutheran church not far from the Capitol and Union Station.

First we joined in prayer (as a Jew, I was happy that specific Christian expressions were deliberately avoided, and no one invoked Jesus’ name). I put on tefillin as a sign of serious piety in the public sphere defending the principle in the Biblical verse “you shall surely heal.” I was also thrilled to meet doctors and others who I had met before only on social media.

After a press conference at which we forcefully articulated our belief, as religious people and doctors, that health is a human right, we started off in a long, stately procession, slow and steady, to the Capitol building, two by two.

Good things come to those who wait, and protesting is no exception. They let the tourists up to the Senate galleries quite quickly, but apparently it was obvious to everyone that we were planning something different.

We finally got to the gallery, looking down at the Senate. It was like a Kabuki theater, Democratic and Republican statues frozen in their feigned gravity while true realities of life and death play out on the other side of the Capitol walls. When the number of the bill was called, we stood up and shouted, “Kill the Bill! Shame!”

Though we don’t yet know, while I write these words, if the terrible bill is truly dead, I am very happy with our work. We used our privilege as doctors and bearers of faith to march against the greed and cruelty of an unfeeling administration. As part of a group of activists I felt the collective frisson that many Jews have experienced in a minyan that davens with intention: the surety that all is not lost even when the hour is very dark. We are powerful precisely because we maintain, even under attack, our beliefs in healthcare and the needs of patients.

So maybe that’s why, when I stood feet apart in the police garage, the zip ties didn’t bite as much as I thought they would.

Read more: http://forward.com/writing-trumps-america/378864/faith-leaders-and-doctors-disrupt-the-senate-for-the-sake-of-health-insuran/

Don't set the car on fire!

We're all sick of the health care debate. But those who are actually sick, trying not to get sick, or taking care of others who are sick don't have the luxury of absenting themselves from this debate.

They (we) are looking on in horrified fascination as the GOP makes its plan known: dismantling Obamacare and leaving millions without insurance -- replacing it with stopgap subpar underfunded skimpycare.

The so-called "skinny plan" is chockfull of real harm. 15 million more uninsured. 20% premium increases. And that's before the skinny bill is stuffed even more full with add-ons designed to pacify the elements in the GOP who take moral exception to Medicaid. (The poor should refrain from getting sick, you see. Government should not be involved in healthcare. We should go back to the good old days, whenever and wherever those were.)

It's as if the check-engine light was blinking on your dashboard, and in response your mechanic doused the car with gasoline and set it on fire.

If you have a Republican senator, call them and tell them your healthcare story. Ask them if they came to Washington to harm the sick. If you have a Democratic senator (or if your senator is Collins or Murkowski!) call and thank them for standing up for what's right. You can also go to the Indivisible website to be patched through to those in red states, whom you can connect directly with their senators. (I've done it. It's addictive.) https://www.indivisibleguide.com/hubdialer-signup/

Yes, life is full of complications. Things are hard. There's plenty to do besides this sort of advocacy. You have work to go to, kids to raise, doorknobs and toilets to fix. If you are involved in whatever else you have to do, no one should criticize. But if you can just take a moment to speak up, you'll feel good, and we'll all thank you.

Disappointed but determined: after #GA06 and #SC05. Still CALL YOUR SENATORS

We are all disappointed about #GA06. But here are some points we are thinking about.

1. #AHCA is A LOT more important. Keep calling your Senators. These are millions of people depending on care.

2. #GA06 and #SC05 were special elections. The Democrats can compete everywhere. And with the margin that Ossoff overcame, we have a good chance in '18.

3. We love Zeynep Tufekci's point -- waves build through social media, but elections are won through infrastructure. Through get-out-the-vote efforts. Through money. Part of our work through C4PC is to encourage activism and advocacy, but ALSO to identify good candidates (Allison Galbraith! Dotty Nygard! Others!) and RAISE MONEY TO HELP THEM.

Call Your Senators To Oppose the AHCA!

Make sure your Republican Senator knows that their vote to steal insurance from millions of Americans to pay for a tax break for the rich will be held against them, loudly and frequently, from now till they are removed from office.

Please encourage your DemocraticSenator in their opposition to the AHCA, and ask them to hold up routine Senate business until a bill is released and a hearing scheduled.

C4PC ENDORSES DOTTY NYGARD, RN, FOR CONGRESS

Baltimore, MD; May 30, 2017 - Clinicians for Progressive Care enthusiastically endorses Dotty Nygard, RN, in California's 10th Congressional District against Rep. Jeff Denham. 

Jeff Denham has voted with Donald Trump 100% of the time, and his healthcare politics are no different. He said he wouldn't vote for any bill that would cut Medicaid or affect essential health benefits, yet he voted for Trump's misbegotten AHCA even without knowing how much it would cost or how many people it would leave without insurance. In fact, 51,000 Californians in the 10th District alone would lose coverage under the bill Denham voted for.

C4PC founder Zackary Berger, MD, PhD : "An emergency room nurse and patient advocate, as well as a former member of Riverbank city council, Nygard brings compassion, knowledge, and determination to the fight for the underserved and disadvantaged. She knows what healthcare and governing means, and how kindness and expertise work together -- not for the powerful but for the ordinary Californian."

About C4PC: Clinicians for Progressive Care supports candidates, issues, and advocacy which promote equitable, compassionate, evidence-based, and progressive healthcare for every group and individual.

Contact information
Dr. Berger can be reached at: 
treasurer@cliniciansforprogressivecare.com

C4PC ENDORSES ALLISON GALBRAITH FOR CONGRESS

For Immediate Release

Baltimore, MD; May 22, 2017 - Clinicians for Progressive Care is happy to endorse Allison Galbraith for Maryland's 1st Congressional District against Rep. Andy Harris. 

C4PC ENDORSES EXPERIENCED ACTIVIST, HEALTHCARE ADVOCATE AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNER ALLISON GALBRAITH

C4PC ENDORSES EXPERIENCED ACTIVIST, HEALTHCARE ADVOCATE AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNER ALLISON GALBRAITH

C4PC founder Zackary Berger, MD, PhD : "With her experience in the workings of the federal government and the health care system, Allison stands for what Andy Harris can't stand: meaningful health care for all without regard to who you are or where you come from."

About C4PC: Clinicians for Progressive Care supports candidates, issues, and advocacy which promote equitable, compassionate, evidence-based, and progressive healthcare for every group and individual.

Contact information
Dr. Berger can be reached at: treasurer@cliniciansforprogressivecare.com

What To Do list for May 3, 2017 - Stop Blaming the Sick!

What-To-Do List For Doctors Against Trump

Week of May 3, 2017

MDs Against Trump is a special project of Clinicians For Progressive Care.

Support candidates who believe in healthcare!

 

Top tasks for this week (thanks to itstimetofight.weebly.com for many of these links)

Call your reps and tell them:

  1. #ZombieTrumpCare will die, but we must help it along. Grab your Louisville Slugger, I mean your cellphone, and tell your reps #NoTrumpCare.

  2. The Trump administration and Tom Price must not be allowed to weaken the ACA. They must competently administer the markets, enforce the individual mandate, continue the insurance subsidies, ensure essential health benefits, refrain from instituting work benefit requirements for Medicaid, and remove legal challenges to the ACA. #ACAWorks #The MandateWorks #ACASubsidiesWork #HealthBenefitsAreEssential #SickPeopleCantWork

  3. HR 676 is the Medicare for All proposal in the House. Check if your representative is one of the 108 cosponsors. If they are, thank them! And if they aren’t, ask them to support it. #MedicareForAll  

  4. #PriceMustGo. His newly discovered even-worse insider trading, corruption, opposition to broad based health coverage, and anti-vaccine statements make him unfit to lead a Cabinet-level health agency.

  5. #DontBlameTheSick. Work eligibility requirements for Medicaid are cruel and ineffective, revealing the true face of GOP health policy.

    1. Wisconsin. Email comments to Wisconsin1115CLAWaiver@dhs.wisconsin.gov

    2. Kentucky. Call Gov Bevin at (502) 564-2611

    3. Maine. [public hearings scheduled May 17 in Portland, May 18 Augusta]

  6. Read these thoughts about how healthcare priorities connect to resisting the Trump agenda.

 

Don’t forget your local reps, local organizing, and your local Individisible groups!

Don’t forget to move your clinical setting towards the principles you believe in!

 

Put your money where your beliefs in healthcare are! Support Clinicians for Progressive Care today!

Also….

  • Consider candidates who believe in healthcare

    • Jon Ossoff is running in the special election for Tom Price’s House seat. More info about the run and how to get involved here.

    • Kim Weaver is running against Steve King.

    • Allison Galbraith is running against Andy Harris.

 

And as always, stay connected with us and spread the word to other doctors! You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

This week’s poem:

Exodus, by Taha Muhammad Ali

An Update about Clinicians for Progressive Care

Your protests, phone calls, and town halls turned the tide to deal Ryan, Trump, and those opposing progressive healthcare a stinging rebuke. Kudos to the many long-standing advocacy groups and the new forces defending patients and clinicians.

Our board will be meeting in the coming months to decide how best to take advantage of our new status, raise funds, and seek out worthy candidates. Meanwhile, here's a few words about each of our board members [I hope not to have made too many mistakes!]. Thanks to them for stepping up!

Dorothy Charles is a medical student in Philadelphia and one of the national coordinators for White Coats for Black Lives (#wc4bl).

Matthew Charon, our Assistant Treasurer, is an experienced attorney active in health care causes as well as a patient advocate. [Without him we wouldn't be organized at all!]

Justin Lowenthal is a biomedical engineer, MD-PhD student, and Maryland director for Doctors For America.

Andrew Ramsey (not on Facebook) is a politically active emergency medicine physician.

Roxana Samimi is an infectious disease specialist who has worked around the US and the world, currently based in Washington, DC.

Quinn Snyder, our newest board member, is an emergency medicine physician in Arizona, who was part of the successful Healthcare Professionals protest (shoutout to Andrew Goldstein). In addition to advocacy and organizing experience, he is knowledgeable in healthcare financing and fundraising.

Double-boarded in medicine and pediatrics, Natalie Spicyn is a primary care physician in Baltimore and has been active in organizing healthcare workers.

An impressive group, to be sure! If you would like to join us, please message me.

Stay tuned for our further activities!

Zackary Berger (Treasurer)

Where are we in ACA repeal? And why does it matter?

Per latest updates, it appears that the AHCA is proceeding through the Senate despite the CBO's calmly worded damning assessment (https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/costestimate/americanhealthcareact_0.pdf). That means, at this point, the House Budget Committee will have to combine the versions of the Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means committees, then send to the floor for a vote.

What does that mean for you? Call your Representative and tell them to vote against AHCA and against any ACA repeal. Call your Senator and tell them the same thing.

Okay, this is the same thing we've been saying for weeks. Maybe where the AHCA is in the hopper doesn't matter to our advocacy actions, but throwing our bodies against the machinery of negligence and death matters to us, our patients, and our country.