March Newsletter

 

Image: Baltimore Barnstorm

Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland has been a bunch of busy bees this February, cross-pollinating for Medicare for All across our beautiful state. 

In Baltimore and Columbia, we organized Barnstorms in collaboration with National Nurses United, Our Revolution, and Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America. Attendees pledged to lead or join a canvass to spread the message about Medicare For All. 

In Greenbelt, 60 people gathered for a special showing of Power to Heal, followed by a discussion about the impacts of racism and inequality on healthcare today. In Lanham, MD, we recorded a video of House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer reciting a list of industry-written excuses for not cosponsoring Medicare For All.

And in Washington, D.C., we stood next to Rep. Pramila Jayapal as she introduced HR-1384, the Medicare for All Act of 2019. You can access a full copy of the bill by clicking here. 

In Maryland, Representatives John Sarbanes, Anthony Brown, and Jamie Raskin have signed on to cosponsor the bill. Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger, Steny Hoyer, David Trone, and Andy Harris have still not signed on. Click here to locate your rep and tell them to join our fight.

We’ve already hosted canvasses in Prince George’s County and Baltimore. To organize your own canvass, visit medicare4all.org or send an email to brittany@hchrmd.org. We have prepared a set of printable flyers with background and information and talking points for each Member of Congress who hasn’t joined the fight.

Upcoming Meetings and Events

All Healthcare is a Human Right and Healthcare Now events are hosted at accessible locations unless noted otherwise.

National Labor Relations Board hearing 
on complaints of union busting by Johns Hopkins Hospital
March 6, 10 AM
Bank of America Center, Tower II, 6th floor, 100 S. Charles St., Baltimore

Howard County Meeting
Tuesday, March 12, 2019, 7pm-9pm
Howard County Central Library
10375 Little Patuxent Pkwy
Columbia, MD 21044

Contact: hchrmaryland@gmail.com 

Power to Heal: Film Screening & Panel
Friday, March 22, 2019 at 6:30 PM-9:00 PM
Wiley H. Bates Legacy Center, Inc
1101 Smithville St
Annapolis, MD 21401

Contact: pateto@vt.edu

Join the Anne Arundel Chapter of Healthcare is Human Right Maryland and Showing Up for Racial Justice Annapolis and Anne Arundel County (SURJ 3A) for a film screening and panel discussion of POWER TO HEAL, an hour-long documentary that tells one chapter in the continuing struggle to secure equal and adequate access to healthcare for all Americans.

Central to the story is the tale of how new legislation, Medicare and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were used to mount a dramatic, coordinated effort that desegregated thousands of hospitals across the country in a matter of months. More info on the film can be found at www.blbfilmproductions.com

Afterward, we will have a panel-led discussion about inequality in healthcare today and the movement for universal healthcare.

Healthcare Now Baltimore Monthly Meeting

Thursday, March 28, 2019, 7pm-9pm
Episcopal Diocese of Maryland
4 E University Pkwy
Baltimore, MD 21218

Contact: info@mdsinglepayer.org or 410-889-0329

Canvassing Events

Neighborhood canvassing can involve door knocking at houses in suburban areas that require a few steps to access. Crowd canvassing at metro stops and farmer's markets is more likely to be accessible. If you have questions about the accessibility of an event, contact the canvass leader using the information below. 

Anne Arundel County

Annapolis Medicare for All Canvass
April 27, 2019, time TBA
Home of Chrissy Holt
Contact: Chrissy (443) 271-4835

Baltimore City

Hampden Medicare for All Neighborhood Canvass
March 30, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Artifact Coffee, 1500 Union Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21211
Contact: Dan Brown (443-605-3847) or dcbrown@smcm.edu

Patterson Park / Kinetic Sculpture Race Canvass
May 4, 2019, 3:30 PM
2601 E Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD 21224
Contact: Charles (202) 394-2172

Howard County

Columbia Medicare for All Phone Bank
March 5, 2009, 5:00 PM
Volunteer’s Home
9457 Greco Garth
Columbia, MD 21045
Contact: Megan 443-472-1045

Montgomery County 

Silver Spring Metro
Thursday, March 7, 4:30 - 6:30pm
Don Bosset - donbosset@gmail.com or 443-285-2450

Grosvenor Metro
Friday, March 8, 3:30 - 6pm
Ed Fischman - fischman.edward@yahoo.com

Bethesda: Sagamore Shopping Center/Bannockburn neighborhood
Saturday, March 9, time - TBD
Donna McGee - donna.mcgee@verizon.net

Shady Grove Metro
Wednesday, March 20, 4:30 - 6:30
Stefani Olsen - stefani.olsen@gmail.com

Bethesda: Wildwood Shopping Center, Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda
Saturday, March 23, Noon - 2pm
wmcook@gmail.com or 202-272-2455

Wheaton Metro
Wednesday, March 27, 3:30 - 6pm
rfollot1@verizon.net or

Prince George's County

Riverdale Park Medicare for All Neighborhood Canvass
Saturday, March 23, 1:00 PM
Empathy Media Lab
5512 Taylor Rd, Riverdale, MD 20737
evan_papp@yahoo.com or (240) 374-3925

 

News Roundup

Insurance Companies

Former Aetna Medical Director, Dr. Jay Ken Iinuma, admitted under oath that he never reviewed medical records before denying care to patients. One of our followers commented: “insurance companies… the only entities that practice medicine without a license”.

In an aggressive move against the growing popularity of Medicare For All, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a group representing insurers making massive profits off of Medicare Advantage Plans, gained 368 pledges from Members of Congress in support of Medicare Advantage. 

Disability Rights

Last week, news of the death of 47-year-old disability rights activist Carrie Ann Lucas sent a shock throughout our movement. Lucas’ insurer, United Healthcare, denied a prescription for an inhaled antibiotic in favor of a less effective drug – to save $2,000. This started a series of complications that eventually led to her death. 

In an article for Bustle titled “The Medicare For All conversation must include disabled people, because it’s life or death for us”, Mia Ives-Rublee welcomed the inclusion of long-term care in Rep. Jayapal’s bill as “a big step in the right direction”, but noted that Senator Sanders’ S-1804 was less progressive and had made disabled people suspicious about Medicare For All in general. 

Medicare for All

Timothy Faust, author of the forthcoming book Health Justice Now (pre-order here), published “The Only Guide to Medicare For All That You Will Ever Need” on Splinter. It’s a comprehensive look into the logic behind single payer – and the logic used against it. 

Imagine a health-care system where nobody is denied medicine based on their insurance”. , Dr. Devesh Madhav Vashishtha wrote in the Seattle Times.

Support Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland

All of our work is driven by our member volunteers. We rely on individual donations – even as low as a few dollars a month – to sustain our work. Your contribution goes directly towards educating Marylanders about single payer, training new local leaders and lobbying/educating in Congress for National Improved Medicare for All. 

All contributions are tax-deductible.  You can make a one-time donation or sign up as a monthly sustainer by clicking here. We accept credit cards and check payments.  We are grateful for your support!


Maryland Medicare For All Canvassing Dates

Below is a running list of upcoming canvasses in Maryland, organized by Healthcare is a Human Right/Healthcare Now, The Greater Baltimore DSA, Our Revolution, National Nurses United, and Progressive Maryland. To organize a canvass in your area, contact us and we'll get you started!

No prior experience of canvassing is required to host or join an event.

We are committed to making sure that accessibility information is available for all HCHR-MD events (ours are linked). If you have any questions about accessibility, bringing kids, or other logistics, please contact Brittany at brittany@hchrmd.org.

Anne Arundel County

Annapolis Medicare for All Canvass
April 27, 2019, time TBA
Home of Chrissy Holt
Contact: Chrissy (443) 271-4835

Baltimore City

Mondawmin Medicare for All Crowd Canvass
February 23, 2019, 4:00 PM
Mondawmin Metro Stop
2307 Liberty Heights Ave, Baltimore, MD 21215
Contact: Mitch Burns (443-386-1331)

Hampden Medicare for All Neighborhood Canvass
March 2, 2019 at 12:00 PM
& March 30, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Artifact Coffee, 1500 Union Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21211
Contact: Dan Brown (443-605-3847) or dcbrown@smcm.edu

Patterson Park / Kinetic Sculpture Race Canvass
May 4, 2019, 3:30 PM
2601 E Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD 21224
Contact: Charles (202) 394-2172

Charles County

Waldorf Medicare for All Crowd Canvass
Saturday, February 23, 10:00 AM
Mom’s Organic Market and Giant Food Store
3301 Plaza Way, Waldorf, MD 20603
Contact: John 202-415-9213

Howard County

Columbia Medicare for All Phone Bank
March 5, 2009, 5:00 PM
Volunteer’s Home
9457 Greco Garth
Columbia, MD 21045
Contact: Megan 443-472-1045

Montgomery County 

Silver Spring Metro
Thursday, March 7, 4:30 - 6:30pm
Don Bosset - donbosset@gmail.com or 443-285-2450

Grosvenor Metro
Friday, March 8, 3:30 - 6pm
Ed Fischman - fischman.edward@yahoo.com

Bethesda: Sagamore Shoppping Center/Bannockburn neighborhood
Saturday, March 9, time - TBD
Donna McGee - donna.mcgee@verizon.net

Shady Grove Metro
Wednesday, March 20, 4:30 - 6:30
Stefani Olsen - stefani.olsen@gmail.com

Bethesda: Wildwood Shopping Center, Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda
Saturday, March 23, Noon - 2pm
wmcook@gmail.com or 202-272-2455

Wheaton Metro
Wednesday, March 27, 3:30 - 6pm
rfollot1@verizon.net or

Prince George's County

Riverdale Park Medicare for All Neighborhood Canvass
Saturday, February 23, 1:00 PM
& Saturday, March 23, 1:00 PM
Empathy Media Lab
5512 Taylor Rd, Riverdale, MD 20737
evan_papp@yahoo.com or (240) 374-3925

 

 


Vote for Douglass Homes HCHR Chapter to receive $1000!

Douglass Homes is a public housing community near Johns Hopkins Hospital. It's also home to the newest chapter of Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland. Residents are organizing for equal treatment in healthcare - and for the right to healthy housing. 

Douglass Homes HCHR has applied for a small $1,000 grant through a locally-based group called Cllctivly. The money would go a long way - please vote for Douglass Homes by going to https://cllctivly.org/black-futures-micro-grant/

You can also support our work by clicking here. All donations are tax-deductible. We accept credit cards and check payments.  We are grateful for your support!

 


January 2019 Newsletter

There’s something magical about the first snowstorm of a new year. Outside, the elements can be dangerous – and time seems to stand still. But underneath the blanket of snow covering the earth, billions of microorganisms cultivate and regenerate the soil in preparation for spring. Thanks to the tireless efforts of activists across the country, our grassroots movement enters into 2019 boosted by strong popular support for Medicare for All.

Campaign Updates

Image: Reverend Annie Chambers (red hat) serves cake at the December HCHRMD in Douglass Homes

I’m very excited to announce the creation of our newest Healthcare is a Human Right Chapter, in Baltimore’s Douglass Homes community. Douglass Homes has been holding meetings over the last few months. They’ve got ambitious plans to fight for healthcare equality in 2019. Residents view health justice as a wide umbrella that includes a right to healthy homes, equal treatment in the emergency rooms, dental and vision care, support for mothers and babies – and so much more.

Our chapters across the state are entering into the new year with a bang, sending delegations to educate our Representatives in Congress on behalf of Marylanders who are ready for Medicare for All. We’re also gearing up for a new petition drive in February, working with the Greater Baltimore DSA, Our Revolution and National Nurses United to coordinate a series of canvassing trainings around February 9-13.

All of our work is member-driven. We rely on individual donations – even as low as a few dollars a month – to sustain our work. Your contribution goes directly towards meeting with congressional leaders in support of National Improved Medicare for All, towards educating Marylanders about single payer and training new leaders, and towards the growth of new initiatives like Douglass Homes.

All contributions are tax-deductible.  You can make a one-time donation or sign up as a monthly sustainer by clicking here. We accept credit cards and check payments.  We are grateful for your support!

Upcoming Meetings and Events

All Healthcare is a Human Right and Healthcare Now events are hosted at accessible locations unless noted otherwise.

Baltimore Healthcare Now Meeting
Thursday, January 17, 7:15 PM
Baltimore Episcopal Diocese, at the intersection of N Charles & University Parkway

March with us in the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade!
Monday, January 21, 11:30 AM
Meet at the intersection of Dolphin & Eutaw. Dress warmly!

Medicare for All Week of Action, February 9-13

Baltimore Barnstorm
Saturday, February 9 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
First Unitarian Church Hall
1 W Hamilton Street (at N Charles), Baltimore, MD 21201

Join Healthcare Now, the Baltimore DSA and Healthcare is a Human Right for a local barnstorming event in conjunction with a national campaign organized by National Nurses United, Healthcare Now, and other national organizations, to generate support for HR-676, National Improved Medicare for All, single-payer healthcare. 

The barnstorming is a special organizer training and strategy summit to kick off a week or two of focused canvassing to mobilize support for Medicare for All in the Baltimore area, targeting the districts of Congressmen Dutch Ruppersberger (2nd), John Sarbanes (3rd), and Elijah Cummings (7th). Don’t worry if you've never canvassed before - we’ve got you covered! 

We will have a kid’s table and refreshments on site. Venue is accessible through a side door.

Columbia Barnstorm
Monday, February 11, 7:00 PM
Oakland Mills Meeting House
5885 Robert Oliver Pl, Columbia, MD 21044

Howard County Meeting
Tuesday, February 12, 7pm
6163 Devon Drive, Columbia, MD 21044
contact: hchrmaryland@gmail.com

Carroll County Meeting
Thursday, February 14, 7pm
Westminster Library small meeting room

Support Healthcare is a Human Right at Tino’s Bistro
8775 Centre Park Drive, Columbia, MD 21045
Reservations: 410-730-8466

10% of all food sales will go towards HCHR-MD.

Harm Reduction Advocacy Day
Tuesday, February 26, 9AM-4PM
Annapolis, MD

Join Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition and Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland for the second annual Harm Reduction Advocacy Day! Transportation options will be available. A light breakfast and full lunch will be provided. The day will consist of an advocacy training, meetings with legislators and a rally. Contact Tricia at bhrcpolicy@gmail.comwith questions.

News Roundup

Prescription Drug Prices

An in-depth report by Bloomberg estimated that Pharmacy Benefits Managers (PBMs) have driven up prices for prescription drugs for the consumer - and made billions off of Medicaid prescriptions alone in just one year.

Closer to home, North Baltimore’s Tuxedo Pharmacy announced its closure. Owners Harold and Arnold Davidov told reporters that PBMs were reimbursing them below the cost of prescriptions, forcing them to go out of business after 82 years of service.

Writing for the Washington Post Magazine, Tiffany Stanley examined insulin rationing by diabetics, focusing on the tragic death of 26 year-old Alec Raeshawn Smith and his family’s quest to hold drug manufacturers accountable for unaffordable insulin prices. Meanwhile, NBC News reported on a mother in Wisconsin who has been forced by the government shutdown to ration her insulin.

2019 Congress

For the first time in its history, the House of Representatives will hold hearings on Medicare for All. But first, the bill will be reintroduced in the new Congress. It is expected that Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) will release a new bill soon.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also consented to hearings for a Medicare Expansion bill. Here’s our analysis on why the buy-in would be a setback for uninsured young people and a barrier against universal healthcare.

Medicare for All

Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland co-founder Dr. Margaret Flowers appeared on KAWL radio to answer questions about how Medicare for All will work.

But how will we pay for it? Jacobin posed questions about the financing of single payer to Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts. Coming from a different angle, Eric Levitz unpacked the role of fact-checkers in the media.

Support Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland

Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland relies on your donations to support our work. All contributions are tax-deductible and you can make a one-time donation or sign up as a monthly sustainer by clicking here. We accept credit cards and check payments.


6 Reasons Why a Medicare Buy-In Won't Benefit Young People

What is the buy-in?

The Medicare buy-in is one of many “moderate” alternatives to Medicare for All proposed by centrist House Democrats that offer no solutions for millennials. Led by Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY), the legislation would allow people between the ages of 50 and 65 to buy into Medicare plans through state health exchanges. According to The Hill, Higgins won the support of Nancy Pelosi in prioritizing the bill in 2019 in exchange for supporting her bid to become the next Speaker of the House.

Higgins’ buy-in plan is yet another version of the public option, which has been floated as a more market-friendly alternative to Medicare for All for decades.  While popular with industry-friendly politicians, research into the likely outcomes of a Public Option – including a Congressional Budget Office scoring of a more expansive proposal floated in 2013 – shows that it would prove useless in reducing uninsurance and underinsurance.

Higgins and his supporters will tell us that the buy-in is “a step to Medicare for All”, that if young people accept it and wait a few more years, we’ll get guaranteed healthcare. But the buy-in does absolutely nothing for young people who are struggling to survive now – and it will only serve to divide us and distract us away from demanding what is owed to us as a basic human right. 

1. The buy-in reveals a lack of loyalty to the young people who built “The Blue Wave”

Medicare buy-ins, Medicare expansions, Medicare being allowed to negotiate prescription prices – these are the primary health policy goals of the DNC at present. Most of them exclude millennials – and a larger public option (Medicare or Medicaid buy-in) would still require us to be able to afford to pay for a premium.

Any healthcare policy that the Democrats choose to pursue must include us. And these promises have to be more ambitious than the ACA. Too often, Medicare for All is dismissed as an idealistic goal. But young idealists have already shown tremendous leadership in resisting Trump’s destructive agenda, in knocking on doors for candidates, in having those difficult political discussions with our parents.

The “Blue Wave” wouldn’t have happened without this idealism. Young people traditionally have a lower turnout in midterms. But in 2018, the youth vote was three times its size in 2014, with 67% voting democrat. It is not naïve for young people to expect more from politicians. They work for us – not the other way around.

2. We want Medicare for All – not Medicare for Some.

69% of millennials and 72% of 18-21 year-olds favor Medicare for All. We’re pretty vocal about it, too.

Young people today are in a worse economic situation than was faced by our parents or grandparents. Two thirds of us between the ages of 21 and 32 have zero retirement savings. The costs of food, housing, utilities, fuel and healthcare have gone up, while wages have stagnated for decades. We are less likely to own a house or have kids because we can’t afford it.

Good jobs with healthcare benefits are increasingly sparse. The situation is most difficult for women of color in full time low wage work, who are more likely to be uninsured or dependent on a partner for healthcare. 41% of all women under 25 are dependent on a partner or parent for healthcare. And with nearly a quarter of all women relying on a spouse for insurance, it forms a substantial barrier that prevents women and their children from leaving abusive relationships.

All economic indicators point towards an increase in automation and the expansion of low-wage service work. The unemployment rate may have improved, but with the rise of contractual and temporary work in skilled professions, these problems aren’t going away.

In addition to these economic challenges, our generation faces new, climate-induced health risks, from the Zika virus to asthma attacks caused by raging forest fires. A vast body of disaster management research shows that universal healthcare systems (without fees, co-payments or deductibles) are necessary to sustain a population through major disasters like floods and hurricanes.

Single payer won’t fix our economic woes – but it will ease the disproportionate burden that young people face. 

3. The Medicare buy-in is a government handout to the insurance industry.

Medicare works because everyone is automatically enrolled as soon as they qualify. The administrative costs of running payments, processing applications and uploading new people into the system will compromise these savings.

As for the buy-in, only states with health exchanges will be able to offer it. Undocumented immigrants will not be able to purchase a plan – in contrast to Medicare for All, which would cover everyone living in the US.

And here’s a crucial thing for young people to know about the way that Medicare is run today: a third of Medicare enrollees have purchased private “Medicare Advantage” plans, administered by insurance companies who make sizeable profits off of government money. Medicare Advantage is attracting huge investments from venture capital firms, with investor websites advising people that buying stocks in these new companies will offer guaranteed high returns. But to the taxpayer, it’s a rip-off.

Previous versions of the Medicare buy-in (the new bill hasn’t been released) stipulated that insurance companies will administer the new plans on the exchange. If there’s no evidence that a public option can work, and if even just a fraction of the buy-in customers are expected to use private plans – that means that the main purpose of the policy is first to line the pockets of the insurance companies – not to get healthcare to the people who need it most.

National Improved Medicare for All would eliminate the insurance industry. It’s the only way to reduce costs so that we can create a federally-financed system. No plan that encourages the expansion of Medicare Advantage can be compatible with Medicare for All.

4. Any plan to bring down costs has to include us. 

When healthy people (and younger people tend to be healthier) buy insurance, it lowers costs for everyone. Democrats know this. For years, the shortcomings of the ACA were blamed on young people who didn’t buy plans.

The health exchanges have brought healthcare coverage to many people who need it – and those of us who have been able to afford it are grateful for the extra opportunity. But high premiums, high deductibles and high copayments have meant a sicker risk pool (i.e., people who expect to spend thousands on healthcare costs are more likely to buy them).

The only way to drive down the costs of healthcare is to put everyone into the same pool – and the experience of the ACA shows that incentives and subsidies and even tax penalties can’t force healthy young people living in economic precarity to buy healthcare.

As an expansion of a public social program into a privatized marketplace with even more limitations than the ACA, the Medicare buy-in risks yet another step towards the overall privatization of Medicare, compromising the very structure that has made the Medicare program so successful.


5. It wouldn’t have helped the people who died from rationing insulin.

Alec Raeshawn Smith(26). Antavia Lee Worsham(22). Shalynne Vilela(22). Just a few names of young people who have died in the last two years because of insulin rationing. More and more patients are dangerously spreading out doses in order to save money. A cartel agreement between the producers of insulin – a drug that costs little to manufacture – has engineered massive price hikes for the consumer.

In the richest country on the planet, it is barbaric and unacceptable that these deaths happened. Any politician proposing an alternative to Medicare for All must be asked this: would it have saved them? The Medicare buy-in wouldn’t, and most of the drug price proposals from Democrats wouldn’t, either – except for Medicare for All.


6. A healthcare policy that doesn’t help young people is austerity under a different name.

Most often, austerity is a decision of a government to cut public services in response to an economic crisis. And while a buy-in isn’t a cut, it follows the same logic used by pro-austerity governments to justify citizens as lazy or undeserving of government support.

Centrist Democrats love to tell us that they think healthcare is a human right. This bill doesn’t match that declaration. Instead, it conveys the message that only people who have earned the right to healthcare through decades of supposed participation in the workforce can have it – if they are ready to pay for it.  Never mind that we work longer hours and face higher living costs than our parents did. Never mind that with climate change running out of control, we (and our children) will endure more risks to our physical and financial security.

There are many reasons why a Medicare buy-in, despite what its proponents say, is not a bridge to Medicare for All. The buy-in encourages the assumption that some people are more deserving than others when it comes to the provision of a basic human right. No healthcare policy that divides people into categories of moral worthiness in this way can contribute productively to a policy that requires a national mood of solidarity and mutual interest.

“Everybody in, nobody out” is a mantra that millennials feel more than any other generation. Considering that we hold the keys to the future, politicians would do well to listen to us.


This International Drug User Day, it's time to #ReframeTheBlame

Today, November 1, marks International Drug User Day, a moment which seeks to #ReframeTheBlame, to restore the dignity and humanity to people who use drugs and the families who love them. A large body of policy research makes it clear that addiction is a disease, not a sign of moral failure, and that it should be approached with public policy solutions just as we must do for cancer, HIV, or Hepatitis.

As I write this today, I think of people from the rural town I grew up in who are no longer alive. Their memory has been clouded by the shame that would accompany any acknowledgement of drug use, an overdose, or the ways in which stigma and social isolation form a barrier between disease and treatment. 

I went back to Easton this spring to speak at an event about the opiates crisis, and brought friends from the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC) and Bmore Power to speak about policies that seek to meet drug users “where they’re at”. Harm Reduction policies begin with the administration of Naloxone and the use of clean needle exchanges, both of which have been implemented in Maryland. 

This past legislative session, Healthcare is a Human Right supported a bill that would expand on these policies with the creation of Safer Consumption Spaces (SCS) in Maryland. A SCS operates as a clinic where people can access treatment services and safely use drugs under the supervision of medical professionals who can intervene in the event of an overdose.

The Safer Consumption Spaces bill did not make it past committee this last session, and a new, statewide network has been created to connect Baltimore-area activists with allies in rural counties. Deaths from overdoses are not new to Baltimore, nor are they new to Easton, where the effects of systemic poverty and racism across multiple generations cut just as sharply - albeit at a much smaller scale. Many in the room at the event I attended a few months ago acknowledged that overdose deaths had only become a political issue in Talbot County because of the spike in deaths among white people.

This acknowledgment, and the growing awareness of rural Marylanders that the War on Drugs affects them too, holds the potential to build new alliances and to shift policy away from the criminalization of drug use. But to get there, white Marylanders who come from rural counties must come to terms with the racist origins of these failed policies, which have more to do with controlling and hiding people from view than connecting them to treatment.

With medical consensus showing that opiate addiction is a public health crisis which cannot be resolved through the criminal justice system, one would think that policymakers would be looking into alternatives to criminalization. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Across the US, police are using drug-induced homicide laws to charge friends and family members of people who are dying with second-degree murder. Under these laws, the person who delivers a drug involved in a fatal overdose is guilty of a crime. This strategy isn't favored because it will actually save lives or steer people towards treatment. Many of the laws go back to the 1980s and have not been utilized until now. They have regained popularity so that our elected officials can look like they’re actually doing something. But an overdose death is not murder, and drug-induced homicide laws are counterproductive and inhumane.

The momentum behind criminalization goes beyond the War on Drugs. It is part of an ideology that justifies the immiseration of millions of poor, sick and dying people in the US and categorizes them as disposable because their humanity is a thorn to the interests of a for-profit healthcare system. 

In a country where it is easier for many to buy drugs than a cancer screening, why do we continue to lock people up for using? It is time to take the criminal justice system out of the equation, and to work with people who use drugs to create and implement new policy strategies that show respect to human life - and the human right to healthcare.

In Maryland, access to treatment for people with substance use disorders (drugs and alcohol) remains poor. Often, it is tied to the criminal justice system. Back in Talbot County, the local government has made the St. Michaels police station a designated go-to space for people seeking intervention. It's hard to imagine a more inappropriate location. 

As it turns out, access to comprehensive medical care - especially mental health services for children and adults with PTSD - is an essential part of a preventative approach. For this, we need a universal healthcare system. We need National Improved Medicare for All.


Confronting Racism in Healthcare

On Tuesday, September 25, Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland hosted a special screening of the PBS documentary Power to Heal, which tells the story of how civil rights activists used the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Medicare to desegregate thousands of hospitals. The event was a success, selling out days in advance and generating much-needed discussion about race and healthcare in Baltimore City.

At a time when people in the United States feel pressured to look for exceptional political leaders to guide voters towards progressive change, Power to Heal reminds us that social movements provide the real leadership.  It’s important to take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of the victory that was won by the activists who worked together to push through the healthcare reforms of the civil rights era.  The success of their efforts should serve as an example for us to keep up the struggle for National Improved Medicare for All. 

Whose victory?

Dr. Karen Kruse Thomas, author of Deluxe Jim Crow: Civil Rights and American Health Policy, 1935-1954, specializes in the history of racial health disparities in the 20thcentury. She worked as a researcher and interviewer on the film and attended the screening as a panelist. Her opening remarks drew attention to the centrality of Black advocacy organizations in the formation of Medicare, a history that stretched back to well before Johnson entered office:

“All the major Black organizations lined up and testified in Congress on behalf of the Truman Health plan, which included national health insurance”. It was because of a shared interest in universal healthcare that Truman was the first president to address the NAACP. US involvement in World War II had already created an incentive to implement a national healthcare program.

At the same time that Truman was lobbying for a national insurance system, the British National Health Service was created. This year marked the 70thanniversary of the NHS and has brought much media attention to the role of Clement Atlee’s leadership as Prime Minister. But the momentum that created the NHS came from returning servicemen and a population devastated by war who demanded healthcare as a human right. Truman felt similar pressure, a tension that increased through the presidency of John F. Kennedy and into Johnson’s term.

“Healthcare was a unique part of the civil rights movement because there was white self-interest in healthcare when there wasn’t in anything else,” Dr. Thomas remarked. The mutual interest of both white and African American citizens in healthcare was the glue that brought the Johnson administration and grassroots activists together.

Black leadership in movements for health justice

If Power to Heal has a villain, it must be the American Medical Association, which first lobbied against Truman’s national health plan as “socialized medicine” and hired then-actor Ronald Reagan in 1961 to record an album attacking Medicare as a precursor to “a socialist dictatorship.” The AMA also supported hospital segregation and was a frequent target of protests during the civil rights era.

The National Medical Association, founded and run by Black doctors barred from the AMA, was a key advocate for Medicare. To this day, the NMA remains committed to a single payer program. This underscores one of the most important takeaways from the film: that we must take time to learn from the stories of the people who started this fight. We shouldn’t be surprised that the AMA still refuses to support single payer in spite of its current popularity among doctors.

Civil rights activists’ involvement in healthcare didn’t end in 1966. The influence of the community clinics created and run by the Black Panther Party, for example, is very much alive in the present. In Baltimore City, grassroots and peer-driven advocacy work towards harm reduction combine a historical perspective of the racialized origins and impact of the War on Drugs with the urgency of saving lives now.

Our second panelist at the event, Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, brought the discussion to the topic of health injustice in Baltimore. Cheatham is the former head of the Baltimore NAACP and now organizes with the Green Party. “Since 1975”, he told the audience, “minority health status has steadily eroded and there have been no significant improvements in the removal of barriers that are due to institutional racism”. Reports issued by Baltimore City and the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2008, 2011 and 2017 “clearly documented significant and continued health disparities in many communities”.

Cheatham introduced a theme that was repeated during the panel discussion and in the audience comments that followed: community health goes beyond the need for good medical care. As an example, he cited food deserts—neighborhoods that lack easy access to fresh, nutritional food—as a significant barrier to improving health outcomes in Baltimore City. The problem of food deserts has gained increasing recognition, thanks to the work of grass-roots community activists.

Dr. Richard Bruno, our final speaker, is a family physician who lives and practices in Baltimore City. He reminded the audience of the lead paint epidemic affecting thousands of poor Black children in Baltimore, of asbestos in schools, of a city government that has not prioritized the lives of Black youth. Even now, Bruno said, a landlord can still get away with renting a property that is contaminated with lead paint.   

Moving into the discussion, audience members brought up a number of problems that single payer alone won’t fix. One attendee talked about the demonstrated impacts of the stress and trauma of living in a racist society on Black people in the US. Audience members also highlighted the need for more and better recreation facilities and services for city youth. All of these issues affect the health of city residents.

Michael Coleman of United Workers brought up housing injustice and the efforts to push the City to fund community land trusts. A year or two ago, I attended the launch for the campaign, where I watched Mayor Pugh promise to give funding to this project in front of a large public assembly – a promise that she neglected until pressure from the housing rights movement ensured her renewed support.

In regards to building a national health insurance system, the audience wanted to know more about ways to work for results now, in addition to pressuring legislators to sign on to HR-676. How can social work students, who know that they face high levels of burnout in the field, stay hopeful? Dr. Bruno answered that keeping conversations going about single payer and educating fellow healthcare providers is critical.

Medicare for All and Health Inequality

“Single payer healthcare has the potential to address poverty, inequality, discrimination and provide a more efficient and effective healthcare system for everyone. I can’t think of another reform that can do so many things at once,” Dr. Thomas remarked. She noted that this issue has the potential to bring together groups and interests that often diverge. Many people from different communities and political perspectives feel that they have been wronged by our current healthcare system.

Our movement must continue to show up for racial justice in housing, in education, in food and nutrition. Working together, we can be stronger than any powerholders who stand in the way.

Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland has copies of Power to Heal for in-home use and we are working with local groups across the state to arrange screenings of the film. If you would like to purchase a copy of the film or arrange a showing in your community, please contact me at brittany@hchrmd.org.


On Forgotten Workers

This May Day, here is a brief note about how the division of healthcare benefits according to standards of productive and non-productive work exacerbates certain types of discrimination. This discrimination even exists within the contemporary labor movement - although the rise in teachers' and nurses' strikes suggests a turning point.

Feminized Labor

This time last year, I presented a short speech at a worker's May Day rally in DC on the ways in which our healthcare system punishes working class women, especially immigrants and women of color. Our current economic system categorizes work that is regularly performed by women - what is often called feminized labor - as a type of work that is freely given out of a feeling of duty. Whether it is mothering (uncompensated) or nursing (undercompensated), creating and caring for life is systematically undervalued.

Starting in the late 20th century, activists fighting for the emancipation of mothers and sex workers began to collaborate more closely. In the last few years, there has been a revival of these connections in feminist activism in cities across the globe. The passage of SESTA has escalated the criminalization of sex work, a profession that many mothers and carers turn to in order to support their families.

Last night, at a meeting of local activists in preparation for the Poor People's Campaign, an organizer for the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP) pointed out that sex workers are often excluded from mobilizations for worker's rights. And this made me think - how is the connection between healthcare and (certain types of) employment part of the categorization of some workers as more deserving of benefits than others? Why is it that "good union jobs" are still tied to the idea of the nuclear family, so that they are more frequently attached to masculinized, "provider" professions?

Our current healthcare system ties healthcare plans to employers, furthering the idea that certain types of workers are not productive enough to receive coverage. Whether they are women, trans, nonbinary or even men, these workers are almost always performing feminized (or ethnicized) types of labor. We are living in a society where trans women first sell sex in order to cover the costs of hormones that are not covered under many Medicaid MCO plans, and then find themselves criminalized for doing so. 

Ableism and Work

For many people in the United States, living with a disability is also work. Current government, whether at the state, local, or national level, is inadequate in creating desperately needed infrastructure. This year's budget in Baltimore allocates no money towards accessibility funding. None. How is that acceptable? We have to consider discriminatory policymaking like this as an assault on worker's rights as well as disability rights.

To make things worse, Medicaid is often not accepted by local providers. Without accessible transport options, planning a trip to see a doctor can be a full day's work. Disabled Americans are often in paid work and/or are involved in caring for family members at home. Earned sick leave will help some, but there is more work to be done. This is why in addition to HR-676, which allows people to receive in-home care, Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland supports the Disability Integration Act, which lays out a strong plan for in-home care options that would significantly reduce the burden of labor on disabled Americans who receive healthcare.

If you perform labor, whether it is compensated or uncompensated, you are still a worker. Whether it's the labor of caring for yourself or others, or paid work, it's work. And everyone is entitled to health care regardless of their profession or employment status.

"Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses."

Happy May Day! 


Re-insurance in Maryland: What's the Story?

The news is in! After very little publicity during the negotiation of these bills, Maryland governor Larry Hogan and Maryland Democrats are celebrating their collaboration to "stabilize" the individual market - the healthcare marketplace created as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Hogan, who faces re-election this year, is able to come out of this as if he's saved the ACA from the more militant wing of his own party. Democrat politicians are also calling the re-insurance plan a victory. A closer look, however, shows that it is only a temporary fix.

Here are some key points to consider:

1. Without interference, the individual market will collapse.

There are two insurers left on the individual market, down from eight.  There are currently 154,000 covered by the individual market; Kaiser covers one-third and CareFirst covers the remainder.  The individual market has a higher risk population because those who are eligible but healthier and on tight budgets often are willing to take a risk and save money by paying the fine rather than the premium. Premiums on the individual market have been exploding, and it is now at risk of failure.  If the individual market fell apart, the number of uninsured Maryland residents (at 6% as of 2016 and now likely to be a higher figure) would increase. Maryland’s Medicare waiver, which allows for higher hospital rates, could also be at risk.

2. Insurers are effectively bailing themselves out - but only for one year.

Under SB387 (Individual Market Stabilization Maryland Healthcare Access Act of 2018), which is now law, Maryland will pay insurers for the costs of individuals’ medical expenses between $100K-250K (Corridor). A similar plan was originally part of the ACA but was phased out.

To stabilize premiums in the individual market, Maryland estimated it would need $350 million annually. Insurers in the Maryland Health Benefits exchange have been paying a federal tax (2.75% of premium revenues) to cover the cost of running the exchange. For 2019, the federal government put a one year moratorium on this tax. SB387 institutes a state tax for 2019 only, that will collect these revenues from private insurers and Medicaid MCOs and directs the money to a re-insurance fund. 

General and federal fund expenditures increase in FY 2019 and 2020
to pay the Medicaid share of the assessment for calendar 2019.
($ in millions)

FY 2018

FY 2019

FY 2020

FY 2021

FY 2022

SF Revenue

-

$300.7

$80.0

$0

$0

FF Revenue

$0

$49.6

$49.6

$0

$0

GF Expenditure

$0

$30.5

$30.4

$0

$0

FF Expenditure

$0

$49.6

$49.6

$0

$0

Net Effect

-

$270.2

$49.6

$0.0

$0.0


3. Again, this plan only works for 2019. 

SB387 is emergency legislation and was negotiated by Governor Hogan, Speaker Mike Busch, and Senate President Mike Miller.  Under this law Maryland is applying for a re-insurance waiver for 2020. This approach will be risky. The federal government encouraged states to apply to CMS for re-insurance waivers under section 1332 the ACA in early 2017 - but approval time has been longer than promised. The guidelines for these waiver are: no increase to federal deficit, must maintain comprehensive coverage, no decrease to the number of insured, and no increases to premiums. So far, the CMS has only given out three re-insurance waivers: Alaska, Minnesota, and Oregon. CMS has put off other states and Minnesota’s waiver caused them to lose $375 million in pass through funding.

4. Maryland’s re-insurance plan showcases the failures of the individual marketplace.

This legislative session, the “Improve the Affordable Care Act” camp was initially divided into two approaches. The first, proposed by civil society groups closely connected to the center of the Democratic party, argued that premiums on the individual market could be stabilized if more healthy people were “punished” for their behavior and called for replacing the now repealed federal mandate penalty with a similar state law. Healthcare is a Human Right took a firm stance against this bill, with Anne Arundel County chapter leader Robert Smith testifying that his income couldn’t provide for the costs of a monthly premium - and that the suggestion that this made him a selfish non-contributor to the general welfare of Maryland’s risk pool was an insult to many people in the state who haven’t been able to buy into the marketplace. The real problem, as we all know, is our for-profit healthcare system.

The other approach - the re-insurance plan - was introduced more quietly, with many decisions made in back rooms and without public input. Co-written by the two insurers that remain in the individual market, the re-insurance plan deserves a great deal of public scrutiny as industry-funded politicians continue to assert that the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act can be fixed. 

5. Public hearings offer an opportunity to spread the message that the only way forward is Medicare for All.

The state has announced four public hearings in April and May. We encourage our members and supporters to attend these hearings to make the case that this is a last-minute solution from a political class that is out of ideas, and that pretending that the status quo is sustainable puts many people at risk after it runs its course in 2019 - in addition to the 6% of Marylanders already uninsured. We deserve better - we deserve Medicare for All.

EASTON - THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 5-6PM
Talbot Co. Dept. of Parks and Recreation (Chesapeake Room), 10028 Ocean Gateway

BALTIMORE - THURSDAY, MAY 3, 4-5PM
Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, 750 E. Pratt St, 6th Floor

FREDERICK - MONDAY, MAY 7, 3-4PM
Frederick County Local Health Dept, 350 Montevue Lane

WHITE PLAINS - THURSDAY, MAY 10, 5-7PM
Charles County Local Health Department, 4545 Crain Highway

Contact Information:  hchrmaryland@gmail.com; brittany@hchrmd.org or 410-310-4589;
www.hchrmd.org

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“You can’t just show up for the Claire Huxtables of this world”: Facing Black Women’s Maternal Mortality

Researchers and advocates for Black women’s maternal health have been sounding alarm bells for years. Their message reached critical mass at the start of 2018, when two back-to-back events propelled this issue into the media spotlight. First, the death of 27-year-old activist Erica Garner – daughter of Eric Garner, who was murdered by the NYPD –  four months after the birth of her second child. 

Rachel Cargle of the State of the Woman newsletter remarked at the time that Erica Garner “fought hard not only against a system of racial inequality within our justice system but she bore the weight that so many in the US do and that is being a woman of color in the healthcare system.”

Commentators looked to Erica’s asthma, trauma, class background and her status as a survivor of domestic violence as causal explanations for her death. Then, less than two weeks later, a profile of Serena Williams in Vogue revealed that she nearly died after giving birth to her daughter. After experiencing a shortness of breath that she believed was caused by a pulmonary embolism, Serena had to plead with doctors and nurses for the CT scan and heparin drip that ultimately saved her life. 

Writing for Quartz, Annalisa Merelli commented that “even Serena Williams… is just another black woman when it comes to being heard in the maternity ward – and when it comes to being dismissed.” 

Maternal mortality and morbidity are on the rise in the United States, to which the World Health Organization has assigned a higher maternal mortality ratio than Kazakhstan and Libya. On top of this, Black mothers are 243 percent more likely to die within a year of giving birth than white mothers. A 2016 publication by Black Mamas Matter identified poverty, quality of care, access to care and racial discrimination as causal factors of this disparity. 

Last week, I attended a seminar hosted by the African American Policy Forum titled “From Birth Control to Death: Facing Black Women’s Maternal Mortality”. It was the final event in #HerDreamDeferred, a week of action on the status of Black women in Washington, DC. With a panel moderated by Kimberlé Crenshaw that included some of the top experts and activists from across the country, there was a lot of catching up to do.

Catholic Hospitals and Maternal Mortality

The failure of Catholic hospitals to provide adequate care for Black mothers was one of the biggest themes of the afternoon. Laurie Bertram Roberts, Executive Director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, started off by telling her own story. Roberts went into her local hospital with a discharge and was told she was having a miscarriage. Because of the existence of a fetal heartbeat, the hospital sent her home. She began hemorrhaging and returned to the hospital, where she received the surgery she needed to live.

Roberts was lucky, as was Tamesha Means, who went through a similar experience at a Catholic hospital in Michigan. As an Irish American and a recovering Catholic myself, I came into the seminar mindful that two days earlier, the Republic of Ireland had set a date (May 25) for a referendum on repealing a constitutional ban on abortion. The main driver towards this was the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist from India who suffered a sepsis-induced heart attack after her medical team first failed to diagnose a blood infection and then denied her abortion because of a presence of a fetal heartbeat – even though a miscarriage was inevitable. If the referendum passes, it will be celebrated as the beginning of a new era in Ireland for women’s rights. But that victory will always be tainted with its own original sin: the double disadvantage that Savita faced as a woman of color in a Catholic country. 

How is it that in the 21st century, we still see reproductive justice constricted by religion? As Roberts put it, “If you don’t have autonomy over your own body, there’s no birth justice. It can’t be separated out”. 

Image: Brittany J. Burnham

Kira Shepherd is the Director of the Racial Justice Program at Columbia Law. She gave an overview of Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) that restrict reproductive services in Catholic hospitals. The ban on sterilization procedures stuck out, considering the disproportionate rates of sterilization, often without consent, that were experienced by Black and Brown women after the procedure was introduced in the 20thcentury. Even as recently as 2010, California prisons were illegally sterilizing female inmates

The unavailability of this procedure to women seeking care at religious hospitals adds insult to injustice, as women of color rely disproportionately on Catholic hospitals in comparison to white women. Shepherd spoke of a study in showing that while half of all women in New Jersey of reproductive age in the state are Black or Latinx, they represent an overwhelming 80% of births at Catholic hospital. That same study found that women of color accounted for 75% of births in Catholic hospitals in and 48% in non-Catholic hospitals in Maryland.

Many Catholic hospitals aren’t even advertised as such, meaning that women who enter them seeking care are often unaware of the restrictions on the type of care they can receive. According to Roberts, who had spoken about her own experience of nearly dying from her miscarriage, “I didn’t know it would be different in a Catholic hospital. I know so many women in my position who also don’t know. And then there’s being uninsured. Poor Black women internalize that this is the sort of trauma we have to take”. 

The next speaker, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, is the President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. She revealed that the only Medicaid providers in some states are Catholic hospitals. “They are using us for profit”, she said. Roberts later cited statistics from the Mississippi state government showing that in some majority-Black areas like Jackson, 83% of mothers were receiving C-sections. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum rate of 15%. Mortality rates for Black women in the state are still 70% higher than white women. 

Misogynoir in America’s Healthcare System

Misogynoir – a word that describes the intersecting experience of racism and sexism faced by Black women – also marks its presence in our healthcare system through a series of discriminatory and punitive policies and laws, along with the substandard level of care that they often receive due to provider bias. Even Black mothers who are college educated experience a higher maternal mortality rate than women of all other races who never finished school. 

Jennie Joseph, midwife and CEO of The Birth Place, drew attention to the need for medical providers to receive antiracist training, citing a study that found a widespread belief among medical providers that Black people can endure higher thresholds of pain. “It’s about understanding the impact of your bias. Without looking at racism as part of it, we’re going in these circles where we’re not getting to solve the problem”. Joseph added that providers struggle as well, pointing to burnout, which “often overruns the good intentions that people bring to medical professions in the first place”. On top of this, providers who are Black women struggle to navigate the need to “have it all” as women of color.

The conversation turned towards how the War on Drugs has punished and incarcerated Black mothers. According to Dr. Perry, “Black women are judged more on what we’re putting into our bodies than what we’re putting into our communities”. The difference between the reporter-led witch hunt against “crack mothers” in the 1980s that was used as an excuse to escalate the War on Drugs with the more empathetic coverage of the effects of opiate abuse on white mothers today stands out.

Meanwhile, the rise of state laws that criminalize women who suffer miscarriages intersects with Black women’s poor access to birth control, abortion and other critical services to create a perfect storm. Aarin Michele Williams of National Advocates for Pregnant Women chimed in: “We’re helping people defend women who have abortions and women who have children at home. And if their home birth results in a miscarriage or stillbirth, they are prosecuted and robbed of their lives.”

Despite its in-depth evaluation of the intersecting oppressions faced by Black mothers in the United States, the panelists’ concluding mood was overwhelmingly positive and hopeful. Jennie Joseph, who runs a midwifery practice for Black mothers, said that this “is generational work we're going to have to do. We can start community-based work sooner than we can get any larger organizational to do anything besides a quick training." Roberts, who is part of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, shared photographs of a new birthing center she was opening in Mississippi. “You can’t just show up for the Claire Huxtables of this world”, she said. “You’re either with mamas, or you’re against mamas.”

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance is preparing for #BlackMaternalHealthWeek starting next week. Click here for more information.


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