I never expected to "die" in front of a roomful of doctors. Much less in front of the annual meeting of the American Medical Association, in my hometown of Chicago. But that’s where I found myself, along with thirty fellow members of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, when we took over their annual meeting last Saturday to tell the AMA to get out of the way of #MedicareFor All.
The reason is simple: I’d always assumed that the AMA, as the nation’s largest association of physicians, would support the expansion of care. But they don’t. They’ve now joined pharmaceutical companies and for-profit hospitals to form a new lobby, the Partnership For America’s Health Care Future, to try and kill the momentum growing in this country towards #MedicareFor All.
And it’s not the first time they’ve opposed the expansion of care. Indeed, the AMA has blocked every attempt to offer universal health coverage in this country, all the way back to 1917: and they didn’t even allow Black doctors into their group until 1968. That’s not right.
Not so fast, AMA. If you want to kill Medicare For All, you’ll have to come through me, and my fellow Jane Addams members, first. And we’re not going anywhere.
The time is up for us to sit on the sidelines and complain about things - you’ve got to get involved. And it’s not just for myself as a senior: I have two grown daughters, five grown grandkids, and five young great-grandkids. They, at some point, will come along the same route that I do. So we’ve got to fight now for them, to preserve and improve what we have for the future.
In our group of protesters there were doctors and medical students, but most were seniors like me – some in wheelchairs – each of whom has their own painful experiences to share of being denied care when we needed it most.
As I stood holding a banner in the front of the room that said ““AMA, Support Medicare For All,” I listened to Susan, one of our wheelchair-bound members, tell how she recently went to the pharmacy for antibiotics, only to learn her health insurance had been canceled.
Like me, Susan came – in her wheelchair – to “die” in front of the AMA.
Many AMA doctors came forward in the room so they could hear us better, and take pictures of us, our “tombstones” denouncing the denial of care, and our banner. They applauded when the AMA’s moderator said they would respect our right to free speech, and several came up to us and have shared messages of support.
I have to believe that if the members of the AMA can see the faces - our faces - and hear our voices, the voices of those directly affected by the denial of care, they will come around and demand that their organization support Medicare For All.
After all, each and every one of them has taken an oath to first do no harm. And as members of the AMA, they are doing harm, to us, by standing in the way of Medicare For All.
I can’t imagine that if they truly consider themselves healers, they’d want to be represented by an organization that acts more like the notorious gun lobby, the NRA, in the way they influence our politicians to advance policies that harm us and our communities – especially people of color.
The AMA, like the NRA, says they defend our rights: but they only right I see them defending is our right to die. As long as they stand in the way of Medicare for All, they’re refusing to defend our right to live.
And until they step up to actually defend us, we’ll stand in their way - so we can open a way towards the dignity and health care we all need and deserve in this country, with #MedicareFor All.
Reggie Griffin is board chair of Jane Addams Seniors In Action and a member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, parts of the People's Action national network of grassroots groups. Born and raised in Chicago, Reggie is a retired graphic designer, who worked for the City of Chicago for 36 years.