“There is no one in this country who is not impacted by the cruelty of our for-profit healthcare system,” Kiah Morris told the crowd gathered at the corporate headquarters of Elevance/Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Indianapolis. “While they have their profits on the line, we have our lives.”
Kiah, the Executive Director of Rights & Democracy in New Hampshire and Vermont, is one of the seventy People’s Action leaders who came to Indianapolis on November 17 from across the country to peacefully protest Elevance’s stubborn refusals of medically approved care. Private insurers deny more than 240 million claims every year. With more than 47 million policyholders, Elevance is now the nation’s largest private insurer, and these denials helped fuel their record-setting $6.1 billion profits in 2021.
“We’ve come to this work because of our own personal experiences,” Kiah said, punctuated by shouts of “Who are you - to decide - if we live or if we die?” from the crowd.
As part of People’s Action’s Care Over Cost campaign, we demand private insurers like Elevance approve all care that is medically recommended, and bring transparency to the process of claims denials.
Kiah described how her husband’s private insurer denied treatments for his cardiac condition, putting his life at risk by overruling doctors’ advice. “His insurance company made him feel like his health issues were his fault,” Kiah explained. “They wouldn't give him the care that he deserves and is entitled to.”
This powerful public moment, which included testimonials by Lane Nelson from Hoosier Action, Andre Smith from Missouri Jobs with Justice, Adonis Flores from Michigan United, Mia Sostrin from ONE Northside in Chicago, and Erica Sawyer from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, received coverage by ABC, NBC and NPR affiliates and the Indianapolis Star newspaper. This visible moment was the culmination of three days of strategizing and reflection in Indianapolis by People’s Action’s health care cohort to chart the future of our efforts to win health care for all.
85 participants from 22 local and state-based People’s Action member groups spent three days discussing fundamental questions that we believe all of us in the movement for health care justice must answer: What would true health care justice look like? And given the power we currently have, what can we do today to improve people’s lives in the here and now, and set us up to achieve more of this vision of health care justice tomorrow?
Over our time together in Indianapolis, we worked to craft stepping-stone campaigns that will do just that. Our Care Over Cost campaign is one example: by demanding private insurers like Elevance provide quality care to their members, we achieve tangible, life-changing results for those denied the care they need. At the same time, we expose how corporate insurers’ relentless focus on profits results in poorer health outcomes.
And by reaching out to the hundreds of millions of Americans who are denied care by private insurers every year, we build a much larger base to support the long-term goal of a single, simple, public health care system that provides quality care for all.
When we highlight and fight back against the suffering millions of Americans experience because of profit-seeking by private insurers, we shift the consensus away from the status quo that private health insurers are the most efficient way to deliver care. When we take action together, we move toward a shared understanding that when we put care above profit in our healthcare system, we will all get the care we need.
The problems with our current healthcare system seem overwhelming when we face them alone. That’s where People’s Action and our Health Care for All cohort can make all the difference: we bring people together with others who have also experienced the painful shortcomings of corporate-driven healthcare. When we come together, we can take meaningful action to improve our own lives, and build a path towards a future with quality health care for every one of us.
Aija Nemer-Aanerud is Health Care for All Campaign Director for People's Action.