reposted from the Healthcare is a Human Right Collaborative website

by Jonathan Kissam (VT Workers’ Center) and Karim Sariahmed (Put People First! PA)

November 30, 2015

At the end of October, we traveled with four other people from the Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative to Chicago for the Single Payer Strategy Conference. The conference, hosted jointly by Healthcare NOW!, Labor Campaign for Single Payer and One Payer States, was an exciting gathering of organizers from all over the country, working to build a movement for universal, publicly financed healthcare.

Every year, America’s profit-driven healthcare system prevents millions of people from getting the care that they need, while generating fabulous profits for a small class of stockholders. Transforming our healthcare system into one that recognizes and meets the human right to health for all people will require a mass social movement, HCHR workshopone that can overcome opposition from the powerful private health insurance companies, other corporations and institutions which profit and benefit from the existing system, and their ideological allies in both major political parties who are committed to small government and the supremacy of the “free market.”

How can we build this movement? This year’s Single Payer Strategy Conference was structured around five framing questions that challenged everyone to think strategically about what it means to build a movement, how we build with other movements, how we organize around the Affordable Care Act and move beyond it, how we move toward victory in our states and nationally, and how we can concretely confront inequities along lines of race, class, gender, and immigration status. These are all critical questions, and questions we take deeply to heart in our Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns.

To build a broad-based movement and connect strategically with other movements, we need to project a big-picture moral vision, we need to build relationships, and we need to organize whole people.

A moral vision, rooted in deeply held human values, can capture the imagination of millions of people, become a new “common sense,” and thereby change what is politically possible. Many people at the conference made a connection between the civil rights movement and the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. Though the civil rights movement did not specifically demand Medicare and Medicaid, it established a moral authority that shifted the entire political landscape, opening up new political possibilities. Within this space, people rose up in motion around all kinds of issues, organizing against the war, for women’s rights, for environmental protection, for LGBTQ liberation, for the rights of people with disabilities, and for the rights of indigenous peoples. That is what we need to recreate.

We also need to build relationships across movements. We need to use our moral vision to connect our fight for health care with fights for Black lives, a living wage, immigration reform, trans liberation, and public school funding, but we can’t simply provide transactional support for one another’s campaigns. We have to build trust and develop real relationships with each other across movements, and we also have to be really intentional about making sure that our campaigns and organizations are truly diverse and inclusive and elevate the leadership of people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, poor and working class folks, people with disabilities, and people of all ages. We do this through our base building, our leadership development, our political education, and all other areas of our campaigns. The hard work of engaging in this way is not a distraction: it is central to the work of movements, and is the only way to win a health care system that serves all people equitably and protects the most vulnerable.

When we organize, we also need to organize whole people, allowing and encouraging one another to bring our whole selves into the movement. Only by creating space for us to transform ourselves can our movements stimulate the broader transformation of institutions and social relations that is needed to win universal, publicly financed healthcare. Successful movements tap into our shared humanity and guide us together in common cause. The work that helps us be together is both the means and the end. When we are meaningfully united across difference, we win.

Our workshop on the Healthcare Is a Human Right model at the conference modeled our commitment to a moral vision, building relationships that challenge and nurture us, supporting each other’s leadership, and organizing whole people. We collaboratively planned and facilitated the workshop, brought our whole selves into the room through stories and poetry, and enabled everyone in the room to actively engage and contribute through storytelling in pairs and through small group discussions.

We win, as the conference organizers say, when we build a movement. By bringing people together to build relationships and dig into critical strategy questions, the Single Payer Strategy Conference serves a hugely important role in this process. Let’s keep building a moral case for transforming the healthcare system, keep building relationships with each other and with people in other movements, keep elevating the leadership of people who are most impacted by injustices, and keep bringing our whole selves into this fight.

Jonathan Kissam is a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center and Karim Sariahmed is a member of Put People First! Pennsylvania. They tweet at @domesticleft and @sariahmed.

Read Put People First member Nijmie Dzurinko’s recent reflection on Syrian refugees and Pennsylvania – excerpt below:

“We have to ask ourselves, are the Syrian refugees the source of these problems? Will not admitting refugees fleeing war and poverty solve the problems that we as poor and working people have in Pennsylvania? Will refusing refugees help homeless veterans? Will it house those who need housing? Will it provide medical care to those who need it? Will it feed the people who need fed? Will it educate the students who need education?

Not only will refusing refugees fail to make any of these situations better, it also won’t create more resources for any of these things – because as we can see, we are already don’t have them. The only way to get what we need is to stop blaming each other and come together. By doing this, we can begin to understand how we got here and what we need to do to change it. We only get what we are organized to take and we aren’t asking for anything but the basics that we need to live. You are right to sense that the priorities of the powers and principalities are not working in your interests. But the refugees are not to blame.”

Read the whole article at Nijmie’s blog.

Press Release: Human Rights Town Hall in Kingsessing, Philadelphia

Contact: Sheila Quintana
Who: Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee of Put People First! PA
When: Thursday, November 12th, 6pm
Where: Kingsessing Recreation Center, 49th and Kingsessing Ave, Philadelphia, PA


In response to the ongoing healthcare crisis faced by the Kingsessing community in Southwest Philadelphia, as well as other communities across the city, state, and country, the Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee of Put People First! PA held a Human Rights Town Hall at the Kingsessing Recreation Center, a hub of community activism. Twenty-five community members joined together calling for a real say in the healthcare system, and fairness, transparency and accountability when it comes to accessing care and rising healthcare costs.

Residents shared powerful stories and discussed ways to shift the balance of power toward our communities in building a system in which healthcare is a human right.

Ruth Scott of Southwest Philly shared her story about seeking treatment for epilepsy. “Does she have coverage?” she remembers hearing providers ask while she was having a seizure. “I was treated like a product, I wanted to cry,” she said. Despite having insurance coverage, Scott recounted her experience being forced to choose between buying essential medicines and food.

Scott’s experience was echoed in responses to the first phase of a statewide health-care survey conducted by Put People First! PA. “More than one in three people surveyed in Southwest Philadelphia said that in the last 12 months alone, the cost of medical care forced them to skip paying for basic things like electric bills and groceries,” remarked Southeast PA organizer Sheila Quintana.

According to the most recent Community Health Assessment, the Kingsessing community has a poverty rate of 37% and the life expectancy of residents is a full 6 years less than people living in Center City.

“When you’re born, it should be a human right that you should have healthcare,” Gloria Turner of Southwest Philadelphia said at the town hall. “It shouldn’t be about money; all of us should be cared for in the same way.”

But even for the insured, the cost of care is going up. Health insurance premium increases in Pennsylvania on ACA Marketplace plans have been approved to take effect on January 1, 2016 up to 26.7%. Plans approved for increases of over 20% will impact over 150,000 people across the state. This means that over 1/3 of people currently enrolled in ACA plans will either be paying more or forced to navigate the marketplace to pick plans with lower prices which usually means higher deductibles and worse coverage.

“There is no public input into these decisions yet they impact so many people. Whether you have an employer plan, an ACA plan, Medicare, Medicaid or even the VA, health-care costs are going up for everyone,” remarked Robert Fields, Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee member.

Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller has stated that she is open to doing a public hearing next year but that no hearing will happen this year.

Put People First! PA is a statewide, grassroots organization that builds the leadership, power and unity of everyday people across lines of difference in our state.

When: Thursday November 12th, 6pm
Where: Kingsessing Recreation Center (49th St. and Kingsessing Ave. Philadelphia, PA)

Health insurance premiums on Affordable Care Act plans are increasing this year throughout Pennsylvania. Many of us are already struggling to get the health care we need for ourselves and our families. Premium increases on ACA Marketplace plans have been approved to take effect on January 1, 2016 ranging between 0 and 26.7%. Plans approved for increases of over 20%, including Geisinger, Highmark, and Keystone Health Plan West will impact over 150,000 people across the state. This means that over 1/3 of people currently enrolled in ACA plans will either be paying more or forced to navigate the marketplace to pick plans with lower prices which usually means higher deductibles and worse coverage. On Novermber 12th, the Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee is convening a Human Rights Town Hall in the Kingsessing neighborhood to examine the impacts of insurance companies’ power over our experience of healthcare.

We recently testified at a hearing on surprise medical billing held by the PA Insurance Department and asked Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller to hold a hearing on the proposed rate increases but were told that the decisions were already made. She said that she is open to doing a public hearing next year. We decided to hold our own town hall and invite her and others to attend.

At the hearing, Philadelphia residents will receive information about how insurance operates in Pennsylvania and share their stories about coverage and care. We’ll shine a spotlight on the recent statewide insurance rate increases which happened without public input. Our intention is to build momentum for greater accountability and transparency moving forward.  We’ll also show how our human right to health care is connected to our struggles to win all of our human rights: to education, to housing, to good nutritious food, to a healthy environment, and others. You can RSVP for the Town Hall here.

Put People First! PA will also be offering support with getting enrolled in an Affordable Care Act/Obamacare insruance plan (enrollment opens November 1st) or in Medicaid (which was recently expanded in PA). Blood pressure and blood sugar level screenings will also be available.

This town hall is part of an ongoing series of community meetings and hearings around the state. The first was in Gettysburg in December 2014, and focused on the stories of immigrants and undocumented people. They’ll be a way for us to voice our common challenges, build up our vision of what a health care system based in our human rights and human needs would really look like, and build a strategy for collective power. They’re also a place for us to see that we’re not alone in our struggles, to support each other, and to continue coming together and getting organized to fight for our human rights.

The Kingsessing community is getting organized and speaking out on our experiences of the health care system and the nature of the insurance companies. We hope that with this hearing our Southwest Philly Organizing Committee can continue to grow and build deep connections with our community. Please join us on November 12th, and remember to RSVP!

Kingsessing Human Rights Town Hall New

If you have questions about the hearing or about the Southwest Philly Organizing Committee, you can email Sheila Quintana at You can also download a printable flyer for the Town Hall here.