Medicare for All Town Hall Draws Crowd, and Controversy, in Livonia
The Detroit DSA Medicare for All Town Hall in Livonia drew a crowd of 100 people May 21, a great turnout in a fairly conservative area. Kyle Minton, Medicare for All working group co-chair, moderated the event.
The Town Hall began smoothly, opening with a statement from Reverend Jon Reynolds of Cass Community Methodist Church in Detroit. Reynolds was followed by health care activist Stefanie Mezigian, who told how she became an advocate for single payer: she had to jump out the window of a burning building. She didn’t have her insurance card with her and the hospital tried to discharge her despite her serious injuries. Once they found out she was in fact insured, they changed their attitude and were nice, even offering to give her a private room. Mezigian has been advocating for Medicare for All ever since.
Mezigian said she was frustrated that her representative, Haley Stevens, is not one of the 108 cosponsors of the Medicare for All bill in Congress. Minton encouraged everyone in the room to contact Stevens and request her support (readers can message her too: @rephaleystevens on Instagram and Twitter, or call her office 734–853–3040). Stevens did not respond to invitations to attend the Town Hall, nor send a staffer.
Then Minton called up the panel, which included Guy Desrochers, who has experienced both U.S. and Canadian healthcare, Susan Steigerwalt, a recently retired physician who has been organizing for single payer since 1996, and Dr. Anand Bhat, a physician from Ann Arbor (Bhat can be seen in this video).
Desrochers gave concrete examples of the way healthcare is administered in Canada — some drugs are completely free, others require a small fee. Wait times in rural areas can be long, but this is not so different from the doctor shortage we face in America in rural areas. Steigerwalt said that as a nephrologist, she saw many patients who could not afford dialysis. With a Medicare for All system, a person’s wealth would not determine the kind of care they received. And Bhat emphasized that, with good healthcare in place that is free at the point of service, fewer patients would get to the point where they needed dialysis, amputation, or other extreme measures that result from untreated diabetes.
As Desrochers was talking, some hecklers called out “What about the V.A.?!” Desrochers responded that the V.A. would still exist under Medicare for All. Another heckler called out, “Have you ever been to the V.A.? It’s terrible!” and it became clear that their concern was not to protect and fund the V.A., but to abolish it.
Another called out “How will you pay for it?” and a DSA member in the back row shouted back “Tax the rich!” A heckler replied, “There are not enough rich people in this country! YOU will pay for it!” Minton asked the audience, “Who here has ever paid for their healthcare?” When every single person raised their hand, he said, we already pay for healthcare. A Medicare for All plan proposes that instead of turning that money over to middle-man private insurance companies, it would go to the government to make payments directly to doctors (which is the way Medicare works).
The hecklers continued shouting out during each of the presentations. It was mildly amusing at first, but soon became annoying. Other audience members had submitted written questions on cards, as requested. Minton said a few times, “Look, I’ll be happy to answer any of your concerns, but people submitted questions and we’d like to get to them. Come talk to me after the Town Hall.” However, the hecklers were there to disrupt. They called out, “Doctors will get paid 40 percent less! You will not be able to keep your doctor!” To which Steigerwalt and Bhat replied, “That is false. Why would we be organizing for Single Payer if it were not in our own interest as physicians?”
It became apparent that there were four hecklers in the audience who were somewhat organized. They distributed a flyer that said “Medicare for All OUTLAWS all private insurance!” (as if that were a bad thing) and listed links to Youtube videos of Sally C. Pipes, a “health care policy expert” who runs the Koch-brothers funded Pacific Research Institute.
At one point, after one of them would not stop interrupting the presentations, someone in the back row countered, “Are you so rude that you cannot allow anyone else in the room to ask a question!?” and people in the audience cheered, one woman near the front calling out, “Hallelujah!!”
But the hecklers persisted. One man began a long “question” which could be paraphrased: If you take the square root of the average median family income divided by 20% times 17, you get 32 TRILLION DOLLARS and I just want to know, hOw WiLl YoU pAy FoR tHaT???
People around the audience rolled their eyes, as the man’s long math problem was so obviously a right-wing talking point that did not add up. Bhat, unlike Sally C. Pipes, had studied healthcare policy at the London School of Economics, and he replied that the way healthcare is financed in America is a tangled mess compared to most other countries. There are myriad government programs — Medicare, Medicaid, the V.A., CHIP — and they’re all financed differently. Add to that all the private insurance companies and you have a very inefficient financing system.
Anand Bhat said a few words in closing about what he had heard from executives of the private Cleveland Clinic. The long-term goal for such private for-profit medical care providers is to dominate the healthcare market — to become like a Walmart or Target of medical care. People would have no choice but to go to one of these large providers. “If we do nothing, the future is bleak,” Bhat said.
After the event, Livonia State Representative Laurie Pohutsky, who arrived late, spoke in support of single payer healthcare. The next day she signed on to support MI Care.
People trickled out. A couple of retired UAW members from Local 22 stopped by the table to say they are organizing around Medicare for All and were excited about the town hall. Someone from Novi bought a button for her friend who is running for mayor.
A young capitalist with Proud Boy vibes who had not been at the Town Hall cornered one DSA member, telling her that he supports a woman’s right to choose “as long as she makes the right choice.” A passerby who was at the library to borrow a DVD came by the table, picked up a brochure, and said, “Right on, we need Medicare for All.”
Two of the antis walked out shaking their heads, saying, “They wouldn’t listen to me.” One of them pointed at a young woman perusing buttons at the DSA table and said, “She cut me off.” The woman shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, “Look, I tried to listen to you all but you made no sense.” A plan was made for members of the Medicare for All working group to meet the antis at a later date to talk more.
All in all, the event was a success. Though Rep. Stevens didn’t show up, she did acknowledge that the Town Hall took place in a post on Instagram. Detroit DSA will keep holding her feet to the fire for Medicare for All until she sees how popular this bill is, and signs on.
We use the terms “single payer” and “Medicare for All” more or less interchangeably. See this article by Single Payer for Michigan cofounder Eli Rubin that explains the current bills.