By Sharmina Manandhar
BALTIMORE – Four protesters, including two doctors, were arrested at a “single-payer health care plan” sit-in at the CareFirst insurance company office in Baltimore Thursday.
The protest, part of the “Patients Not Profits” campaign of the Mobilization for Health Care for All, was jointly organized by advocacy groups Prosperity Agenda, Healthcare-NOW!, and the Center for the Working Poor.
Baltimore was one of 20 cities nationwide to host such protests this week, said Kai Newkirk, national coordinator for the Mobilization in a conference call Tuesday.
Charles Loubert of Baltimore, Dr. Eric Naumburg of Columbia, Patricia Courtney of Millersville and Dr. Margaret Flowers were among about 30 protesters chanting “Single Payer Now, Health Care for All” outside the locked front doors of the insurance company office.
The protesters later entered the building through the back door, where the Baltimore City Police asked them to leave.
Loubert, Naumburg, Courtney and Flowers refused.
They were “completely cooperative” and were taken to the central booking facility in Baltimore where they are awaiting charges for trespassing, according to Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore City Police spokesman.
CareFirst could not be reached for a comment.
The primary objective of the sit-in was to get insurance companies to stop denying health care, according to Kevin Zeese, executive director of Prosperity Agenda as well as a peace and drug policy reform activist who ran for the U.S. Senate seat in 2006 as a Green Party nominee.
Earlier, a delegation consisting of Zeese, Flowers, Naumburg and Maryland State Delegate Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, met with company representatives, demanding an end to “insurance abuse” and “immediate approval of all doctor-recommended treatments.”
“The basic response was, ‘Send it in writing, we’ll consider it,'” Zeese said. “They wouldn’t give us a response today.”
After the meeting, Carter said she was committed to introducing legislation to require CareFirst to disclose insurance denials.
“The issue isn’t just CareFirst, it’s the influence they have over elected officials, over politicians,” Carter said. “You know what? That’s not all CareFirst’s fault because politicians need to have some independence and not be swayed by just the money…”
Doctors spend more time fighting health insurance companies, causing a decline in their ability to provide quality health care, according to Flowers, a pediatrician and congressional fellow for Maryland Physicians for a National Health Program.
Flowers left her practice to work on health care reform full time, she said.
“When patients and doctors make a decision about what’s best for the patient, it’s very common for the insurance companies then to make you go through extra steps to get the tests, to get the medications that you need,” Flowers said before the arrest.
The current health care reform discussion has included the insurance and pharmaceutical company lobbyists, instead of “people who are giving care and receiving care,” Flowers said.
“They are the ones who know best about what reform we need,” Flowers said.
Before his arrest, Loubert said his 56-year-old son and daughter-in-law do not have health insurance because they cannot afford it.
“It’s a travesty in a rich country like ours that people have to go without health care,” said 81-year-old Loubert. “It’s a right and I argue with people about it … all of the countries that have single-payer-type systems are not socialized, they are democracy. They are developed countries and they have more sense than we do.”