Get Involved

New Frontiers for the Civil Rights Movement: Reflections on the 2016 SNaHP Summit

SNaHP Summit 2016

“We will not stop. There is only one outcome.”

-Diane Nash, coordinator of the Freedom Rides and student leader of the Nashville sit-in movement

As a third year medical student, my thoughts are never far from the patients I leave in the hospital at the end of each day. The bloodwork I need to check on, the records I need to request, how someone is doing on a new medicine. Even now, as I write this, I am remembering one shift a few weeks ago. The resident flipped open a chart and narrated her thought process: “The first thing you do is check insurance. It says ‘self-pay’ so there’s not much we can do.”

I wish this was the first time I had heard that statement. It wasn’t.

With these words still ringing in my ears, on Saturday, March 5th,  I descended upon Nashville, Tennessee, with 170 students from 47 schools in 23 states. Those who were among us were future doctors, public health professionals, medical researchers, and even a nurse-midwife. We gathered in Music City for the 5th annual Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) Summit, held on the medical campus of Vanderbilt University.

SNaHP membership has grown exponentially since the inaugural student summit five years ago, when a handful of students filled a single conference room. Today, the organization has 51 chapters at universities across the country. My colleagues take time away from grueling coursework and ungodly call schedules to meet every spring and work on enacting a single payer, universal health insurance program, one of the pressing civil rights issues of our time.

In fact, the organizers constructed this year’s summit around that very theme: “New Frontiers for the Civil Rights Movement.” The keynote address, given by Dr. Stephen Raffanti, drew connections from HIV/AIDS activism in the 1980s and 1990s to our work fighting for single payer today. Students led sessions on civil disobedience, engaging politicians on the campaign trail, and holding lobby visits with our elected representatives. We learned how to share stories and how to build our movement and train each other.

We learned how to share stories of collective struggle and how to work with one another to build a movement that connects single payer to broader social justice efforts. SNaHP members were among the thousands of medical students who took to the streets in 2015 as part of the White Coat Die-In, protesting police brutality and claiming racism as a public health issue. SNaHP members were counted among the hundreds who rallied and held vigils last October during the #Ten One: Medicare for All Day of Action for the tens of thousands of people who will die each year because they lack health insurance.

This year, the stakes are higher than ever before for our work. One of the Democratic candidates for the presidency supports a single payer, national health insurance program for economic and moral reasons. The other defames it as a pie in the sky impossibility while accepting money from corporations that grow rich off our fragmented for-profit healthcare system. The Republican candidates agree that repealing Obamacare is a priority, because pre-existing conditions should disqualify you from coverage and the thousands of newly-insured individuals who are receiving health care for the first time should go back to ignoring their back pains and strange lumps.

We went to Nashville because we have a lot of work to do. And like Diane Nash, ACT-UP, and the innumerable activists who came before us in America’s civil rights movements, we will not stop until universal single payer healthcare is won.

In the weeks since our conference, SNaHP members have protested bigotry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, pledged to engage political candidates about healthcare reform, developed a plan for getting single payer advocates onto state medical boards, and worked towards planning an action at the Democratic National Convention.

Give us a few more weeks, a few more months, a few more years and I’m hoping that as a resident I won’t have say, “The first thing you do is check insurance.”

 

esk photo

Emily Kirchner is a third year medical student at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  She is a member of SNaHP’s media team and political advocacy team. You can read more of her work at in-Training and The Billfold.

 

Future MDs: Americans want single payer healthcare – and yes, it can work!

In light of the media’s recent attention to single payer healthcare and the release of Bernie Sanders’ proposed plan, Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) would like to rectify public misconceptions of and clarify our stance on Medicare-for-All.

Several themes have recently emerged in online and print media in arguments against Medicare-for-All type reform. The first is the notion that, in order to cut costs, “Foreign single-payer systems pay doctors less. While doctors from the US are some of the highest paid in the developed world, their reimbursement is not nearly as reliable as that of physicians abroad. In the US, physicians often have trouble collecting payments from private insurance companies and patients alike. Medicare, on the other hand, reimburses at a reliable rate, and while some have attempted to argue that expanding Medicare to the entire population would reduce physician income, studies of the Canadian transition showed that physician incomes actually rose after transitioning to single payer.

Read More

Why Everyone Should Take Part in #TenOne: A Chicago Student’s Call to Arms

Despite the Affordable Care Act’s undeniable success in extending health coverage to more people and in curbing some of the health insurance industry’s worst practices, recent reports show our nation still has 33 million people who are uninsured, a comparable number who are inadequately insured, sharply rising deductibles and copays, and skyrocketing pharmaceutical drug prices.

The 2010 health law clearly did not go far enough.

image

Read More

Student Activism: A Historical Perspective on How Medical Students Can Affect Health Justice

As a medical student without an MD and prescription pad, it can be easy to feel powerless. Asked if it felt like one were making a significant difference in the lives of patients on a day-to-day basis, the answer of almost any medical student would likely be “eh, sometimes.”

We study biochemistry and physiology, memorize treatment regimens for asthma and hypertension, and hold retractors in the operating room, amassing a fund of knowledge that will hopefully– maybe someday– help us care for our patients. We listen to stories, provide emotional support, and occasionally glean information that in some small way improves a patient’s physical condition. And though we learn from and are grateful for the small contributions we are able make on a day-to-day basis, we easily lose perspective at the bottom of the medical education totem pole, forgetting the power we possess when we use our voices collectively. In those moments when we feel we have so little to contribute to patient care, we can look to previous generations of students and trainees for strength and inspiration to affect significant change.

Read More

Community Wisdom and “Power With”: Lessons from Liberation Medicine

For one weekend in mid-August, comrades in health from around the world gathered in Seattle to discuss the work of Doctors for Global Health, liberation medicine, and social justice as it relates to health in the US and abroad. The theme was “Deconstructing the Status Quo: Building Global Health Justice” and topics ranged from the impact of the historical trauma and the boarding school injustice on breastfeeding for native communities in the state of Washington to the importance of alternative economies in community health promotion in Mexico, as well as tools and strategies for building social movements and creating social change.

Read More

The Rx to Save Our Broken Health Care System: A Perspective from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines

Affordability and accessibility. These two words defined the health care reform movement in 2010, which culminated in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet the effects of the legislation have fallen far short of expectations as a comprehensive cost-saving reform package. While the ACA has certainly reduced the rate of growth of health care costs, the per capita cost of healthcare has continued to increase; in 2012 the per capita cost was $8915, compared  $8411 in 2010.

image

Read More

Take from the Poor to Give to the Rich: Why Fee-For-Service is No Longer the Answer

When I started on this journey to becoming a physician, I expected, in the end, to be rewarded. Not monetarily, though that is obviously part and parcel with any job, but with the privilege of building relationships with patients that lead to a level of trust and respect that remains rare among human interactions. The years of training and personal and financial sacrifice are all made worth it in the moments that I find myself making a true connection with a patient, especially in my home state of Tennessee where many patients presenting to the hospital have an ingrained distrust of “the system.”

Read More

The Current Politics of the Single Payer Movement

On the afternoon of May 27, 2015, single-payer advocates including myself watched as the New York State Assembly voted overwhelmingly (89-47) in favor of the New York Health Act. This marked an important occasion, as this statewide universal healthcare bill had not been voted on in the Assembly since 1992. This event highlights the rare, intermittent successes that come from repeated lobbying and advocacy. However, the bill faces a significant uphill battle in passing the Republican-controlled State Senate.

Read More

Colombia’s Universal Health Care Coverage: A Lesson Learned

I had the privilege of spending my last real summer break doing antibiotic resistance research and a mini-rotation at a hospital in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. This was actually my second stay in Colombia – I had spent 10 weeks studying Spanish there before my first year of medical school and fell in love with the culture, the food, and most of all, the amazingly kind and welcoming people. Despite this prior visit, I knew practically nothing about the country’s health care system when I arrived for a second time this May.

Read More