BANGOR, Maine — Jerry Call just wanted a seat at the table to talk about the benefits of a federal, single-payer health care system.
Instead, a Montana senator who chaired the Senate Finance Committee said Call was out of order and ordered the South Thomaston man’s arrest.
That was about two weeks ago in a U.S. Senate chamber in Washington D.C., but Call has not backed off his message since.
“Everyone you talk to from the president on down agrees that a single-payer system is the best option,” Call said Thursday at the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine in Bangor. “But the political reality is that it would never get through. That’s why we need people to put their feet to the street.”
Call is part of the group Physicians for a National Health Program, which is organizing rallies across the country this weekend, including at noon Saturday at the State House in Augusta, to advocate for federal universal health care. He hopes a grass-roots movement might persuade Maine’s congressional delegation to insist that a single-payer system be included in the health care reform debate.
Joining Call on Thursday was Walter Doefler, a Dover-Foxcroft physician and native of Austria, which has a national single-payer health care system.
“It’s better because going to the doctor is not a financial decision,” Doefler said. “In general, health care should not be a business because the commodity is sickness, not health.”
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has championed health care reform as building on the current system of offering both public and private options for consumers. Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have both supported Baucus’ bill.
Closer to home, the Maine Heritage Policy Center has said the state’s DirigoChoice insurance plan is a good example of where public government-run health care has failed.
Call and others, however, contend that keeping a version of the current system would end up costing more money.
“To me, it highlights the influence of special interests in Washington,” he said, referring to the insurance lobby.
Sen. John Conyers, D-Mich., has introduced a separate health care bill to create expanded Medicare, which has been co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree.
Call lauded Pingree for her support but he hoped Rep. Mike Michaud would get off the fence on the issue and that Maine’s Republican senators would rethink their stance.
“We have 60 days to turn this around,” he said. “[Saturday’s] rally is just the beginning.”