Above Photo: Garet Munger.
Seattle, Washington – Approximately 75 spirited protesters celebrated the 57th anniversary of the enactment of Medicare here on Friday, July 29, with a picket line and rally outside the Columbia Center chanting, “Whose Medicare? Our Medicare!” and “Medicare is not for profit! Keep your corporate hands off it!”
The Columbia Center is where the Northwest Regional Director of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Ingrid Ulrey, has offices, along with other staff of HHS, including the Division Director of the Center for Medicare Services (CMS).
The protesters demanded that President Joe Biden and Congress terminate ACO REACH, which stands for Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health. It’s an impressive sounding name, but it amounts to letting a profit-seeking third party like an insurance company or private equity-backed firm step in and get paid by Medicare to manage the care patients receive. Whatever these companies don’t spend on care they keep for themselves as profit.
The Trump administration initiated the program under the name Direct Contracting Entities; ACO REACH is the Biden administration’s version of the same thing.
Critics charge it could essentially privatize traditional Medicare and open the Medicare Trust Fund to a massive profit grab by Wall Street of the $1.8 TRILLION in health care expenditures annually that will be spent by 2026, most of it consisting of withholdings from every worker’s paycheck.
The Seattle rally and picket line was initiated by Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA) and co-sponsored by Health Care is a Human Right Washington, Voices for Health and Healing, and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) WA. Most of the crowd were from King County, reinforced by members from Clallam County, Everett, San Juan Island, Whidbey Island, Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island, and Kitsap Peninsula.
PSARA Co-President Jeff Johnson, retired president of the Washington State Labor Council, chaired the rally, leading the crowd in chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, ACO REACH has got to go!”
PSARA Executive Board member Rick Timmins of Whidbey Island told the rally that it took seven months for his for-profit Medicare Advantage provider to approve treatment of a tumor on his earlobe. It required major surgery by the time it was approved. “Delaying claims and denying claims is how they make profits,” Timmins said. If he had enrolled in traditional Medicare, the tumor would have been diagnosed and treated immediately.
PSARA Education Fund President Robby Stern pointed out that Seattle-based Amazon has dived into the ACO REACH feeding frenzy, purchasing “One Medical” and its subsidiary “Iora” in a $3.9 billion cash buyout. Amazon and its executives don’t know much about health care, but they know a lot about profiteering.
Faye Guenther, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000 representing 50,000 grocery store workers in Washington State, charged that Wall Street banks and corporations “are getting their greedy fingers into health care. Greed does not help. It is the opposite of family values.… We need Medicare for all! No to greed!”
Rachel Berkson, an aide to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, thanked the crowd for supporting Jayapal, who has recruited 54 of her House colleagues to sign a letter to Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra demanding ACO REACH termination. “Rep. Jayapal will never give up in her struggle to save Medicare,” Berkson said, pointing out that Jayapal is also the author of the “Medicare for All” bill pending in Congress.
Seattle City Councilwoman Theresa Mosqueda thundered, “How many times do we have to stand here and say: ‘Don’t privatize Medicare?’” She led the crowd in a chant, “Hands off Medicare! Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security are here to stay.”
Attendees from the Olympic Peninsula and Kitsap Peninsula are angry because Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., their representative in D.C. refuses to join his Washington State colleagues, Jayapal and Rep. Adam Smith and 52 other Congressmembers in demanding termination of ACO REACH.
The Clallam County Democratic Party and the Washington State Democratic Convention in Tacoma on June 25th both unanimously approved resolutions demanding termination.
Other speakers included Katie Garrow, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of MLK Labor, a central council with 150 unions representing over 100,000 workers, and Dr. Hugh Foy, retired surgeon from Harborview Hospital and the UW Medical system. Both strongly defended Medicare, denouncing privatization and calling for a single-payer Medicare for All system.
A delegation of three—PSARA Co-President Karen Richter, Health Care Is A Human Right WA leader David Loud, and Timmins—went up for a meeting with Regional Director Ulrey and the Division Director of CMS. The group delivered a demand to Ulrey’s boss, Becerra, that the Biden administration terminate ACO REACH and all other schemes to privatize Medicare. Ulrey agreed to share our concerns with Becerra.