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  • Students Occupy for Health Justice

    By Danielle Alexander
    I met a patient last week who stopped taking her antidepressant medications because she had been denied long term health insurance and thought it would improve her chances of eligibility. Unfortunately this obviously wasn’t in the best interest of her health. I had another patient who presented to the emergency department with metastatic lung cancer. He had not been to the doctor in over 30 yrs because he couldn’t afford it. If he had sought treatment earlier he may have been cured. Everywhere I look private health insurance companies are making our patients sicker.

    I was proud to be at in Lafayette Park today for the Health Professional Students Day of Action for the 99%. We carried a banner that said “Health Professional Students Occupy for Health Justice and Single Payer”. I support the occupy movement because I feel that powerful and profiting insurance companies get in the way of my practice of Medicine. Treatment should be the same high quality for everyone; instead, we have to consider what someone can afford. It too often becomes treatment for the ‘haves’ and neglect for the ‘have nots’. But the thing is, these days you may not know which group you fall into. Insurance plans are so spotty, with major gaps in coverage, that you don’t even realize it until you need medical attention, and you find your plan does not cover it. I see it every day in the clinic – treatment is designed around what the insurance will pay (or not) instead of what is best for the patient first and foremost. It’s no fault of the medical team, we want to give the patients the best care, but the insurance industry has our hands tied.

    Today’s future doctors realize that healthcare is more than physical health, social determinants of health are equally as important. The schools our kids attend, the neighborhoods we grow up in, the cleanliness of the environment, joblessness, and poverty all deeply impact our health. A classmate said today, “There is so much inequity and injustice, it cuts into everything, including caring for patients. If you really want to care for patients you’ve got to care about everything, not just their liver”.

    I asked some of the other attendees why they support the Occupy Movement. “Healthcare is a fundamental human right and by increasing access to health care we can reduce some of the inequality”, said one medical student. Another classmate agreed, “We’re here for healthcare because you can’t do anything if you’re not healthy. “ “As a future physician, it’s disconcerting that patients can’t get into my exam room, and I want to change that,” was another colleagues reply. Even early in their medical careers, these students see that there are major problems with the health of our Nation.

    As I talked with my classmates, I found that we were all there for slightly different reasons. “I feel like too much of our country’s infrastructure has been diverted away from the important stuff like health and wellbeing,” said yet another student. His peer believes “the system is broken and change needs to start somewhere”.

    The United States is the only industrialized country that does not provide healthcare to all its citizens regardless of employment status or economic class. Our profit driven healthcare industry raises costs and inequality. But our political system has been corrupted by corporate money and power, and the 1% have rejected evidence based health policy that save lives and money, namely expanded and improved Medicare for all. We support Occupy Wall Street because economic and social inequality makes our patients sick.

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  • Video of Health Professional Students for Health Access for the 99%

    Yesterday, hundreds of AMSA members participated in the Health Professional Students for Health Access for the 99% rally in New York City.


    “It is time to refocus on the 99% and to develop equitable policies that support hard-working Americans,” says Danielle Salovich, AMSA National President. “AMSA has long fought for issues affecting the group of people that has now become known as the 99% - our neighbors, our colleagues, our patients, and our families - everyone who makes up the patchwork quilt of the United States. We are calling for access to health care, education, food, housing and other fundamental rights that are out of reach of so many.”

    “As future health professionals, we are dedicated to the service of the 99% and we rise against those who continue to promote societal inequities that make all of us sicker,” says Colin McCluney, AMSA Education and Advocacy Fellow. “We join our voices together and we will not be silenced.”

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  • Why Is AMSA Standing in Solidarity with the Occupy Movement?

    Since the American Medical Student Association came out in support of the principles of the Occupy movement last week, we have been inundated with responses – many positive but a few questioning this decision and citing concerns with aspects of the Occupy movement. We'd like to take some time to explore what it means for AMSA to support this movement, why it makes sense for us to do so, and what the movement is actually about. This is a synopsis – for the full overview, please visit: http://action.amsa.org/owsandamsa.

    AMSA’s Guiding Document – our “PPP”

    AMSA is guided by our Preamble, Purposes and Principles, or PPP. This document was initially adopted in 1977 and is amended annually by our members through the resolution process in our House of Delegates. (If there are things you disagree with in our PPP or if you feel something is missing, we strongly encourage our members to participate in the process by submitting resolutions and speaking & voting in the HOD.)

    We define health as a positive, dynamic state of physical, mental and environmental well-being, and therefore, believe that health care should be oriented toward the achievement of health and not solely a treatment of disease…

    We believe that access to quality health care is a right, not a privilege. This implies equal access to equally high standards of health care regardless of economic status, political beliefs, cultural background, geographic position, race, creed, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, physical handicap, mental handicap or institutionalization for criminal, medical or psychiatric reasons. Since resources are limited, they should be allocated so that they equitably promote the public health; thus, health-care issues must be addressed in the public forum.

    This passage highlights both AMSA’s perspective that health is more than just health care, that health care is a right, and that resources should be allocated to promote public health. In conjunction with this, I’ll next cite the entire text of the Principles Regarding Activism:

    The American Medical Student Association:
    SUPPORTS the use of nonviolent direct action as a strategy for activism within the struggle for social change. (2001)
    "Direct Action" is a term that describes a range of actions taken to directly confront or highlight an issue. (2001)

    About Occupy Wall Street

    From the working draft of the Occupy Wall Street Principles of Solidarity, they constitute themselves “as autonomous political beings engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and building solidarity based on mutual respect, acceptance, and love.” In their Declaration, they “urge [us] to assert [our] power.”

    Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

    In New York, and around the country, Working Groups have formed using consensus–based models to identify and address problems – for example, environmental issues, arts & culture, women’s issues, student debt, LGBT issues, and of course, health care. The Healthcare for the 99% Working Group sums up its mission as:

    We organize with #OWS to raise awareness of corporate greed in healthcare and the need for a healthcare system based on people instead of profit.

    An editorial in the New York Times elucidates further what is meant by "the 99%":
    When the protesters say they represent 99 percent of Americans, they are referring to the concentration of income in today’s deeply unequal society. Before the recession, the share of income held by those in the top 1 percent of households was 23.5 percent, the highest since 1928 and more than double the 10 percent level of the late 1970s.

    That share declined slightly as financial markets tanked in 2008, and updated data is not yet available, but inequality has almost certainly resurged. In the last few years, for instance, corporate profits (which flow largely to the wealthy) have reached their highest level as a share of the economy since 1950, while worker pay as a share of the economy is at its lowest point since the mid-1950s.

    Income gains at the top would not be as worrisome as they are if the middle class and the poor were also gaining. But working-age households saw their real income decline in the first decade of this century. The recession and its aftermath have only accelerated the decline.

    Why the Occupy Movement?

    Hopefully the information above creates a clearer sense of how the foundations of the Occupy movement and AMSA’s guiding principles are strongly compatible with one another. 

    AMSA’s main benefit is in participating in a movement that is gaining traction in providing a voice for individuals and groups that can envision a more just and equitable future. All of the positions above that we are advocating for through the Occupy movement are things that AMSA has long been advocating for. Now, however, we are able to join with many other voices to spread our message and further our work. Does this replace our policy efforts and our work on Capitol Hill? No – we continue to be involved in a variety of coalitions and in mobilizing and educating our members around policy issues. What it does do is enable us to reach more people with our voice, to gain new advocates for the causes we believe in, and to continue working to effect the changes we support.

    Our involvement can also convey a benefit to the 99%. As Occupy has become more established, it has drawn the attention of some very powerful & very wealthy entities that have a vested interested in discrediting the movement – the CLGC memo and Newt Gingrich’s comments being just a couple of small examples in a vast sea of misinformation. As more professionals and professional organizations come out in support of the core principles behind the movement, it becomes harder and harder for opponents to discredit the movement as lazy, unemployed hippies or as a small group of pseudo-intellectuals with no mainstream support. The Occupy movement is empowering discourse on a variety of issues surrounding equality and equity, and it behooves AMSA and other progressive organizations to support that continuing discussion.

    Whether or not you agree with AMSA’s position on the Occupy movement, whether you oppose or support our involvement, whether you feel we are doing too much or too little, AMSA is an organization that is driven by our members and we encourage you to participate. Our PPP can be amended through the resolutions process in the House of Delegates; more immediate concerns can be addressed through motions to AMSA’s Board of Trustees. If you have questions about the HOD, you may contact Liz Wiley (Vice President for Internal Affairs) at vpia@amsa.org and Nida Degesys (Secretary) at secretary@amsa.org; if you would like to submit a motion to the BOT, you may contact Danielle Salovich (National President) at pres@amsa.org. Additionally, AMSA is a multifaceted organization with a variety of members holding a range of beliefs. True to our mission statement of “empowering a generation of future physicians through education and advocacy,” we continue to offer opportunities to our members to grow and learn as future physicians. Whether or not you choose to participate in AMSA’s advocacy efforts for health access for the 99%, we encourage you to explore the variety of options available to you.

    To read the entire article, please visit: http://action.amsa.org/owsandamsa

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