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PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:

High Noon in Baltimore at CareFirst Blue Cross-Blue Shield

by Charles Loubert

We protested for a Medicare for all system with no pay for treatment. We learned that going to jail gets you exactly what we've been fighting for!

How does an old man get arrested?

Here’s the story. I joined 30-some folks in front of a highrise building housing offices of Carefirst in Baltimore's Canton community. Our collective brightened up a damp, drab October 29th at lunch hour. Marching and chanting slogans like “Patients, not profits!," "Singlepayer now!," "Everybody in, nobody out!," we weren’t welcome. Front doors of this public building were locked so we couldn’t enter.

Later, a group of four walked to the back entrance to confront a Carefirst spokesperson while others continued marching in front.

Heading the small delegation of four was Kevin Zeese, executive director of Prosperity Agenda, US. He organized our little adventure locally for the national group called Mobilization for Healthcare for All. So far there have been 26 sit-ins in 23 cities across the country. 138 arrests have occurred while over 200 people willingly risked arrests. Dr. Margaret Flowers, a staunch Medicare for all activist, accompanied Zeese. She suspended her pediatrics practice to work on this cause full-time. Her sparkling personality and intense dedication has inspired many to to work toward a single-payer medical system. Dr. Eric Naumberg, a pediatrician from Columbia, went with Zeese and Margaret. Eric, a quiet, compassionate man, is single-minded about single-payer. He contends that too much of his time and energy trying to be a healer has been sucked away by fighting with insurance companies over denial of necessary treatments. Rounding out the little group was Maryland State Delegate Jill Carter (D-Baltimore). They demanded of the insurance spokesperson an end to insurance abuse and immediate approval of all doctor recommended treatment.

On returning to us, Zeese reported the Carefist response: “He told us to send it in writing and we’ll consider it.”

My silent response, “Fat chance!”

Four of us then decided to risk arrest. The plan was for our entire bunch to fill the spacious lobby in the back. However, as we approached the entrance, a rushing tide of Baltimore police, ran for the doors to block our way. In the excitement, Margaret and Eric, along with a Millersville teacher, Patricia Courtney, slipped in and sat down. A policeman and I, simultaneously, spied an unattended door. The race was on. This creaky-kneed old body got there first. Huffing and puffing, I fell on the floor with the others.

When asked to leave, we smiled politely but refused. Officers seemed reluctant to arrest, except the young stud that I beat. Of course, they did their duty. We really tried to be dignified as they marched us to the awaiting paddywagon, but it’s tough to do with handcuffs on. On the ride to Central Booking, we tried to laugh about our situation. Don’t know how the others felt, but I was a bit queasy anticipating this new and mysterious experience in my life.

Why submit ourselves to this degrading aggravation? Let me recount only a few of a myriad of well-known reasons:

Health insurance injustices should raise everyone's blood pressure to dangerous levels. We should want to buck the political-corporate establishment that shames our country now. If that doesn't arouse frustration and anger, you need to be resuscitated.

Here’s an example of bypassing the present madness. One of my sons lost his medical coverage because the small construction company he works for could no longer afford to carry it. He is an excellent interior house painter and drywall installer.

His teeth became painfully infected. They began to rot, loosen and fall out. He couldn’t afford to get them fixed. On Craigslist he found a dentist who was willing to trade dental work for painting the walls in his house. So, the dentist got a great paint job, and my son got a new set of choppers and a healed mouth.

A young father I met just this week recounted his CareFirst story to me. When his daughter was born, his wife’s water broke earlier than expected. He rushed her to the hospital. His doctor found no pulse in his wife’s tummy. Something was terribly wrong! An emergency caesarian section was performed. The baby’s umbilical cord was positioned so that it cut the flow of blood and life giving oxygen. The doctor’s quick and heroic action saved her life.

There seemed no reason the deny payment for great medical treatment. Ah, but the insurance company manufactured one. They denied payment on grounds that the young dad did not seek a second opinion! Took him a while, but he did pay cash for the life of his now-healthy, vibrant 4-year-old daughter.

Back to our arrest story.

Central Booking was very busy that day. Eric and I waited in a long line of handcuffed men. Margaret and Patty were processed in another area.

When we finally got in the door, the first person we were required to talk to was a nurse. She carefully took our vital signs and asked us about our general health. Next we were shuffled to a physician’s assistant who grilled us thoroughly on our entire medical histories. Finally, we faced an extensive review of what we had revealed earlier.

Can you see the irony?

We protested for a Medicare for all system with no pay for treatment. Going to jail gets you exactly what we have been fighting for! Any incoming inmate with any kind of medical problem can count on a whole team of medical experts to give the full spectrum of needed care.

Eric and I were put in a small, crowded, smelly and very cold holding cell to await a hearing. Our younger cellmates were fascinated and questioned us eagerly about why we were among them. Despite being bored, detoxing, miserable and cold, this mixed-race bunch of so-called “bad guys” coexisted peacefully. No nasty name-calling and no fights. Complaining was directed at people outside the cell. Surprisingly, we became a quasi-impermanent family.

Everyone, other than we two old guys, was arrested for drug offenses. If marijuana were legalized, we would have had the miserable place to ourselves.

Everyone, other than we two old guys, was arrested for drug offenses. If marijuana were legalized, we would have had the miserable place to ourselves.

It took approximately seven hours to get our hearing with the Court Commissioner. When we rose to leave, many of our young brothers stood up, slapped hands and wished us luck.

The Commissioner quickly set our trial date and released us on our own recog. That’s "recognizance" to those of you not educated in a jail cell.

After picking our belongings confiscated by police, we were greeted by the smiling face of Kevin Zeese. We found out he had called several times to track our progress through processing. Thank you Kevin!

Would I do this again? Yes if the cause was righteous.

Did I learn anything? Yes, that we are all One Family, and we ought to take care of each other.


Charles Loubert is a retired counseling psychologist and mediator who has written two unpublished books.



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This story was published on November 9, 2009.