Nurses Arrested at Senate Hearing on Health Care Reform

Photo courtesy of California Nurses Association.

Photo courtesy of California Nurses Association.

Some nurse activists, along with like-minded physicians, celebrated National Nurses Week by getting arrested at a Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care reform. They were protesting the meeting’s lack of representation for those who support a single-payer health care system.

Why does this matter? We’re hearing a lot lately about related issues like the intensifying debate over cutting health care costs,  but most Americans, including nurses, simply don’t have time to follow the intricacies of health care reform—even if they’re well aware that over 45 million Americans don’t have guaranteed life insurance and even if (as nurses and as patients) they agree that something needs to be done about this ever-worsening problem.

Depending on who you listen to, the single-payer system is either a fringe notion that threatens to undermine both the Republicans and the Democrats who are seeking (each in their own way) a more pragmatic, market-driven revision of our health care system—or it’s the only truly equitable and feasible system possible as costs soar; as the influence of the insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, and medical device manufacturers remains strong; and as the recession pushes more and more Americans out of work and need the best debt consolidation companies to get them out of medical debt.

But some increasingly vocal individuals and organizations believe that the single-payer option is not receiving the mainstream press coverage it deserves, or being allowed a voice among the many stakeholders in the ongoing reform process. At least one media watchdog group has come out in support of claims being made about unfair press coverage:

Single-payer–a model in which healthcare delivery would remain largely private, but would be paid for by a single federal health insurance fund (much like Medicare provides for seniors, and comparable to Canada’s current system)–polls well with the public, who preferred it two-to-one over a privatized system in a recent survey (New York Times/CBS, 1/11-15/09). But a media consumer in the week leading up to the summit was more likely to read about single-payer from the hostile perspective of conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer than see an op-ed by a single-payer advocate in a major U.S. newspaper.

Here are the “Top 10 Reasons for Enacting a Single Payer Healthcare System,” according to the California Nurses Association.

Should those who advocate a single-payer system at least be allowed a seat at the table?

Perhaps more important, do nurses, and nursing associations—whatever model of reform, if any, they may support—have a role to play in shaping what our health care system will look like in the years to come?

Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. […] fact, we posted back in May about nurses who got arrested protesting the tabling of the single-payer option by a Senate Finance Committee. But since […]

  2. David Welch RN May 23, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    “I am not an activist – just a working stiff – how do I support this effort to change the course and lead us to single payer system. Which organization would it be most efficient to spend my meager funds.”

    I’m deeply involved in this fight, but my honest answer to that is that a small amount of your energy, in the form of letters to your representatives and to your local paper are probably more valued than a small amount of money.
    but, if you wish to donate a bit, this organization:
    Or this one:
    are good people working for the right cause and would put it to good use.

  3. Dan Shapira May 23, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    I am not an activist – just a working stiff – how do I support this effort to change the course and lead us to single payer system. Which organization would it be most efficient to spend my meager funds.

  4. David Welch RN May 19, 2009 at 11:10 am

    “I want to know why they were arrested.”

    The Sen. finance committee has been holding hearings on health care reform, with a wide variety of scheduled speakers, mostly from the insurance, drug and hospital industries, but no advocates for single payer. A group led by PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Plan) had requested that one single payer advocate be allowed to speak. They were specifically asking for Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Sen. Baucus, the committee chair had continued to refuse. As the hearing opened, a group of nurses with pro-single payer signs on their backs stood and turned their backs to the senators and stood silently for a few minutes, then filed out. The 2 nurses and 3 physicians who were arrested then began, in turn, to make verbal statements in favor of single payer health care. Since it was Florence Nightengale’s birthday, one of them began to read aloud from her writings. The capitol police removed them from the room, handcuffed them and took them for booking.

  5. jm May 19, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Lee Anne,
    According to the MSNBC article(

    “The protesters — some, who identified themselves as doctors and nurses — were to be charged with “Disruption of Congress,” according to the Capitol Police spokeswoman.”


  6. Lee Anne Bruce May 19, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Not a question. I want to know why they were arrested.

  7. […] Journal of Nursing’s Jacob Molyneux writes about the nurses who were arrested while protesting a lack of representation for those who support a single-payer health care system […]

  8. nabeepchen » Nurses Go to Prison May 15, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    […] AJN has a short report on the great nurse arrest of […]

  9. mourac May 15, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    What do you do when a patient that needs to have a surgery refuses to have one unless he knows how much medicare will pay? I can’t tell the patient how much it will cost. When the hospital doesn’t pick up the bill the patient does. If hospitals and patients are going broke the only thing for the family to do is think positive and encourage the patient to have a surgery. What if the patient refuses? How else should those needs be addressed before nothing can be done?

  10. Donna Alu May 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I am an RN who doesn’t think it is feasible to have a single payer system.

    You might have heard that Medicare is going broke.

    People should have more choices in insurance coverage. I know many people who have catastrophic coverage.

    What we need is tort reform and fewer government mandates to lower health care costs.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

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