The tea party movement arrived in Washington D.C. last week for the “9.12.09 March on Washington” organized by Freedom Works with the support of 29 other organizations. Events kicked off Thursday that culminated with Saturday’s march from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol.
Physicians and other members of the medical profession rallied Thursday, Sept. 10 at a special event in front of the Capitol building. The gathering was designed to highlight the important, yet overlooked, role that doctors have in the debate over health care reform. According to event organizers, doctors from all 50 states attended, many of whom met with their representatives in Congress and the Senate earlier in the day and dressed in their scrubs or lab coats.
Many of the doctors who spoke — among them Representatives Tom Price and Phil Gingrey (R.-Ga.), both members of the GOP Doctors Caucus — specifically separated themselves from the American Medical Association. Gingrey noted that he is “a proud former member.” The AMA, which has endorsed President Obama’s plan on behalf of its membership, released another letter supporting the president’s central reform elements on September 8. Speakers pointed out that the AMA only speaks for 17 percent of physicians in the U.S.
A common theme, developed by the speakers and echoed off-stage, was the lack of understanding by politicians of how health care works on the doctor-patient level. Scott Barbour, a practicing orthopedic surgeon from Atlanta, Ga., told stories from medical school, his residency and fellowship in order to underline the years of hard work he put into “the privilege of becoming a healer.” He said, “Some believe that we are driven by financial considerations. The reality is that these views demonstrate a tremendous lack of understand of the practice of medicine, and more importantly, a lack of understanding of what it means to be a physician. … It’s ludicrous to think that some faceless bureaucrat, unaccountable health commissioner in Washington will know our patients better than we know our patients.”
Many speakers also touted the Empowering Patients First Act (HR3400), introduced by Price in July as an alternative to the Democrats’ health care reform bill. The doctors called for focused, incremental changes to “the best health care system in the world,” tort reform, and less government control. Many promoted health savings accounts, high-risk pools and insurance accessibility across state lines. “We look forward to…solving this in a way that doesn’t empower government, that doesn’t empower insurance companies, that empowers the patients of America; if we do that, it will be the right thing,” said Price, to cheers from the crowd.
Rep. Price also spoke at the press conference earlier in the day. At a well-attended gathering in Upper Senate Park, people from all over the country listened to congressional representatives and event organizers from Freedom Works and Tea Party Patriots. After a long trek across the country, for some of them, a technical difficulty left many straining to hear the speakers without microphones. The crowd, holding up pocket Constitutions and homemade “Don’t tread on me” flags, still knew how to respond: any audible mention of “Pelosi” brought boos and use of the phrase “limited government” applause. Popular chants were “Enough is enough” and “No more czars!”
The crowd also fired up at any mention of the speech Obama gave September 9 to a joint session of Congress. After quoting the president’s remark that “the time for games has passed,” Tea Party Patriots’ spokeswoman Jenny Beth Martin asked the crowd: “[Do] you think we’re playing games?”
The answer: a resounding, “No!” The “party” had just begun.