Doctors organized march for affordable health care

Doctors organized a rally for affordable health care on Saturday afternoon at Flagstaff Hill. Thomas Yang | Staff Photographer

A horde of people in white lab coats marched around the Cathedral of Learning Saturday afternoon, but not to provide medical advice.

In a national climate dominated by debate about health care policy, the 50-person group was just one faction of the nationwide March for Health — a movement for equitable and affordable access to quality health care for all.

The march began at 2 p.m. at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park and ended in the same spot roughly an hour later. The political action committee Pittsburghers for America organized the march in coordination with 15 other cities nationwide as part of the continuous fight for more accessible health care. Local doctors and primary care providers participated along with their friends and family in the half-mile march which concluded with several speeches from local clinicians and public health experts.

Following the national anthem and a short introduction about the organization — which formed last November in response to Trump’s election — by Pittsburghers for America Chair and local psychiatrist Jacob McBride, the marchers hoisted their signs and paraded down the hill and across the bridge toward the Cathedral.

Apta Errabelli of the North Side wielded a sign as she walked that read, “All of yinz deserve health care.” New to Pittsburgh, she finished residency as a doctor at the University of Buffalo in July.

“The more you work, the more you see how deeply entrenched the problems are in health care,” the 29-year-old said. “Being a doctor isn’t enough.”
In his campaign, President Donald Trump promised to repeal and replace the ACA –– President Barack Obama’s health care bill that increased the number of insured Americans by 20 million but was criticized for rising premiums.

House Republicans introduced their repeal and replace bill that would, in part, replace the ACA’s subsidies with tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would reduce the deficit by $337 billion but would leave 24 million Americans uninsured by 2026. However, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill before the vote after realizing they didn’t have the votes for the bill to pass the House.

In response to these problems, the crowd chanted phrases, such as “Health care is a human right, fight for it with all our might,” and “Everybody in, nobody out,” in unison as Duba Weinstein, 68, led the route with a megaphone in hand.

A veteran to activism, the Polish Hill resident — who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington, D.C. — currently works as an occupational therapist.

“I think our whole country is under siege from Trump’s administration. It’s a threat to all areas of the population, from kids to seniors, and all diverse, international and ethnic groups,” Weinstein said. “The working class and the middle class are all going to be suffering under these policies.”

After the march — and several supportive honks from passing cars — the crowd returned to Flagstaff Hill to hear Mark Hospodar, a neurologist in the South Hills, speak.

The CMU and Pitt alumnus asked the crowd to all sign up two people each to vote for health care.

“It’s unbelievable that since Teddy Roosevelt we have been fighting for free health care,” Hospodar said. “There’s always gonna be people that want to make money on you being sick.”

Other doctors who spoke about the affordable health care included organizers Nancy McBride, a local OB-GYN, and Mallory Ciuksza, a local primary care doctor.

According to Ciuksza, not all of the doctors present wore their white coats due to contractual reasons, but it would be hypocritical for them to not stand and march.

“If ‘health care is a right’ is hard for you to stomach, then hear this: health care is a need,” Ciuksza said. “No one goes to the doctor because they want to, we all go because we need it.”

Ciuksza added that she believes it is important to protest so that future generations will have access to health care too. The 32-year-old McBrides, who brought their one-year-old son to the march, agreed.

“We’re not very political, so we thought we’d just start a club and do things like this every month or two,” Jacob said.

With no college students present at the march, Jacob noted that “diversity is a weakness of [the] organization,” adding that their goals include engaging with more of the Pittsburgh community and local colleges by attending and hosting more events.

McBride added that despite the recent triumph for the Affordable Care Act, Pittsburghers for America still demands that health care is free of discrimination and that women receive the same coverage as men.

“We march for our friends, our families, our coworkers, our patients,” she said. “It is our duty to march today for equality and health care for all.”

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