In the pantheon of classic folk music, songs about national health care don't trip readily off the common man's tongue. But for Anne Feeney, the right to affordable health care is as fundamental as peace and human dignity.
Feeney has organized the Sing Out for Single Payer Health Care Roadshow, a collection of folk performers touring the West Coast to raise awareness and solidarity for the national health care proposal. The tour includes performers Al Bradbury, Pickles, Hunter Paye, Patrick Dodd, General Strike, Bluegrass Dave Wilmoth, Jason Luckett, and others, in addition to Feeney, who herself has been a force of activism in the folk music world. The Roadshow will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 25 in Seattle.
Like everyone of her generation, Feeney's life was shaped by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. Today, she is singing out about single payer health care, under consideration in both the House and Senate, which would create a single government fund to cover the cost of health care for the general public. She's fighting for this because, like the rest of her generation, she's come to the conclusion that the current system has been a deadly failure.
In the folk world, these kinds of musical events are more commonly associated with the peace movement and civil rights. And this is one about health insurance. What is it about single payer that has you fired up?
I think this is one of the great social movements of this era. It was tragic divergence that America decided to go with employer-funded health insurance for their employees, because it was doomed to fail, and we've watched how it has put American companies at such a disadvantage in the marketplace.
But far more critical than that is it put some of the most important decisions of our lives in the hands of employers and insurance agencies instead of who it ought to be in the hands of: the doctors.
We actually created a fabulous model with Medicare. When it first passed, people said Americans weren't ready for the switch over yet. I don't recall ever any upheaval when Medicare was proposed. I remember a lot of elderly people moving out of poverty and getting health care.
Extending and improving our Medicare system is pretty much what single payer means. It means there aren't 50 insurance companies with different codes with the same procedures so doctors spend half their time doing paperwork instead of patient care.
The lack of health care in the music business is well known. How has the health care system affected people you know?
I'd say there hasn't been a year that's gone by in my performing life that I haven't done at least one benefit for a musician who was unable to get treatment for lack of insurance, or who has been bankrupted by their medical bills. It was stunning to me that someone of the stature and talent of Utah Phillips, who put in decades of quality work and was loved by many people, was unable to provide for his medical needs when he got ill at 60, and he had to come to our community. Most of the musicians doing benefits for Utah Phillips were also uninusured.
I've never quite understood...why we would want speculators and profiteers in the middle of a health care system.
What do you want people to experience at these events?
These are extremely entertaining shows by very talented and entertaining musicians. Of course there are some educational components of the show. High quality written material. It's a chance to meet single-payer activists in their community, find out how to plug into campaigns. It's a chance to renew our hope that together we can accomplish so much.
Aren't the people who show up to these events already on board? How do you get beyond preaching to the choir?
Of course, some of the people who come to the show are informed and interested, but even they are looking at ways to become more effective in this campaign. And we've been picking up tips.
We want to teach people how to effectively advocate in the best way. We're constantly retooling this machine to get better. The insurance industry has done so much to misinform people. In the end, we want everyone to have the kind of insurance that their elected representatives have.
Do you have insurance?
I have the kind with a super high deductible -- $2,200. Which means I do what the insurance companies want me to do -- I don't seek any treatment or go to any doctors, I just make my payments. I may even be one of the millions of people who think they're insured but are not.
There's a huge gap in mental health, in substance abuse, the fact that we don't cover dental in this country when so many serious conditions are compounded by it. These are measures that could greatly improve the overall health in this country. The insurance companies have no personal interest in that. They're only interested in treatment modalities that involve tests, drugs and treatment. Diet and exercise? There's no money in that.