By Alice Brody and Andy Coates

ALBANY, N.Y. — About 60 people rallied in front of Albany Medical Center under the banner, “Protect our health, not their wealth,” on March 20.

Speakers and protesters called for “No ‘Grand Bargain’ – Hands off Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid,” “Scrap the Cap on Social Security,” “Oppose Privatization of our Public Hospitals and Nursing Homes,” and “Single Payer, Improved Medicare for All.”

A broad coalition representing nurses, physicians, medical students, labor unions, senior citizens, faith groups, grassroots organizations, and Occupy Albany – the driving force behind the event – held the rally, including by providing speakers.

Ajay Major, a first-year student at Albany Medical College, was among those who spoke. His remarks were as follows:

The Albany Medical College chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program stands in firm affirmation of a single-payer health system.

Medical student Ajay Major prepares to speak at the Albany rally on March 20. (Photo: Alice Brody.)

As medical students, and the future generation of physicians, we view the existing system of health care — fragmented, discontinuous, costly, and unjust — as unacceptable. Our system of sick care, which prioritizes acute, ultra-specialized care over preventive and primary care, and which values the insured over the uninsured, jeopardizes our ability as future physicians to provide equitable, accessible, and high-quality longitudinal care for our patients.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 48.6 million uninsured Americans. An additional 25 million are underinsured. That is over 20 percent of Americans whose financial status makes them intrinsically incompatible with our market-driven health care system.

These patients suffer from episodic, transient care and debilitating financial hardship and debt. They cannot access the preventive care to manage their chronic conditions. They cannot afford the medication needed to maintain a high quality of life. They cannot receive the basic health services to keep them productive and functioning members of American society.

This is not justice. In recognition of the socioeconomic determinants of health, we as medical students and as Physicians for a National Health Program recognize that our profit-driven health system disproportionally harms those who need the system most.

We assert that health care is a right, not a commodity that is restricted to those who can pay for it, and we cannot continue to support a system that restricts our clinical autonomy, costs hundreds of millions dollars in excess administrative overhead, and lets the needy fall — nay, pushes the needy — through the cracks.

We, medical students at Albany Medical College, stand here and rally today as patient advocates, striving to adopt a system of universal coverage to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality and continuous care. We thank you for your support and echo your rallying cry: we need single payer now!

Sponsors of the event included the New York State Nurses Association, Public Employees Federation, Physicians for a National Health Program – Student Chapter, Single Payer New York, Capital District Area Labor Federation, Albany Central Federation of Labor, The Labor Religion Coalition, Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare, Statewide Senior Action, Citizen Action, MoveOn, and Occupy Albany. Also present were labor union members from the American Federation of Government Employees, the Service Employees International Union, and the National Association of Letter Carriers.