Congressman Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) led a protest Monday outside the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, site of the 2009 national conference of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a trade group for the health insurance industry.
"We are not radicals! We are not a fringe element!" shouted Massa, who opted not to use the bullhorn provided by protest organizers. "We are the 48 million Americans who cannot access health care today!"
Sign-waving protesters cheered as Massa delivered his full-throated support of single-payer health insurance. The protest, which attracted roughly 60 people, was organized chiefly by reform advocates Health Care for America Now, along with partners from the AFL-CIO, MoveOn.org and several other groups. Organizers decried AHIP as a special interest group that makes obscene profits to defend the status quo.
"The single-payer proposal needs a seat at the table," Massa told the Huffington Post after delivering his remarks to the crowd. He said he was "delighted" that single-payer proponent Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) had been "given a seat at the table" when the White House invited him to attend last week's health care summit.
Peter Orszag, President Obama's budget director, didn't bring up the single-payer seating assignment when he spoke at the conference.
"All the proposals getting serious consideration on Capitol Hill have a public-private approach," said AHIP communications director Robert Zirkelbach when asked to respond to Massa's call for single-payer coverage. Zirkelbach said AHIP prefers increased regulation and market reform to anything that would totally upend the current system.
The protest ended when the group tried to enter the Ritz to deliver an oversized award certificate to Karen Ignagni, AHIP's president and CEO. The "Best Protector of Profits at the Expense of Our Health" award didn't make it past security guards or a strategically-parked car near the entrance.
"I believe in First Amendment rights," Ignagni said when asked about the protest during a subsequent press conference. "We're motivated by going through a process of taking issues off the table that are troubling the American people."