Health Justice for Boston ~ Number 8. August 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014 @ 7:00 PM
Jobs with Justice Jamaica Plain Office
3353 Washington Street corner Green
Near Green Street T Station, Bus Route 42

Stop the Biolab Coalition Meets with Mayor Walsh

A dozen members of the Stop the BU Bioterror Lab Coalition met with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and his staff on July 9th. Marc Pelletier explained the lies BU and the Boston Public Health Commission offered to the Boston City Council on April 16th. He gave the mayor documentation regarding plans for dangerous aerosol work and its possible top-secret biodefense nature. The mayor acknowledged the discrepancies and promised to look into them further. He admitted that he was opposed to the opening of the Level 4 lab as a candidate last year. He stated that, as mayor, he now had more information and has to rethink this issue based on that. He proposed “as many meetings as necessary” to clear things up for himself and his staff. The meeting adjourned with the expectation that a face-to-face meeting between a team of scientists from each side, in the presence of the mayor or his staff, would be the next step. The recent spate of news from CDC and NIH regarding carelessness with anthrax, smallpox and the avian flu virus, as well as the spreading Ebola outbreak in West Africa, add urgency to these deliberations. The CDC admits that there is no federal supervision of Level 4 labs that it doesn’t run.

That evening at Slade’s in Roxbury, scores of supporters came to celebrate our  victory in keeping the planet’s deadliest germs out of Boston for the six years since 2008 when the Biolab was first slated to open. We also celebrated the twelve years of leadership given by Klare Allen, organizer of Roxbury Safety Net  and the heart of this campaign. She and her family have made so many sacrifices in this marathon effort to protect the community. With this in mind, a number of us have come together to make sure Klare and her family have a decent roof over their heads. We’ve set up a fund to raise enough money for Klare, José and their two daughters to move into an apartment together. The family needs $5000 for first and last months’ rent and a security deposit in order to get into housing, plus moving costs. Please contribute whatever you can. Go to Give Forward. We’ve passed the half-way mark. Thanks to all who have given generously so far! Let’s complete this drive in the next few weeks. - Sandy Eaton

November Ballot Fight for Earned Sick Time

One million workers in Massachusetts have no earned sick days. Question 4 would let all employees earn up to 40 hours of sick time each year. (If the company has 10 or fewer workers, it would be unpaid time.) Workers could use the time for their own illness or to care for a sick family member. Earned sick time is vital so people can get timely medical care and for public health, so people with contagious illnesses can stay home. It even benefits employers by improving workplace efficiency and reducing turnover.

Community, labor and faith groups united to get this question on the ballot. But to win, many more volunteers will need to inform and mobilize people who might otherwise not go vote on Election Day. Please help! See event schedule/sign up at for Boston canvass team dates. Sunday, August 17 @ 2 PM is the Boston volunteer training/planning session at the SEIU 1199 office, 150 Mount Vernon Street, Dorchester. For info, contact the Boston coordinator at or 617-356-7839. - Debbie Socolar

Our July Meeting Covered a Lot of Territory

  • Quentin Davis brought news that RoxComp may possibly reopen as a health provider. Many questions remain. Will there be community input? Will community needs be met? Who will own and govern it? Traditionally, community boards set policy.
  • Ben Day offered a petition to Boston Mayor Walsh creating a Racial Justice & Equity Commission for Boston such as exists in some surrounding municipalities. The group endorsed the proposal and signed the petition.
  • John Ratliff updated the group on the Bridge the Gap initiative of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, which we endorsed at our June meeting. Some seniors of limited means find they must pay more out of pocket for care as they turn 65. This initiative aims to alter the regulations to bring our standards up to those of such surrounding states as Connecticut, with more Medicare Savings help for premiums and deductibles.
  • Debbie Socolar and John Ratliff presented the Yes on 4 campaign to win earned sick time in Massachusetts. We adopted this campaign and encourage all who can to participate. Contact information is provided above.
  • Ture Turnbull led a discussion of the pending Partners Healthcare/Attorney General ten-year deal, which would let Partners add four more hospitals, boosting its power to raise prices. The final date for submitting comments is after the Democratic Party primary. Don Berwick started a petition to oppose further monopolization of health care, which we endorsed.
  • Won’t you join us at our next meeting at JwJ on August 21st?

In December a pit bull bit me in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. The bite was deep and bled. I was very concerned about getting rabies, a fatal disease. I couldn’t learn if the dog had been vaccinated for rabies, so I immediately began a series of five rabies shots. In Bolivia, I paid $35 each for the first four syringes of vaccine. It was injected for free. A clinic doctor also saw me immediately and cleaned the wound. She simply recorded my name and age and asked me to pay about $2.50 at the cashier. The bite was painful, but healing as I returned to the US. I just needed the final shot. I thought this would be simple.

To find where I could get a rabies shot in Massachusetts took many phone calls. I was directed to the emergency room at for-profit St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester. I waited about two hours while they brought the vaccine from the basement pharmacy. Yet I felt good because it would be my last shot and I knew I wouldn’t get rabies.

But when I saw the hospital’s bill to Medicare, I wondered how and why it charged so much. The same vaccine I got in Bolivia for $35 was billed at $617. St. Vincent also charged $406 for the ER visit, calling it a moderately severe problem. But I had provided the vaccine’s exact name and my record. There was nothing for the ER to figure out. I spent two hours in the ER, but I was just waiting for hospital staff to get the vaccine from their pharmacy. I sat on a chair in a cold corner. Why should that cost $406? A physician billed Medicare $190 more. Yet I saw Dr. X for about a minute. I just needed that fifth shot and had with me the record of the previous four shots. Then came a $47 charge for getting the vaccine injected.

Total charges for that final rabies shot in the US were $1260. In Bolivia it would have been $35. For about $1200, I could have flown round-trip to Bolivia,  stayed in a nice hotel, had a few good meals - and had the shot. Why is the vaccine price so high here? Why is a cold ER seat more expensive than a luxury hotel? Why does an unnecessary doctor charge $190 a minute? I called St. Vincent’s billing department but nobody there could explain the high charges. In the US, we pay huge sums for insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses so drug companies, insurance companies and hospitals can make enormous profits.  We have the most cumbersome, costly way of paying for health care.

We need to learn from what Bolivia is doing. I walked into a Bolivian clinic and got the care I needed, affordably. In the US, I go through complex bureaucracy and paperwork to get care. If we take the profit and greed out of health care, we can afford to treat everyone, including more preventative care and dental care. Only using a single payer for health care, getting rid of insurance companies, will give us real health care reform with more care and lower costs. Insurance companies are bleeding us dry to keep their profits. Let’s open our minds and learn how other countries’ single payer systems cut costs and save lives. When I can buy a vaccine in Bolivia for $35 and that same vaccine is $617 in the US, something is really wrong with this picture. Let’s fix it.

What is Healthcare Justice?

  • Access: Can you get the care you need?
  • Affordability: Will you go bankrupt if you do?
  • Quality: Will you survive your encounter?
  • Equality: Do you meet special barriers to care?


For more information on campaigns to make health care a right, not a commodity:

Healthcare NOW!
Labor Campaign for Single Payer

For help navigating the current system:

Boston Mayor’s HealthLine @ 617-534-5050

Health Care For All - Massachusetts
Consumer Health HelpLine @ 800-272-4232

Massachusetts Health Connector
Customer Support @ 877-623-6765

Sponsor: Boston Ad Hoc Committee for Healthcare Justice
For more information, contact:

Quentin Davis @ 617-553-2949 or
Sandy Eaton @ 617-510-6496 or

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