Truth Hearing: Your Help Needed!

Now that I’ve finally done worrying with and studying for my every 10 year board recertification, it’s time to get busy for a more important project: Truth Hearing.  On July 31, the day after Medicare’s birthday, I have reserved the big room in the Huntsville Main Library from 6 to 8 pm.  I will invite local and state leaders to sit on a panel of listeners, while members of our community testify about their personal experiences and difficulties accessing healthcare.


Healthcare Now came up with this idea several years ago.  I only learned about it recently and thought it sounded just right as a project for North Alabama Healthcare for All (NAHA, our chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program).  In this Truth Hearing, leaders will be asked only to listen—not to question us or respond with canned speeches.  Of course, I expect many of them will want to hang around afterwards for conversation, and that’s fine.  But I don’t want any of them using this as a chance to push their own agendas.  There will be no PowerPoint presentations or speeches.


Just us, telling our stories and listening to each other.


There is an onslaught of propaganda from every direction, and not only from Fox and MSNBC or other media avenues.  We have let ideologies, stereotypes and sound bites invade us on our Facebook pages and in everyday conversation.  Reminds me of wearing designer clothing labels and paying to advertise someone else’s product on our rear ends.  It’s high time to unplug our ears, rip off the labels, and find out what is really happening, in the homes of those we share our weather with.  Not only that—we need to do it repeatedly, at least once a year, to learn what the corporate press and the politicians are not going to tell us.  As the ACA rolls out, we should be sure to learn the real effects of turning our health over to the unelected governance of private insurers.


I know it won’t be a random sample.  Sometimes it seems ridiculous that we respond so intensely to stories, statistics be damned.  But maybe we can put our story-loving selves to good purpose.  A story of injustice, with a face and a voice, can be a tipping point—if not for social change, it can change us on the heart level, and that’s where real healthcare reform needs to begin.


To do this right, I need some help.  Our core membership for NAHA is very small, and I am not a great organizer.  I hope some of you can pitch in for this event.  I want to fill up those 200 seats.


This week I am going to send out invitations to listening leaders.  I’d like your feedback on the composition of the panel, which I think should be no more than 10 to 15 people.  Each invitee will be allowed to send a suitable proxy if unable to attend—failure to appoint a proxy will result in an empty chair with a name card.  Here’s my working list:  2 members of the Madison County Legislative Delegation (one from each party); 1 member of City Council; 1 member of the Madison County Commission; the Mayor; Mo Brooks; our two Senators; our Governor; our regional Health and Human Services director Pamela Roshell (because our Exchange will be run by the fed).


I need two people to help with coordinating audio services with the library.  I have paid the fee out of my pocket to reserve the room and will also pay to rent the microphones/ speakers, but I do not have a free day between now and July 31 to get trained in using the library equipment.  I think two people willing to commit to that would be safer than one.


I need helpers to sit up front, to be ready to stand with those who want to testify but are anxious about standing alone.  Needs to be folks who are comfortable holding hands with strangers if asked.  I need greeters at the door to welcome attendees.


I need help with getting the word out.  I will have a flyer ready by the beginning of July (although if any of you are good with catchy artwork, your help is very much welcome), and I need people who will commit to sending it out by email, posting it around town, and pestering their friends to come.  I need help making contact with press, so we can get coverage.  I know a fellow who has recently started working with Story Corps at NPR and will ask him if he might want to attend, in case he would like a follow-up interview with a family. When I have the flyer ready, I will also put an event page on FB and ask you to share invitations with friends.


I need 2 camera people (with equipment) to video the event, so we can put coverage on YouTube afterwards.  Those testifying will be asked to sign a release, although we will have an option for those who desire not to be recorded to have either only their voices heard or to be omitted from the video completely.


I need people willing to tell their healthcare access stories—not their political solutions or problems but the stories of what actually happened to them because of difficulty getting healthcare.  It would be ideal to have at least 12 committed in advance, since each person will have 3 to 5 minutes to speak. I know talking about personal health and financial matters in public can be difficult. Heck, public speaking on anything at all can be scary!  We are ready to stand with you.  We need a few brave souls to tell the truth—the whole point of a Truth Hearing.  You are certainly welcome to omit the specific details of your medical diagnosis and focus only on how your life has been affected.


I know I’m asking a lot, and all of you have other work to do.  If I don’t get sufficient help, I will play Little Red Hen and do what I can—but if you want a meaningful, effective event, please step up! Email me at and tell me what you can contribute.


I have been listening to healthcare stories for my whole career.  Families in my office who have suffered the ill effects of being uncared for and rejected by our profit-driven medical system tell me on a daily basis what it is like.  More than anything else, their stories have made me determined to stick with advocacy for Improved, Expanded Medicare for All—everybody in, nobody out.  I have the numbers and knowledge of experience in other countries to back the concept up, but at the end of the day, it is always real people that keep me in the fight.  Will others in our audience and on our panel be similarly moved?  Let’s listen to each other and see what happens.



Filed under citizen responsibility, Healthcare reform

11 responses to “Truth Hearing: Your Help Needed!

  1. John Hart

    This is just another attempt to have everyone else pay for the services this group wants, if you want healthcare, get a job and buy it, All you want is a another social program paid to pay for another free service you want. Get real.

    • John, perhaps I didn’t explain the purpose well, so in case others have a similar reaction I will try again. This is for us to learn, first hand, what is happening in our community. It is not solely addressing insurance. Many people who have experienced difficulty accessing healthcare have insurance– they may wish to let our leaders know about particular issues they have had in using the policies. Others may want to bring up trouble finding a family doctor in town who is accepting new patients or tell about having to drive to Tennessee to give birth because Alabama does not license Certified Professional Midwives.

      We do not intend to promote Medicare for All at this event, because we want it to be for just listening/ informing each other about the current situation, not planning for the future. However, it is important for you to know that Medicare for All would not be free. Everyone would contribute, in advance, to a risk pool fund, just as we do with other insurances. It is not a free-loader system.

  2. lewal

    Thanks, Pippa.  Am forwarding to almost everyone I know!

    Thanks for all you do!


  3. lewal

    One recipient replied:”This seems pretty radical – to politicians is says “show up, shut up, let us shame you, or don’t show up and we’ll attempt to embarrass you.” Sure to have plenty of empty seats.”


    • John Hart

      Who would show up to this pity and sob party? Self respecting adults would be seeking answers not just more handouts from others.

      • Thanks for responding, John– I’m glad you asked, because we don’t intend for this to be a pity party or about handouts. As self-respecting adults, it is helpful to know what others are encountering in the healthcare system even if only to be alerted to pitfalls for ourselves. That is part of the “seeking answers” you talk about. Instead of just seeing what we get shown on the news, we can talk to each other and be more informed.

    • We have no intention of shaming anyone. Invited leaders will be given assistance in locating a proxy listener and we will make every attempt to accommodate their needs. This is not a blame-laying event but a chance to hear what people in our community are experiencing. I imagine that the invited leaders will be glad to have an opportunity to show concern for their constituents without having to debate or question them, and they will have ample opportunity to “do their thing” with the press afterwards.

  4. Carolyn Lord

    Do you know Dr. Aline Dormer? She can tell some compelling stories about the underserved in healthcare locally.

    • No, I don’t know her– if you do, can you provide an introduction? She may know some patients who are willing to speak, and we can also invite a few healthcare providers to give brief testimony about their difficulties getting good services for their patients.

  5. Melissa Anderson, CRNP

    I can be a helper, hand holder or greeter and help with setup/takedown and distributing/ inviting/getting the word out. Can finance some last minute expenses. Have patients that can speak too as underinsured/ uninsured that have had bad outcomes because of accessibility. Having a low cost clinic myself, I have stories that would turn most people sick at their stomachs.

    Thanks for all of your advocacy Dr Abston. Someone has to care about people who get their legs cut off prematurely because of bad access to care and have outcomes that include death because our healthcare system is terribly and almost irretrievably broken. Your work does not go unnoticed.

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