On July 12, pediatrician Arthur Lavin woke up at 3 a.m., though he would not be going to work. He put on his white coat and headed from his home in Cleveland to Akron, Ohio, where the doctor boarded a 6 a.m. flight to Washington, D.C. with three of his colleagues. Their destination was an 8:30 a.m. constituents’ open house with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)—the only time their senator would speak with them about Trumpcare.
From May 24 to July 28, every Wednesday while the Senate was in session, with just one exception, the remarkable group Lavin co-chairs, Doctors Organized for Health Care Solutions (DOHCS), sent at least two or three doctors to have coffee with the senator. They were that determined to convince the potential swing voter to reject the Senate’s Affordable Care Act repeals. The doctors—women and men from all medical specialties—came armed with real-life testimonials from their own experiences and they brought statistics: The Annals of Internal Medicine and other studies estimate that the mortality rate for those kicked off health insurance is about 1 in 500. For every 20 million people who lose insurance, 40,000 will die—thus the group’s tagline “No American should die for lack of insurance.”
The doctors also believe “No American should go bankrupt for becoming ill,” Lavin says. And as he points out: “I haven’t met anyone who actually disagrees with either of those.”
Portman did ultimately vote for Trumpcare, but he came out in opposition to at least one version of the bill. Lavin believes DOHCS helped moderate the senator’s stance. The doctors’ visits “softened the ease with which he toed the party line,” Lavin explains. “His speeches on the Senate took a more moderate tone as time went on.”
The Trumpcare fight is just the latest battle DOHCS has waged. Founded by former Cleveland NOW president and Feminist Majority activist Lana Moresky in 2004, the group of around 500 doctors takes on health-care issues through the most vocal and visual means possible. They put on their white coats to attend rallies and marches, to canvass door-to-door for the ACA or for a political candidate, and to meet with legislators and policy advisors.
And, “in an era in which doctors for some reason are getting hives and allergic reactions to the word abortion, we’re not scared to use that word,” Lavin says. Ohio has some of the most draconian anti-abortion laws in the nation. When the group shows up to rallies, when they wear their white coats to the steps of the capitol, they’re “visible in public as doctors, saying this is a medical right and it should not be a political issue,” Lavin says. DOHCS wants Ohio to know that doctors stand up for abortion.
For the doctors in his group, Lavin says, “It’s always been about…really working to see the community not suffer because of the decisions made by its leadership.” He adds, “Here is a profession that literally can’t operate without facts—a surgeon cannot do surgery without factual information… And we’re standing up in an era in which fact is under assault.”