WASHINGTON – Phoenix resident George Pauk stood on the steps of the Supreme Court in a surgical mask with the words “Silenced Majority” scrawled on it Thursday, but he was tired of being silent.
“Health care companies keep taking a huge share of profits, and they are going to ruin the system eventually,” said Pauk, who joined hundreds of chanting, sign-waving protesters waiting for the court’s decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The crowd ranged from an infant – shielded from the relentless Washington sun by a “Love it! Improve it! Medicare for all!” sign – to two elderly men who struggled to hold signs while using their canes to weave through the sweaty, jostling mass that spilled across the street from the sidewalk in front of the court.
Belly dancers shimmied down the sidewalk, three protesters stood silently facing the Supreme Court with duct tape over their mouths and one person stood dressed as the Grim Reaper, his black robe a stark contrast to the neon posters around him.
And there were students like Arizona State University junior Casey Clowes, who feared the court would void the provision that lets young people stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until they turned 26.
“I think it’s important to respect students’ rights and new graduates … for when your job doesn’t have health care because you’re at an entry-level position, but you still need coverage,” Clowes said.
Medical professionals – although they did not chant as much as the protesters who showed up in hospital scrubs – were spread throughout the crowd. Karen Higgins, an intensive care unit nurse, said her experience with the uninsured drove her protest.
“I’m concerned in whichever direction (the decision) goes. It’s a health insurance plan, not a healthcare plan,” said Higgins, of Boston. “My hope is we can work together to create a plan where everyone gets health care, not just health insurance.”
The court was scheduled to meet at 10 a.m., and the urgency in protesters’ chants intensified as the hour drew closer. “Hands off my O-ba-ma-care” came from the left side of the sidewalk and was met with “Obamacare has got to go, hey, hey, ho, ho” from protesters on the right.
Religious groups camped in front of the steps knelt down and bowed their heads as Psalm 121 blasted through a megaphone and washed over them. The crowd noise eased momentarily for their prayer before other protesters began to sing along to Stevie Wonder’s hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” as it blared from speakers.
A few minutes after 10 a.m., at least one healthcare act supporter joined in the faint strains of a Tea Party impromptu rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
And then those furiously pecking away on their smartphones saw an erroneous report that the court had struck down the individual mandate part of the law, which requires everyone to purchase healthcare by 2014 or be fined. “Don’t Tread on Me” flags waved energetically as a jubilant roar erupted from the bill’s protesters.
The tide of cheering quickly shifted to the other side, as correct reports arrived saying that the individual mandate – and the majority of the law – was left intact. A key part of the court’s decision was its reasoning that the penalty for those who choose not to purchase health care was not a fine, but a tax.
“IRS, you can take me away now, because I am not paying that tax!” one angry protester shouted.
George Pauk’s wife, Jane, said she sees the court’s opinion as the starting point in the fight for an improved healthcare system.
“I’m very disappointed they didn’t strike down the mandate. It’s a very inefficient way of providing care,” she said.
But others welcomed the news, saying the law would benefit all Americans.
“It’s wonderful for everyone in this country,” said John Glaser, a member of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “It’s essential for everyone who is sick or will be sick. Everyone benefits. There are no losers.”