Having a fun, fulfilling, and raucous time here on the Patients Over Politics (a.k.a. Doctors Gone Wild) bus tour. On Monday, I arrived in Tampa in the mid-afternoon and attempted to take a taxi downtown. I got within a mile, but almost all of the streets headed towards the city center were blocked off by police. So, off I walked to meet up with the crew. The streets were eerily quiet yet there were police officers everywhere, wearing tan uniforms and riding mountain bikes in formation. Although the convention's events had been postponed for the day due to the possible hurricane, the crowd control agents were out in force, so it had a strange police-state feel with 20 or so officers for every citizen I ran into. After a bit of a walk through occasional drizzle, I first found the Patients Over Politics RV.
It was completely audacious and awesome. Minutes later, I found the group, walking back from a brief press stint at the "speaker's platform" that has been set up for citizens groups to exercise their first amendment rights. We were 30 feet from the RV when the sky opened up - I was drenched in the 30 seconds it took to climb aboard. The weather here is like that - some drizzle, some sun, fierce and short bouts of furious downpour, the air saturated with moisture. Dinner that night with my fellow travelers rounded out the day.
Yesterday was awesome. We spent most of the day at the University of South Florida - a 40,000 student strong University of Florida system school, located near here in Tampa. It was the first day of school, so student groups and poster salespeople were out in force, and we joined the fray, setting up tables and stands next to the student center.
Over the course of the next several hours, we spoke with hundreds of individual students, informing them about the provisions of the ACA that were most relevant to them. I had many incredibly gratifying conversations. Two students I spoke with told me about how the inclusion of young people under their parents' plans until the age of 26 didn't help them because their families couldn't afford health insurance. One of these students eagerly signed our declaration after I explained to him the different ways that the ACA will expand coverage such that families like his would have access to health insurance that they could afford. He had no idea that this was coming and excitedly told me important this would be to his family who had been searching for affordable health insurance for years. One of the poster sales guys overheard us and asked if he could sign on to our declaration "15 times." A pre-med asked me my MCAT scores, which was a little bit of comic relief.
In summary, it was highly rewarding to educate these young people about health reform. Most of them really had no idea what the ACA is all about, but like many 18-20 year olds who are in an active process of developing their world views, they were really eager and excited to hear what we had to say. In the end, the poster table still got more business than we did, but we came away with just under a hundred signed declarations.
Oh, one other quick highlight for me: an 80 year old woman in a wheelchair with a t-shirt that declared her a "Social Menace" had traveled to Tampa from Orlando (about two and a half hours away) to see her primary care doctor with her son. What made my interaction with her rewarding is that she flirted with me mercilessly. "What a handsome young man you are... Etc, etc."
Last night, we attended a fundraising cocktail party graciously hosted by DFA member Patrick Cimino and his spouse, Cindy. The evening was lovely - filled with interesting conversations about our profession with like-minded folks from the community who were there to hear about what we were doing. Rita got about 30 minutes of footage on her iPhone camera of a presentation, primarily by Alice and Vivek, which was a great overview of how DFA was formed, some of its victories, and how it has evolved over the last few years. The rest of us also stood up and told our personal stories of why we had taken time from our lives to come on this adventure. The response was great - a number of people wanted to get more involved AND we received contributions totaling about $2500!!!
Now on our way to the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Eatonville, FL where we will be joined by the Mayor and a Congressman. We are conducting blood pressure screenings and educating about the ACA, among other things. This church won an award from Michelle Obama's fitness campaign due to its wellness-promoting efforts and programs to help reduce childhood obesity in its community. More on that tomorrow!
I feel so privileged to be on this trip, surrounded by people with passion to spare. I only wish that more of you could be here with us. It's been really fun and empowering, and it's an honor to represent our Massachusetts family.