Forty-five thousand Americans died last year from lack of health insurance. The average physician devotes $85,000 a year on processing paperwork for a multitude of companies handling their patients’ insurance plans. The World Health Organization several years ago ranked the United States 37th in health outcomes, yet the country spends twice as much on health care than any other industrialized nation. Pharmaceutical companies spend $71 billion on marketing but just $23 billion on research and development. Black men in some U.S. cities have a life expectancy on par with Bangladesh.
Hearing reports like that and facing desperate patients on a daily basis, what’s a socially and fiscally conscious doctor to do?
Frustrated by the financial and human costs of the current health care system, a group of six Oregon doctors launched a road trip from Portland last week en route to Washington, D.C. They’ve been joined by others across the country who also are angry over Congress’s unwillingness to break free from industry control over public policy making.
Mad as Hell Doctors in St. Paul
by Anissa Stocks, TC Daily Planet
If your home is burglarized, a police dispatcher won’t ask ‘Do you have police insurance?’ Neither should health care professionals, according to the Mad as Hell Doctors tour, which arrived at the state capitol in St. Paul September 16 to a welcome by about 200 supporters.
“Healthcare is a right, just like police and fire protection,” said Dr. Paul Hochfeld, a physician who with eight colleagues, has embarked on a 30-city tour culminating on the steps of Congress in Washington D.C., on September 30.
“18,000 Americans die each year from lack of proper health care,” Hochfeld said. “We won’t stand for that. Anger when channeled correctly can move the world. We’re mad as hell and we are fighting for what’s right.”
“Health care has become an industry, and physicians are now employees rather than independent practitioners,” said Dr. Bob Seward. “The strongest bill advocates for 94 percent of Americans to be covered. Ninety-four percent is not 100 percent. And that’s not good enough.”
“American health care is a bizarre blend of the worst of capitalism and the worst of socialism,” said Dr. Eugene Uphoff. “If money equated with health in America we would have the best system in the world.”
Seward said that Americans must understand what single-payer is, and what it isn’t.
“[Monies] directed to health insurance companies would be redirected into one, public fund that insures all Americans. It’s not Socialism, it’s smartism.
“Paul [Hochfeld] and others are right when comparing health care to public services such as police or fire departments,” he said. “It’s not just good sense, it’s good government.”
Anissa Stocks (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student at the University of Minnesota.
Yesterday the Mad as Hell Doctors stopped in Mankato and St. Paul, two of the 26 cities where the doctors are putting on rallies to generate support for a single payer system. If the rally at the state capitol is an indication, the doctors are getting a warm welcome while they spread their serious message.
They will no longer tolerate the industry domination of America’s health care system. They don’t believe the much-debated public option is the answer or even worth supporting. And they agree with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich that Roy Roger’s horse is the only Trigger worth discussing. They support single payer health care.
It’s clear to these docs that the battle over health reform is part of a larger war to remove corporate influence over Washington policy-making. “As a doctor, I’m sad and embarrassed” about the “Swift boating” of healthcare reform efforts, said Dr. Joe Eusterman, a recently retired physician from Portland (and University of Minnesota Medical School alum) who treated patients for 50 years. “This is a war to restore America’s integrity and America’s soul.”
When Michael Cavlan, a Minnesota nurse who supports the doctors’ efforts, asked how advocates could build a stronger reform movement, Eusterman responded: “Go for the whole enchilada! Stay focused on singe payer.”
Minnesota is one of a handful of states that has stayed focused on single payer, and could be the first to pass a statewide single payer plan. Sen. John Marty, and Rep. David Bly, chief sponsors of the Minnesota Health Plan (SF118/HF135) and a half dozen other legislators who support single payer were invited to speak at the rally.
Said Marty: “Health insurance is not health care. Even in the strongest bill in Congress (the House bill which includes a public, non-profit option), only 94 percent will be covered, not 100 percent. That’s not good enough.”
Rep. Kucinich, a co-author of a federal single payer bill that has languished in the House for years, called in to the rally to confirm he won’t support anything less than a plan that covers everyone. “This is not the time to be throwing away everything we’ve [single payer advocates] worked for.”
He also quipped about Maine Senator Olympia Snowe’s “trigger” suggestion. Snowe has stated that, because Republicans universally oppose it, the public option should be dropped from reform legislation with the understanding that if insurance companies don’t develop their own plans for covering everyone, then it would trigger a public option. “Trigger was Roy Rogers’s horse,” said Kucinich. “It’s not the way to do health care.”
The Mad As Hell Doctors, along with PNHP, still have work to do to get more doctors behind single payer. Views among physicians have shifted in recent years toward a public option. Survey results published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine show that a clear majority of physicians (62.9 percent) favor a reform plan that offers a public option along with private health insurance, with another 10 percent nationally supporting a single player plan.
That may be because single payer has received short shrift in policy discussions. There was no comparative cost analysis done on single payer; doctors and nurses supporting single payer were blocked from testifying at high-level Senate committee meetings this spring and summer (some were arrested and forcibly removed from the hearing room); and despite several single payer plans being introduced in both the House and Senate, there has been little public discussion of the plan and even less mainstream media coverage.
The big question that generally stifles debate on a single payer plan is cost. Who will pay for it?
According to the Mad As Hell Doctors, if the insurance industry – the bureaucrats – are taken out of the health care equation, a single payer plan would pay for itself.
Dr. Paul Hochfeld, an emergency room physician in Corvalis, OR, who leads the doctor coalition, said “If we got rid of the 20 percent that’s wasted by the insurance industry we’d have enough to cover everybody.”
Hochfield also volunteered a comment on the contentious issue of providing health care to illegal immigrants. He noted that the public now covers the cost of treating the uninsured, and will continue no matter what scenario is eventually adopted, “unless we’re going to let them die at the entrance of my emergency room.”
The Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) sponsored the Minnesota visits. In other towns the doctors are finding support from other PNHP chapters, Jobs With Justice, Health Care Now, Single Payer Action and Progressive Democrats of America.
You can follow the doctors’ journey on their blog, www.madashelldoctors.com or on Twitter, @MadDrs.
Kathlyn Stone (email email@example.com) is an independent journalist in St. Paul. She maintains a health and science news site at fleshandstone.net.
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