By Susanne L. King, M.D.
The disruptions at town meetings in August were not just the work of conservative hecklers and their corporate backers. The wave of anger also revealed that many Americans feel left out during the current recession. It is not just the 50 million people who are left out because they don’t have health insurance, or the tens of millions who are left out because they have inadequate health insurance, or even the many people who have been bankrupted by their medical bills (the most common cause of bankruptcy in the United States).
Millions of other Americans also feel left out and angry, frustrated by the bailouts for Wall Street and other corporations which profit from the tax dollars of struggling Americans.
The current health insurance reform bill being created in Congress is looking like just another bailout — this time for health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. With their lobbying dollars and influence, these companies are crafting health insurance legislation to expand their profits and power.
A proposed individual mandate to force 47 million citizens to buy health insurance will be a windfall for private health insurance companies, and will be partially paid for with taxpayer dollars for subsidies to support premiums for people who can’t afford health insurance.
And the drug companies pulled a real coup. President Obama agreed to a promise of $80 billion from the pharmaceutical companies over ten years in exchange for an agreement with the government to not bargain down medication prices for Medicare, and to not allow people to buy cheaper drugs from Canada. The drug companies did not give the government $80 billion, nor agree to cut prices, but only to reduce the amount they would otherwise have raised prices. $80 billion over ten years translates into savings of only 2 percent of the projected U.S. spending on prescription drugs. What was Obama thinking?
What ordinary people seem to be thinking is, “We’ve given enough bailouts to the private sector, and we are sick of our government continuing to subsidize private corporations.”
At a “Community Meeting for Healthcare” in New Hampshire during his campaign for president in 2007, Barack Obama talked with 200-plus people about health care reform. He said, “I want to be held accountable for establishing a universal health care plan by the end of my first term, but I have to insist on the voters rallying for this change. When I take office I have to feel I have a mandate for change.”
According to the Associated Press, his audience at the community meeting was “almost single-mindedly focused on a single-payer system.” What we know from polls is that 59 percent of Americans support a single payer national health insurance program, an improved “Medicare for All.” So why have our president and Congress abandoned single payer health care when the majority of Americans support it?
Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich are sponsoring HR 676, the single-payer, not-for-profit health insurance bill in the house, along with 85 other representatives. Kucinich says, “Insurance companies will stop at nothing to hold on to the American people’s wallet when it comes to health insurance.” He believes that health care reform needs to come from public input, not the special interest groups who are driving the legislation in Congress.
He recommends that we step back and start over on health care reform, and that congressmen should go back to the people and listen to their stories. They need to talk to all their constituents, not just those who scream the loudest. They need to hold town meetings where civil discourse prevails.
For those of us who support single payer health care, we can make it clear to our representatives in Congress that this will be an important issue in their re-election as we go to vote next year.
Since health insurance lobbyists have effectively squelched discussion of single payer bill HR 676 as an option for health care reform in Congress at this time, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a single payer supporter, has filed an amendment to the health reform legislation recently created in the House, HR 3200. Weiner’s amendment would effectively change HR 3200 into a single payer bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised an up or down vote on this amendment in September. If you support single payer health care, please call your representative, or go to www.pnhp.org and send an email asking him to support the Weiner amendment to HR 3200.
If we had an improved “Medicare for All” program, everyone would have comprehensive coverage, including medical and dental care, prescription drugs, and long term care, all without deductibles and co-payments. This approach would not add to our burgeoning national deficit, but would save $400 billion in administrative costs alone by eliminating for-profit health insurance companies.
The current Medicare program is financially threatened: Medicare viability would be enhanced by including everyone in the system, rather than siphoning off healthy workers to the for-profit insurance industry. Only with a single payer national health program will we have “everybody in and nobody out.”
There is a moral imperative to providing comprehensive health care to everyone. Health care should be a human right, not a market good. As Senator Teddy Kennedy said, “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
Susanne L. King is a Lenox-based practitioner.