Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I went to a town hall rally for health care last night. This one was in support of a specific bill, HR 676, which I have mentioned before on this blog. The rally was centered around a group of Doctors, mostly from Oregon, who call themselves the Mad as Hell Doctors. These doctors have been driving from Oregon to DC over the past three weeks, making stops to talk to people about single payer health care coverage and why they support it. Today, they end in DC with one more rally after which they will hand a petition to Barack Obama in support of HR 676.
What follows is my best attempt to put into words the argument that the Doctors made in favor of single payer. I will preface that by telling you that the doctors come from different areas of practice, four of them are former vets, all of them had at least 25 years in medicine, and they made a ton of good points.
The overlying message was that these doctors strongly believed that the only way to save the health care coverage situation in this country is through single payer. They made the strong argument that a public option would not work because it does not take enough power from private insurers. Rather, it creates a system that is doomed to fail and when it does, it will be hung around the neck of the health care reform movement as an albatross, a sign that government fails at running health care.
Instead, these doctors support a system that reforms Medicare and expands it to cover everyone. Part of this reform would involve consolidating health care records to conserve on paperwork costs, reducing costs by creating a network in which everyone is covered and thus no one becomes a burden on the system when they seek emergency care uninsured, increasing the focus on preventative medicine, eliminating pharmaceutical marketing, and tort reform.
One of the doctors argued that we have patients going to too many doctors and taking too many medications. He said that this is a result of the fear of being sued; anything that could possible be wrong has to be tested or referred to someone else. In a single payer system, there would have to be tort reform, but this doctor also made a brilliant point: people sue their doctors for malpractice because, for the most part, they are in fear of the future medical bills they will have to pay to fix whatever is wrong with them. They sue because the private health care industry has created an atmosphere in which they must sue to stay afloat. In universal coverage, your doctor's visits will basically be covered for life. No getting dropped, no change in rates. So even if one doctor does something wrong, you won't need thousands of dollars to have another doctor fix it. This eliminates a huge amount of the incentive to sue.
In the US, we spend $7,000 per person per year on health care. That's the most expensive in the world. The second most expensive is $3,600, essentially half. Where does this cost come from? A lot of places. A huge amount of it is insurance paperwork. Another big offender is pharmaceuticals. A major argument against some reform is that it will eliminate creativity and ingenuity in the health care industry. The doctors debunked this claim by examining pharmaceutical profits and breaking down where they go. The top 5 pharma companies in this country (Merck and Pfizer are two of the biggest) pull in 500 billion dollars a year. 32 billion goes to research and development. Where does the other 468 billion go? A large chunk goes to advertising. Those stupid commercials you see on TV. Shouldn't your doctor be telling you what medication you need, not the other way around? These commercials serve no purpose. Another big chunk of that money lines the pockets of the executives who run the pharmaceutical companies. There is a huge amount of money there that shouldn't be leaving your wallet.
Audience members told stories about their ordeals with private health insurance. One woman, a nurse, told the story of having to amputate the leg of a diabetic patient. He didn't have insurance and had gone ten years without any kind of doctor's visit, which is why when he finally came in, they couldn't save his leg. The damage could have been prevented if caught earlier. Now, the man is on disability, the burden of you and me, when it would have been much cheaper to cover him under single payer and keep him healthy and working. Others spoke about friends and family members who were insured but were dropped when they got sick or had their care, GASP, rationed to them by their insurer. Many of these people died as a result of being left out in the cold by these companies that had taken their money. I heard probably twenty stories just from the hundred or so people there last night. That's about one in five people by my count that have been screwed over by the insurance industry.
The doctors reminded us that the Declaration of Independence recognizes the inalienable right to life, that Martin Luther King Jr. said, "of all forms of inequality, injustice of health care is the most shocking and inhumane," and that the United Nations, an organization that this nation is a member of and whose rules and declarations we helped write, recognizes that health care is a basic human right. Why then are so many in this country only interested in themselves?
The doctors want to be heard so they can make their argument to as many people as possible. They as that you go to their site (link above) and use the option to email the President requesting that he talk to them. You can also send emails to various TV shows suggesting they invite one of them on as a guest.
The Daily Show: email@example.com
Or any other you can think of. Supporters of the public option should really check this out; you might find you like it. The Senate has a similar bill, S703, that you can also check out. And the doctors are prepared to strongly back state efforts to establish single payer systems if a federal effort fails. In my state, Pennsylvania, two bills exist for this purpose: HB1660 and SB400. Write your state and federal representatives if you are interested and tell them.
UPDATE: CNN has a nice piece up that has the stories of several people from all different walks of life explaining why they are tired of the sad excuse for health care coverage we have in this country.
UPDATE 2: An interesting blog by a guy from the UK. He compares his health care experiences living in the US with his experiences across the pond. Worth a read. Sphere: Related Content