Put Single-Payer on the Table <http://www.truthout.org/031109HA>
Tuesday 10 March 2009
by: Amy Goodman | Visit article original @ *Truthdig*
In front of Blue Cross headquarters, as part of a larger demonstration,
a protester advocates for single-payer universal health care. (Photo:
President Barack Obama promises health-care reform, but he has taken
single-payer health care off the table. Single-payer is the system that
removes private insurance companies from the picture; the government
pays all the bills, but health-care delivery remains private. People
still get their choice of what doctor to go to and what hospital to use.
Single-payer reduces the administrative costs and removes the profit
that insurance companies add to health-care delivery. Single-payer
solutions, however, get almost no space in the debate.
A study just released by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media
watchdog group, found that in the week before Obama's health-care
summit, of the hundreds of stories that appeared in major newspapers and
on the networks, "only five included the views of advocates of
single-payer - none of which appeared on television." Most opinion
columns that mentioned single-payer were written by opponents.
Congress is considering H.R. 676, "Expanded and Improved Medicare
for All," sponsored by John Conyers, D-Mich., with 64 co-sponsors. Yet
even when Rep. Conyers directly asked Obama at a Congressional Black
Caucus meeting if he could attend the White House health-care summit, he
was not immediately invited. Nor was any other advocate for single-payer
Conyers had asked to bring Dr. Marcia Angell, the first woman editor
in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, the most prestigious
medical journal in the country, and Dr. Quentin Young. Young is perhaps
the most well-known single-payer advocate in America. He was Martin
Luther King Jr.'s doctor when King lived in Chicago. "My 15-minute house
calls would stretch into three hours," he told me.
But he came to know Barack Obama even better. Though his medical
partner was Obama's doctor, Young was his neighbor, friend and ally for
decades. "Obama supported single-payer, gave speeches for it," he said.
This past weekend, hundreds turned out to honor the 85-year-old
Young, including the Illinois governor and three members of Congress,
but the White House's response to Conyers' request that Young be
included in the summit? A resounding no. Perhaps because Obama
personally knows how persuasive and committed Young is.
After much outcry, Conyers was invited. Activist groups like
Physicians for a National Health Program (pnhp.org) expressed outrage
that no other single-payer advocate was to be among the 120 people at
the summit. Finally, the White House relented and invited Dr. Oliver
Fein, president of PNHP. Two people out of 120.
Locked out of the debate, silenced by the media, single-payer
advocates are taking action. Russell Mokhiber, who writes and edits the
Corporate Crime Reporter, has decided that the time has come to directly
confront the problem of our broken health-care system. He's going to the
national meeting of the American Health Insurance Plans and is joining
others in burning their health-insurance bills outside in protest.
Mokhiber told me, "The insurance companies have no place in the health
care of American people. How are we going to beat these people? We have
to start the direct confrontation." Launching a new organization,
*Single Payer Action* (singlepayeraction.org
<http://www.singlepayeraction.org>), Mokhiber and others promise to take
the issue to the insurance industry executives, the lobbyists and the
members of Congress directly, in Washington, D.C., and their home
Critical mass is building behind a single-payer system. From Nobel
Laureate in Economics Joseph Stiglitz, who told me, "I've reluctantly
come to the view that it's the only alternative," to health-care
providers themselves, who witness and endure the system's failure
firsthand. Geri Jenkins of the newly formed, 150,000-nurses-strong
United American Nurses-National Nurses Organizing Committee (nnoc.net)
said: "It is the only health-care-reform proposal that can work. ... We
are currently pushing to have a genuine, honest policy debate, because
we'll win ... the health insurers will collapse under the weight of
their own irrelevance."
Dr. Young has now been invited to a Senate meeting along with the
"usual suspects": health-insurance providers, Big Pharma and
health-care-reform advocates. I asked Young what he thought of the
refrain coming from the White House, as well as from the leading senator
on the issue, Max Baucus, that "single-payer is off the table." "It's
repulsive," sighed Young. "We are very angry." But not discouraged. I
asked him what he thought about Burn Your Health Insurance Bill Day.
"Things are heating up." he chuckled. "When things are happening that
you have nothing to do with, you know it's a movement."
/Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column./
/Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international
TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America.
She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the "Alternative
Nobel" prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in
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