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Single Payer Advocates Address Deep Flaws in Democratic Health Bill

Flickr photo by freestylee

On the day before Thanksgiving, members of single payer advocacy organizations gathered for a press conference to voice strong concerns with a Democratic health bill that they feel fails to address the biggest problems with health care in America.

Dr. Carol Paris and Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Kevin Zeese of Prosperity Agenda, and Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action were all present for the press conference in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. at 10 am ET.

All four were members of the Baucus Eight that were arrested for confronting senators anddisrupting a Senate hearingafter Sen. Max Baucus and other senators took single payer off the table.

Dr. Paris said the Democratic bill makes the mistake of “keeping the biggest problem, which is the waste of the private insurance industry” a part of the health reform solution being proposed by Congress.

According to Russell Mokhiber, “It’s unfair to call this health reform. This is an insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry bailout.”

Dr. Flowers said, “It’s designed to fail. If our goal for this country is to provide healthcare for every person in a way that is financially sustainable and have it be both universal and cost-efficient, this is not the way to do it.”

Like many advocates for single payer, Dr. Flowers is bothered by how much the insurance industry has influenced the health insurance enrichment bill and how the legislation will “further enrich and empower the health insurance industry by mandating that people purchase their products by usinghundreds of billions of federal dollars to subsidize the purchase of private insurance.”

Single payer advocates do not want to make the perfect the enemy of the good but because the Democratic bill currently mandates that people purchase a defective product—private insurance—compromise, for many advocates, is unjustifiable.

“By forcing people at the point of increased taxes and threat of incarceration to buy a product that’s defective, first, it’s an amazing first in our history, but second, it really undermines the good in this bill because it empowers the cause of health care problems,” said Zeese.

Zeese added “to mandate [that] people buy health insurance under threat” of fines that are up to 2.5% of their income or to threaten criminal punishment is unconscionable especially since none of the basic problems of health insurance would be fixed with this bill.

The single-payer movement believes millions will still be uninsured, the underinsured will still face medical bankruptcy, and massive waste, fraud, and abuse that occurs as a result of the private health insurance industry will continue.

So, some members of the single payer movement are calling on progressive Democrats in Congress to start from scratch and expand Medicare to cover all Americans as an end result goal.

“The system’s not going to work with these kinds of for-profit health insurance companies in the game,” said Mokhiber. “Single Payer Action istrying to peel off a number of members in the House and Senate to vote with them and use [defeating the bill] as a teaching moment.”

Mokhiber is largely critical of progressive Democrats who claimed to support single-payer yet refused to defend or fight for it. In contrast, he says, Blue Dog Democrats have been willing to draw lines in the sand and make people pay attention. And, that’s what progressives need to do instead.

Those participating in the conference that wish to see this bill defeated so that Congress can start from scratch, do not feel that Americans will have to wait another decade for another opportunity for reform to come back around.

Zeese argued that’s wrong because the healthcare crisis has become a government crisis and it has become a primary cause of deficit and debt at the state and federal level.

And, Mokhiber said having single payer activists kill this is “the best way” to do reform and activists should defeat the legislation and make it clear they are doing it so single payer can continue to be possible.

Advocates like Mokhiber and Zeese differentiate themselves from Republicans who simply wish to kill the bill and ensure that not even piecemeal steps toward reform health care are taken.

They make it clear that if Democrats went back to the drawing board they would be there, as they have been since the beginning, advocating for an "everybody in, nobody out" single payer not-for-profit health care system.

Having been a psychiatrist for twenty years, Dr. Paris communicated the need to get this right now and not later.

“There’s this anxiety and stress that’s created by our inability, by the inability of average citizens to access healthcare,” said Dr. Paris. “It’s not bad enough that you’ve got an anxiety disorder or depression or schizophrenia. But then add to it the stress of not knowing how you’re going to pay for your medication, not knowing how you’re going to afford therapy to see a psychiatrist is just adding insult to injury.”

Dr. Flowers is convinced that “we can do much better than this.”

“We have the resources to provide healthcare to every person in this country and to improve our health outcome to be en par the top industrial nation,” said Dr. Flowers. “And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be going in that direction.”

C-SPAN covered the press conference. To see video of it, click here.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."