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One Montana County’s Medicare-for-All Coverage June 28, 2011

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Published on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 by OtherWords

As the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare, here’s a prescription to clean up the whole mess.

  by  Kay Tillow

Back when he presided over the Senate’s health care reform debate, Max Baucus, chairman of the all-powerful Senate Finance Committee, had said everything was on the table — except for single-payer universal health care. When doctors, nurses, and others rose in his hearing to insist that single payer be included in the debate, the Montana Democrat had them arrested. As more stood up, Baucus could be heard on his open microphone saying, “We need more police.”

Yet when Baucus needed a solution to a catastrophic health disaster in Libby, Montana and surrounding Lincoln County, he turned to the nation’s single-payer healthcare system, Medicare, to solve the problem.

You see, a vermiculite mine had spread deadly airborne asbestos that killed hundreds and sickened thousands in Libby and northwest Montana. W.R. Grace & Co., which owned the mine, denied its connection to the outbreaks of mesothelioma and asbestosis and dodged responsibility for this disaster. The federal government got stuck with most of the tab for the cleanup costs, and the EPA has issued a first-of-its-kind order declaring Lincoln County a public health disaster.

When all lawsuits and legal avenues failed, Baucus turned to Medicare.

The single-payer plan that Baucus kept off the table in 2009 is now very much on the table in Libby. It turns out that Baucus quietly inserted a section into the Affordable Care Act that covers the suffering people of Libby, Montana. Medicare covers the whole community, not just the former miners.

Residents of Libby don’t have to be 65 years old or more. They don’t have to wait until 2014 for the state exchanges. There’s no 10-year roll out for them — it’s immediate. They don’t have to purchase a plan — this isn’t a buy-in to Medicare. It’s free. They don’t have to be disabled for two years before they apply. They don’t have to go without care for three years until Medicaid expands. They don’t have to meet income tests. They don’t have to apply for a subsidy or pay a fine for failure to buy insurance. They don’t have to hope that the market will make a plan affordable or hide their pre-existing conditions. They don’t have to find a job that provides coverage.

Baucus simply inserted a clause into the health care reform law to make special arrangements for them in Medicare.

No one should begrudge the people of Lincoln County, where toxic mine waste was used as soil additives, home insulation, and even spread on the running tracks at local schools. Miners brought carcinogens home on their clothes.

“The people of Libby have been poisoned and have been dying for more than a decade,” Baucus explained in a New York Times interview. “New residents continue to get sick all the time. Public health tragedies like this could happen in any town in America. We need this type of mechanism to help people when they need it most.”

But health tragedies are happening in every American town. Over 51 million have no insurance. and over 45,000 uninsured people die needlessly each year. Employers are cutting coverage and dropping plans. States in economic crisis are slashing both Medicaid and their employees’ plans.

Nothing in Obama’s health care law will mitigate the skyrocketing costs. More than half of us, including tens of millions of insured Americans, now go without necessary care. As Baucus said of Medicare, “We need this mechanism to help people when they need it most.” We all need it now.

So as the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare and far too many Democrats use the deficit excuse to suggest other ways to tear the social safety net apart, Libby offers a prescription to clean up the whole mess. Only single-payer universal health care — improved Medicare for all — can save and protect Medicare, rein in skyrocketing health care costs, and give us universal coverage.

Medicare was implemented within less than a year of its 1965 passage. When Congress passes a national single-payer bill, we can all be enrolled in the twinkling of an eye.

A longer version of this commentary first appeared on Firedoglake.



Kay Tillow

Kay Tillow is the coordinator of the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, which builds union support for H.R. 676. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. www.unionsforsinglepayer.org


Why I Voted NO November 8, 2009

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Published on Sunday, November 8, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Dennis Kucinich

We have been led to believe that we must make our health care choices only within the current structure of a predatory, for-profit insurance system which makes money not providing health care. We cannot fault the insurance companies for being what they are. But we can fault legislation in which the government incentivizes the perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health insurance industry, the very source of the problem. When health insurance companies deny care or raise premiums, co-pays and deductibles they are simply trying to make a profit. That is our system.

Clearly, the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution. They are driving up the cost of health care. Because their massive bureaucracy avoids paying bills so effectively, they force hospitals and doctors to hire their own bureaucracy to fight the insurance companies to avoid getting stuck with an unfair share of the bills. The result is that since 1970, the number of physicians has increased by less than 200% while the number of administrators has increased by 3000%. It is no wonder that 31 cents of every health care dollar goes to administrative costs, not toward providing care. Even those with insurance are at risk. The single biggest cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. is health insurance policies that do not cover you when you get sick.

But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies – a bailout under a blue cross.

By incurring only a new requirement to cover pre-existing conditions, a weakened public option, and a few other important but limited concessions, the health insurance companies are getting quite a deal. The Center for American Progress’ blog, Think Progress, states, ‘since the President signaled that he is backing away from the public option, health insurance stocks have been on the rise.’ Similarly, healthcare stocks rallied when Senator Max Baucus introduced a bill without a public option. Bloomberg reports that Curtis Lane, a prominent health industry investor, predicted a few weeks ago that ‘money will start flowing in again’ to health insurance stocks after passage of the legislation. Investors.com last month reported that pharmacy benefit managers share prices are hitting all-time highs, with the only industry worry that the Administration would reverse its decision not to negotiate Medicare Part D drug prices, leaving in place a Bush Administration policy.

During the debate, when the interests of insurance companies would have been effectively challenged, that challenge was turned back. The ‘robust public option’ which would have offered a modicum of competition to a monopolistic industry was whittled down from an initial potential enrollment of 129 million Americans to 6 million. An amendment which would have protected the rights of states to pursue single-payer health care was stripped from the bill at the request of the Administration. Looking ahead, we cringe at the prospect of even greater favors for insurance companies.

Recent rises in unemployment indicate a widening separation between the finance economy and the real economy. The finance economy considers the health of Wall Street, rising corporate profits, and banks’ hoarding of cash, much of it from taxpayers, as sign of an economic recovery. However in the real economy – in which most Americans live – the recession is not over. Rising unemployment, business failures, bankruptcies and foreclosures are still hammering Main Street.

This health care bill continues the redistribution of wealth to Wall Street at the expense of America’s manufacturing and service economies which suffer from costs other countries do not have to bear, especially the cost of health care. America continues to stand out among all industrialized nations for its privatized health care system. As a result, we are less competitive in steel, automotive, aerospace and shipping while other countries subsidize their exports in these areas through socializing the cost of health care.

Notwithstanding the fate of H.R. 3962, America will someday come to recognize the broad social and economic benefits of a not-for-profit, single-payer health care system, which is good for the American people and good for America’s businesses, with of course the notable exceptions being insurance and pharmaceuticals.

Prescription for a Real Healthcare Debate July 29, 2009

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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

How Corporate Media Have Ruined the Health Care Debate

by Isabel Macdonald

The debate about health reform is clearly in critical condition, with the prospects for President Barack Obama’s proposed “public option” looking increasingly uncertain. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation where insurance for primary healthcare is largely in the hands of private corporations, but despite overwhelming public support for a greater government role in health insurance, pundits are now advising us that even Obama’s modest proposal of making private insurance corporations compete with a public insurance fund may have to be scrapped.

Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) — the politician who played one of the most powerful roles in shaping this debate — would seem at first blush an unlikely man to diagnose the ailments afflicting our health reform debate. 

After all, many people will recall that when several doctors asked at a recent Senate hearing why “Medicare-for-all” — a reform option that many citizens and healthcare professionals see as the best tool for fixing healthcare — was not on the table, Baucus responded by asking for more police. 

Yet as the NYT reported, Baucus has since:

Conceded that it was a mistake to rule out a fully government-run health system, or a ‘single-payer plan,’ not because he supports it but because doing so alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama’s proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.

After all, what better way to diffuse the fearmongering about Obama’s plan being a “Trojan horse” for the right’s favorite boogeyman — “socialized” medicine — than provide the public with accurate information on Medicare-for-all and its benefits? After all, a single public fund that would provide all Americans with healthcare coverage, much like Medicare currently provides for seniors, is seen by many experts as the most effective way of achieving the goals of healthcare reform: reducing costs while expanding coverage.

What better way to counter the pundits’ insistence that Obama “compromise” with industry-backed politicians than by pointing out that the “public option” is already a serious compromise, given that most citizens and physicians actually favor “single-payer” — a more comprehensive and progressive option.  After all, a recent New York Times/CBS poll (1/11-15/09) found that 59 percent of respondents said they would prefer that”the government in Washington provide national health insurance,” rather than leaving health insurance to private industry. Meanwhile a recent survey (Annals of Internal Medicine, 4/1/08) found that 59 percent of physicians also support single-payer.

Of course, the insurance lobbies and many politicians have never wanted to talk about single-payer. 

But it is largely the media’s fault that Obama’s plan has come to be seen as the most liberal position in the debate. For the corporate media has long shut single-payer and its advocates out of the discussion. 

A recent study by FAIR found that of hundreds of stories about healthcare in major outlets earlier this year, only five stories included the views of advocates of single-payer — none of which appeared on the TV networks.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that the public have information about the full range of options for healthcare reform — including Medicare-for-all. 

That is why the media watch group FAIR, filmmaker Michael Moore, former MSNBC host Phil Donahue, Harvard medical professors David Himmelstein and Stephanie Woolhandler and Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program, Obama’s longtime physician David Scheiner, actors Mike Farrell, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association are calling onto the TV networks to include single-payer in their coverage of healthcare reform.

You can read their letter to ABC, CBS and NBC — and add your voice to this effort to bring about the broad debate on reform options that is so essential to fixing the broken U.S. healthcare system — here: 

On Tuesday, July 28th, FAIR, Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare Now!, Code Pink, the Private Health Insurance Must Go Coalition and the Raging Grannies will be delivering this message to the NYC offices of ABC News — the network that disinvited Obama’s longtime physician from its recent healthcare forum where he’d been planning on asking a question about Medicare-for-all.

A version of this article appeared on Alternet.

Isabel Macdonald is Communications Director for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting)

Health Insurance Whistle-Blower Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried July 15, 2009

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Published on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 by TruthDig.com by Amy Goodman

Wendell Potter is the health insurance industry’s worst nightmare. He’s a whistle-blower. Potter, the former chief spokesperson for insurance giant CIGNA, recently testified before Congress, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick—all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.”

Potter was deeply involved in CIGNA and industrywide strategies for maintaining their profitable grip on U.S. health care. He told me: “The thing they fear most is a single-payer plan. They fear even the public insurance option being proposed; they’ll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead down the slippery slope toward socialism … putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. They’ve used those talking points for years, and they’ve always worked.”

In 2007, CIGNA denied a California teenager, Nataline Sarkisyan, coverage for a liver transplant. Her family went to the media. The California Nurses Association joined in. Under mounting pressure, CIGNA finally granted coverage for the procedure. But it was too late. Two hours later, Nataline died.

While visiting family in Tennessee, Potter stopped at a “medical expedition” in Wise, Va. People drove hours for free care from temporary clinics set up in animal stalls at the local fairground. Potter told me that weeks later, flying on a CIGNA corporate jet with the CEO: “I realized that someone’s premiums were helping me to travel that way … paying for my lunch on gold-trimmed china. I thought about those men and women I had seen in Wise County … not having any idea [how] insurance executives lived.” He decided he couldn’t be an industry PR hack anymore.

Insurance executives and their Wall Street investors are addicted to massive profits and double-digit annual rate increases. To squeeze more profit, Potter says, if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person’s original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company’s employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, “very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance.”

This week, as the House and Senate introduce their health care bills, Potter warns, “One thing to remember is that the health insurance industry has been anticipating this debate on health care for many years … they’ve been positioning themselves to get very close to influential members of Congress in both parties.” Montana Sen. Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, key for health care reform. Potter went on, “[T]he insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others in health care have donated … millions of dollars to his campaigns over the past few years. But aside from money, it’s relationships that count … the insurance industry has hired scores and scores of lobbyists, many of whom have worked for members of Congress, and some who are former members of Congress.”

The insurance industry and other health care interests are lobbying hard against a government-sponsored, nonprofit, public health insurance option, and are spending, according to The Washington Post, up to $1.4 million per day to sway Congress and public opinion.

Don’t be fooled. Profit-driven insurance claim denials actually kill people, and Wendell Potter knows where the bodies are buried. His whistle-blowing may be just what’s needed to dump what’s sick in our health care system.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” recently released in paperback.

Baucus to Meet with Single-Payer Advocates June 2, 2009

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by John S. Adams

HELENA – Sen. Max Baucus is set to meet with five single-payer health care advocates in Washington, D.C., this week.


[Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., talks with reporters after a closed-door committee meeting on financing an overhaul of the health care system, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)]Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., talks with reporters after a closed-door committee meeting on financing an overhaul of the health care system, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2009.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Baucus, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has made health care reform his top priority this session. However, Baucus has consistently said single-payer – a system in which the federal government acts as the nation’s sole health insurance provider – is off the table. 

“For more than a year, Senator Baucus has met with thousands of people, representing hundreds of views on how to reform our health care system,” Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf stated in an e-mail. “This meeting is no different. Max hopes to talk, and listen, to these folks totry and find the best way to make sure every Montanan has access to quality, affordable health care.”

Last week, members of Baucus’ staff held 20 listening sessions across the state on health care reform. At several of those meetings, Montanans expressed anger over Baucus’ steadfast refusal to consider a single-payer option.

Last month Baucus had 13 protesters removed from Senate Finance Committee hearings after the protesters demanded that single-payer advocates be given a seat at the table during health care reform hearings.

According to the Web site SinglePayerAction.org, Baucus will meet with Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP); Dr. Marcia Angell, senior lecturer, Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine; Dr. Oliver Fein, associate dean, Cornell Weill Medical School and president of PNHP; Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association; and Geri Jenkins, president of California Nurses Association.

Angell said the group plans to urge Baucus to give serious consideration to Congress’ two primary single-payer bills, S. 703, by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and H.R. 676, by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

“We will make a case that there should be full hearings on Sanders’ bill, and we’ll make the case that the (Congressional Budget Office) should cost-out the Sanders and Conyers bills,” Angell said in an interview Monday. “We’ll make the case that single-payer advocates should have a chance to meet with the president. We will argue for holding public hearings on health reform that include single payer witnesses.”

Matsdorf said the June 3 meeting was scheduled prior to last week’s well-attended health care listening sessions, but Angell said she believes the pressure Montanans put on Baucus in recent weeks helped open the door for Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think Sen. Baucus may be surprised at the amount of push-back he has gotten for just ruling (single-payer) off the table,” Angell said. “It may indicate that he’s starting to feel pressure, and that’s all for the good.”


Copyright ©2009 Great Falls Tribune

Max Baucus Should Not Be Deciding Health Care for America May 31, 2009

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Published on Sunday, May 31, 2009 by the Baltimore Chronicle (Maryland)

The “Senator for K Street” is Putting Campaign Donor Profits Ahead of the Basic Needs of the People

by Kevin Zeese

Senator Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee are too corrupted by corporate health industry profiteers donations to give America the health care policy it needs.

Health care is 15% of the U.S. gross domestic product. U.S. health care expenditures, which have been rising rapidly for several years, surpassed $2.4 trillion in 2007, more than three times the $714 billion spent in 1990. The cost of health care is projected to reach $4.4 trillion by 2018. There is a lot of room for corporate profiteering in the increasing cost of health care. The millions the health care industry has invested in Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee could therefore turn out to be very profitable.

It is evident that any bill that comes out of the Senate Finance Committee will be a pro-industry bill that will ensure trillions in profits for the health insurance industry, HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry.

Baucus has held two hearings so far and has refused to allow advocates for the most popular reform-a single payer national health policy-to even testify. Single payer “improved Medicare for all” is favored by more than 60% of Americans as well as majorities of doctors, nurses and economists. It is the most cost-effective and efficient way to provide health care to all Americans from cradle to grave.

Why aren’t single payer advocates allowed to testify before Baucus’ committee? Follow the money. Campaign donations explain why, and demonstrate that the Senate Finance Committee should not be in charge of health care. Senator Reid should remove the health care reform bill from Baucus and start all over before the Health Committee in the Senate.

Here’s why Baucus is not doing the people’s business:

According to OpenSecrets.org, over his career he has taken donations from:

* The Insurance Industry: $1,170,313
* Health Professionals: $1,016,276
* Pharmaceuticals/Health Products Industry: $734,605
* Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $541,891
* Health Services/HMOs: $439,700

Baucus has shown his bias and should be removed from leading the health care reform effort by the Democratic Party leadership.

That is a grand total of $3,902,785. Can we trust Baucus to put aside the profits of the industries that have kept him in the Senate? Will he put the people’s necessities ahead of the profits of his contributors?

In 2008 Baucus had virtually no challenger in Montana. A little-known Republican was on the ballot, and Baucus won with 73% of the vote. But, Baucus sought big donations from big business anyway. He used his connections to corporations with business before his committee to raise an immense campaign fund of more than $11 million. In 2008, 91% of his donations come from individuals living outside of Montana, which is why he is more the “Senator for K Street” then the Senator for Montana. Corporate health profiteers who invested in Baucus will now benefit from his stewardship over health care reform. His 2008 donations from health care profiteers included:

* Insurance: $592,185
* Health Professionals: $537,141
* Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $524,813
* Health Services/HMOs: $364,500
* Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $332,826

That is $1,826,652 Baucus took from these industries, and now he can reward them by deforming health care reform.

The health care profiteers knew that Baucus would determine their fate and ponied up. Now the only thing standing between them and their payback is a single payer national health care plan. Yet single payer, which would end private insurance and control the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, is not being considered-not even allowed to participate in the conversation before Baucus.

It is not just the chairman of the committee who has received massive donations. The full Finance Committee is a gluttonous embarrassment of campaign pay-offs. In 2008 the committee members received a total of $13,263,986 from industries affected by health care reform. Can we trust this committee to put the interests of the people before their donors?

The donations to the Finance Committee in 2008 included:

* Insurance: $5,103,900
* Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $3,308,831
* Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $2,809,353
* Health Services/HMOs: $2,041,902

These industries expect to be rewarded with billions, even trillions, in profits and hundreds of millions in corporate welfare. Senator Baucus’s behavior shows they have made a good investment-they’ve bought themselves a senator who should be called Chairman Blagojevich. He is doing his best to make sure the single payer message is not heard because he knows it is the fairest, most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure health care access for all Americans-but he can’t let that be implemented because it would put some of his donors out of business and control the profits of others.

It is time to remove Baucus from the leadership of health care reform. It is time to move the critically important priority of reforming America’s health care system from the Finance Committee and put it before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. At least their mission is health care, not money.

Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore News Network.

Kevin Zeese is the executive director of the FreshAirCleanPolitics.net, which is urging a single payer national health care system as part of its ProsperityAgenda.US project. Along with seven others, Zeese was arrested when he testified from the audience of a recent Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care. See the video on YouTube.

Health Care Activists Lament Single-Payer Snub May 30, 2009

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Published on Saturday, May 30, 2009 by the San Francisco Chronicle by Victoria Colliver

Frustrated by the exclusion of government-financed medical care from the debate to revamp the nation’s troubled health system, advocates of a “single-payer” plan are increasingly turning to demonstrations and civil disobedience as a way to get their message across.

[Jim Cowan takes part in a protest in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco. (David Paul Morris / The Chronicle) ]Jim Cowan takes part in a protest in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco. (David Paul Morris / The Chronicle)

During Senate Finance Committee hearings May 5 and 12 on health reform, 13 doctors, nurses, lawyers and activists stood up to complain that no single-payer proponent had been invited to take part and were arrested for disrupting the proceedings.On Friday in San Francisco, about 200 single-payer proponents held a rally in front of the Federal Building and headed in small groups to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office to urge the speaker of the House, who was in China, to back single-payer legislation and give its supporters a seat at the table of the health reform debate. The public appeals were part of a series of demonstrations being held in more than 50 U.S. cities over the next few days to encourage lawmakers to enact a single-payer plan.

Some advocates of a nationalized health plan are calling for activists to become even more militant.

“It’s the only way – direct confrontation with the people who are blocking what the majority of the American people want,” said Russell Mokhiber, the founder of the newly formed Single Payer Action.

“It’s about getting in people’s faces and being serious about the fact that 60 Americans are dying every day because of lack of health insurance,” said Mokhiber, who was arrested at the May 5 hearing and arraigned earlier this week in Washington.
Single payer unlikely

Reforming health care has become a focus of the Obama administration, with the president urging Congress to get legislation to his desk by the end of the year that would cover most of the nation’s 47 million uninsured. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but whatever Congress passes is not likely to come in the form of a single-payer plan.

In a single-payer system, as envisioned by most advocates, the federal government would pay for basic medical care delivered by public and private health professionals. The money would come from taxes, and medical bills would go directly to a government insurance plan, similar to Medicare.

President Obama and lawmakers have proposed a form of “single-payer lite” – a government-administered plan people could buy into as an alternative to purchasing an individual policy offered by insurers. But single-payer supporters say this option doesn’t go far enough. They want private insurers completely out of the business of covering basic care, which they say could save nearly 30 percent in administrative costs.

That’s clearly not something the health insurance industry supports. Many of the nation’s largest insurers prefer a form of “universal” health care that would cover all Americans, while keeping them in business. They tend to avoid discussing the single-payer option largely because it hasn’t been included in the national debate.

Some statistics show the single-payer concept has grown in popularity as problems in the nation’s health care system have worsened. A CBS News/New York Times poll conducted in January found 59 percent of the 1,112 people surveyed said they supported government-provided national health insurance.
Physician support

Several groups, including the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Program, call for a single-payer option. While not supported by the American Medical Association, a nationalized health system got the backing of 59 percent of physicians in a poll published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The California Legislature has twice passed a state-level single-payer bill – in 2006 and 2008 – making it the first state to do so, but both times the effort was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The legislation, authored by former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, has been reintroduced as by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. Leno’s version is expected to meet the same fate as its predecessors.

Still, single payer has been largely dismissed from serious discussion on the national level as politically infeasible.

“It’s off the table in Washington because of the politics,” said Laurence Baker, associate professor of health research and policy at Stanford University.

Health insurers and drugmakers have contributed millions of dollars to members of Congress. One of the top recipients of that money, said Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group based in Santa Monica, was Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who was running the hearings when the arrests took place this month. He accepted $413,000 in drug and health insurance campaign contributions during that time.

Many single-payer supporters interpret the resistance to the single-payer idea to be simply the result of a formidable lobbying effort by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, but Stanford’s Baker said the hurdles are more nuanced.
Distrust for government

Americans are clearly frustrated by the health care system. While some polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor single payer, some polls show a distrust of government’s ability to take over health care, he said. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in April, just 35 percent of those surveyed expressed support for a government-run health system like Medicare.

As the debate continues, single-payer supporters have clearly ramped up their activity and tactics. The 50 demonstrations have been organized by a variety of groups including Healthcare-NOW!, Progressive Democrats of America and the Green Party.

But not all single-payer groups promote civil disobedience as a way to draw attention to the cause. Don Bechler, chairman and founder of Single Payer Now, a statewide advocacy group in San Francisco that helped organize the demonstrations, said he is more interested in drawing in more supporters than seeing people get arrested.

California nurse DeAnn McEwen didn’t set out to become one of the “Baucus 13,” the 13 arrested at the Senate Finance Committee hearings. She happened to be in Washington for a nurses’ union organizing committee meeting when she learned about the hearings.

McEwen, of Long Beach, a nurse for 35 years, said she felt compelled to speak out about the lack of a single-payer voice at the table.

“At that point, I felt I couldn’t be silent anymore because it was like I was seeing a gag, a hand covering the mouth of a victim,” McEwen said. “There’s therapy for the broken health care system, and any other reform that includes the insurance companies is not going to get us where we need to go in terms of providing equitable and fair coverage.”

Health care proposals

A number of health policy proposals are under consideration as lawmakers work to overhaul the nation’s health care system, but a proposal to have the government pay exclusively for basic health care has largely been left out of the discussions. Here are some of the ideas on the table:

Public plan: Create a government-financed purchasing pool or “exchange” – one that people could buy as an alternative to individual health policies offered by private insurers.

Individual mandate: Require individuals to get health insurance through an employer, the government or on their own. In exchange, insurers would have to stop discriminating against people with medical problems.

New taxes: Tax job-based health insurance benefits, a controversial option that proponents say could help pay for the overhaul estimated to cost some $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Other taxes would come from hikes on alcohol, tobacco and soda.

Reduce health costs: Improve efficiency in the delivery system by upgrading technologies, increasing the availability of generic medications, realigning provider payments to reward quality of care rather than just quantity, and funding efforts to figure out which medical treatments work best.

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

Disruption of Congress or Corruption of Congress? May 27, 2009

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Published on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

Single Payer Trial for the Baucus 13

Single Payer Action

Seven of the Baucus 13 were arraigned in Washington, D.C. Superior Court this morning.

The Baucus 13 are doctors, nurses, lawyers and other single payer advocates who stood up before Senator Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee during hearings on May 5 and May 12 and demanded that a single payer advocate be allowed to testify.

Senator Baucus called 41 witnesses over three days of hearings on health care reform – not one of which was a single payer advocate.

The Baucus 13 were handcuffed, arrested, and now face charges of “disruption of Congress.”

Seven of the thirteen – Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Pat Salomon, Dr. Carol Paris, Russell Mokhiber, Kevin Zeese, Mark Dudzik, and Adam Schneider – pled not guilty this morning.

The remaining six – Katie Robbins, Dr. Judy Dasovich, Dr. Steve Fenichel, Sue Cannon, DeAnn McEwan, and Jerry Call – will be arraigned later this week and next month.

A status hearing for the Baucus 13 was set for June 22 before Judge Harold L. Cushenberry.

The Baucus 13 are being represented by criminal defense attorneys Ann Wilcox and James Klimaski.

If they go to trial, the Baucus 13 will probably face a trial date sometime in the early fall.

Prosecutors this morning asked that the Baucus 13 be ordered to stay away from the Dirksen Senate Office Building – the scene of the single payer actions on May 5 and May 12.

But after objections from Klimaski, the presiding DC judge ordered the defendants to stay away from Dirksen “except for formal business – meaning other than protests.”

“Senator Baucus is charging us with ‘disruption of Congress,’” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “We are charging Senator Baucus with corruption of Congress. We believe we have a stronger case.”

According to a recent analysis by the public interest group Consumer Watchdog, Senator Baucus, the leading architect of health reform in the Congress, has received more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate.

According to the report, Senator Baucus received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies in the last two election cycles.

During recent Senate Finance Committee hearings on health care reform, Baucus has refused to allow even one person to testify on behalf of a single payer health care system.

According to recent polls, single payer is supported by a majority of Americans, doctors and health economists.

Baucus has been repeatedly asked over the past months to allow a single payer advocate to testify.

He has steadfastly refused.

“Sixty Americans die every day from lack of health insurance,” Mokhiber said. “Only single payer will save hundreds of billions of dollars in overhead, waste, profits and fraud needed to insure every person in this country. President Obama, Senator Baucus and the corporate Democrats are engaged in the futility of piecemeal tinkering while Americans die. We need to put an end to the private health insurance industry so that the American people can get the health care they deserve.”

What Single Payer Action Wants:

  • Single payer.
  • Simple.
  • Direct.
  • Everybody in.
  • Nobody out.

Held Hostage by the Health System May 24, 2009

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by Dr. Marcia Angell

The Senate Finance Committee’s hearings on health reform earlier this month did not include testimony from any advocate for single-payer insurance. Physicians for a National Health Program, which represents 16,000 doctors, asked the committee to invite me to testify, but it chose not to. If I had been invited, this is what I would have said:

The reason our health system is in such trouble is that it is set up to generate profits, not to provide care. We rely on hundreds of investor-owned insurance companies that profit by refusing coverage to high-risk patients and limiting services to others. They also cream off about 20 percent of the premiums for profits and overhead.

In addition, we provide much of our medical care in investor-owned health facilities that profit by providing too many services for the well-insured and too few for those who cannot pay. Most physicians are paid fee-for-service, which gives them a similar incentive, particularly specialists who receive very high fees for performing expensive tests and procedures. Nonprofits behave much like for-profits, because they must compete with them. In sum, healthcare is directed toward maximizing income, not maximizing health. In economic terms, it’s a highly successful industry, but it’s a massive drain on the rest of the economy.

The reform proposals advocated by President Obama are meant to increase coverage for the uninsured. That is certainly a worthwhile goal, but the problem is that they leave the present profit-driven and highly inflationary system essentially unchanged, and simply pour more money into it – an unsustainable situation. That is what is happening in Massachusetts, where we have nearly universal health insurance, but costs are growing so rapidly that its long-term prospects are poor without cutting benefits and greatly increasing co-payments. Initiatives such as electronic records, case management, preventive care, and comparative effectiveness studies may improve care, but the Congressional Budget Office and most health economists agree that they are unlikely to save much money. Promises by for-profit insurers and providers to mend their ways voluntarily are not credible.

Nearly every other advanced country has a largely nonprofit national health system that provides universal and comprehensive care. Expenditures are on average about half as much per person, and health outcomes are generally much better. Moreover, these countries offer more basic services, not fewer. They have on average more doctors and nurses, more hospital beds, longer hospital stays, and there are more doctor visits. But they don’t do nearly as many tests and procedures, because there is little financial incentive to do so.

It is often argued that the first order of business should be to expand coverage, and then worry about costs later. But it is essential to deal with both together to stop the drain on the rest of the economy and the further fraying of healthcare. The only way to provide universal and comprehensive coverage and control costs is to adopt a nonprofit single-payer system. Medicare is a single-payer system, with low overhead costs, but it uses the same profit-oriented providers as the private system and also preferentially rewards specialists for tests and procedures. Consequently, its costs are rising almost as rapidly as those in the private sector. Representative John Conyers introduced an excellent bill that calls for extending Medicare to everyone in a nonprofit delivery system. That could be done gradually, by lowering the Medicare age a decade at a time.

A single-payer system is ignored by lawmakers because of the influence of the health industry lobbies. They raise the specter of rationing and long waits for care. There are indeed waits for some elective procedures in some countries with national health systems, such as the United Kingdom. But that’s because they spend far less on healthcare than we do. For them, the problem is not the system; it’s inadequate funding. For us, it’s not the funding; it’s the system. We spend more than enough.

I urge you to consider a nonprofit single-payer system. The economic interests of the health industry should not be permitted to hold the rest of the economy hostage and threaten the health and well-being of the public.

 © Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

Dr. Marcia Angell is a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Baucus Flees From Single Payer Advocates May 21, 2009

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by Single Payer Action

Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) drove up to the front door of the Kaiser Family Foundation in downtown Washington, D.C. this morning.

His initial idea – park on G Street in front of the office building – and walk in the front door to meet reporters gathered inside.

But activists from Single Payer Action were out front, waiting to question Baucus about why, over the past two weeks, he ordered thirteen of them arrested, handcuffed, and charged with “disruption of Congress.”

Upon seeing the activists gathered at the front door, Baucus drove down a back alley to a rear service entrance.

The activists followed him down the back alley.

Baucus pulled up to Kaiser’s service entrance.

A large metal door opened.

“I asked Baucus to roll down his window so I could ask him a question,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action and the first of person arrested at the Senate Finance Committee on May 5. “But he shook his head no.”

Baucus drove into the service entrance and the security guards rolled down the metal door. (Video to follow.)

“I wanted to ask Senator Baucus whether it was pharmaceutical industry money or health insurance money that led him to prohibit any single payer advocate from testifying before the Senator Finance Committee which he chairs,” Mokhiber said.

According to a recent analysis by the group Consumer Watchdog, Senator Baucus, the leading architect of health reform in the Congress, has received more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate.

According to the report, Senator Baucus received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies in the last two election cycles.

During recent Senate Finance Committee hearings on health care reform, Baucus has refused to allow even one person to testify on behalf of a single payer health care system.

Forty-one people have testified in three days of health care hearings before the Senate Finance Committee in recent weeks (13 testified on April 21, 15 testified on May 5, and 13 testified on May 12).

Not one has been a advocate for a single payer, everybody in, nobody out, Medicare for all health insurance system.

According to recent polls, single payer is supported by a majority of Americans, doctors and health economists.

Baucus has been repeatedly asked over the past months to allow a single payer advocate to testify.

He has steadfastly refused.

Before the start of the May 5 hearing, a group of eight doctors, lawyers and other single advocates rose inside the Senate Finance Committee hearing room and one by one asked that Baucus open up the hearing to single payer advocates.

Baucus refused and had the eight arrested, handcuffed, and charged with “disruption of Congress.”

At the May 12 hearing, another five rose – this time nurses and doctors – and asked that Baucus hear from single payer advocates.

Baucus again refused and had the five arrested and charged with “disruption of Congress.”

The Baucus 13, as they call themselves, are scheduled to be arraigned starting next week.

“Senator Baucus is charging us with ‘disruption of Congress,'” Mokhiber said. “But who’s disrupting what? Here is the architect of health care reform in Congress. And he’s taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the drug and health insurance corporations. And sixty Americans are dying every day from lack of health insurance. And single payer is the only proven way to save the hundreds of billions of dollars in administrative overhead and profits needed to insure everyone. And the majority of Americans, doctors and health economists support single payer. And Baucus doesn’t even allow one person out of 41 over three days of hearings on health care reform to testify on behalf of single payer? How corrupt is that?”

Kevin Zeese, another one of the Baucus 13 arrested on May 5, also wanted to question Baucus this morning.

Zeese is the executive director of ProsperityAgenda.US.

“Senator Baucus is putting the interests of the insurance industry ahead of the health care of Americans,” Zeese said. “He is living up to his reputation as the ‘Senator for K Street’ and should no longer be considered the senator for Montana.”

What does Single Payer Action want?

  • Single payer.
  • Simple.
  • Direct.
  • Everybody in.
  • Nobody out.