Health Care Now
From Unions for Single Payer –
The New York State Alliance for Retired Americans, NYSARA, at its most recent annual meeting, endorsed HR 676, Congressman John Conyers’ national single payer legislation also known as Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.
NYSARA has 440,000 members, many of them retired union members who have maintained affiliation with the retiree group of their union. It is affiliated with the four million member Alliance for Retired Americans, ARA.
HR 676 was brought to NYSARA by New York State United Teachers Retiree Council 12, whose former president July Shultz, co-presidents Sandy Bliss and Jeanne Williams Bennett, and member Bev Alves worked on the resolution.
Alves reports that NYSARA overwhelmingly passed the resolution for HR 676 with one enthusiastic delegate calling out loud “It’s about time.” Alves says that the resolution will be brought to the national ARA this year.
Find more endorsements at unionsforsinglepayer.org.
From the Huffington Post –
Hillary Clinton has confirmed, to a paying audience of 20,000 sellers of electronic health records systems, that she supports Obamacare, and opposes single-payer health insurance.
Speaking to a closed-to-the-press meeting of the “HIMSS14″ (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Conference 2014) in Orlando Florida on February 26th, she condemned the Canadian and other nations’ single-payer healthcare systems by saying, “We don’t have one size fits all; our country is quite diverse. What works in New York City won’t work in Albuquerque.” The presumption is that what works in Canada cannot work here, that local control must trump everything in order to fix what’s wrong with American health care.
The data prove her statement to be false, if not irrelevant. America’s healthcare problems are deeper than that. The latest OECD data on healthcare costs show that the U.S. spends by far the world’s highest percentage of GDP on healthcare, 17.7 percent; and also show that the average U.S. life expectancy is 78.7 years; by contrast, Canada spends 11.2 percent, and their life expectancy is 81.0 years. The OECD average expenditure is 9.3 percent , and life expectancy is 80.0 years. So: the U.S. spends twice as high a percentage of GDP as every other OECD nation, and gets markedly inferior results. This makes the U.S. far less economically competitive than it otherwise would be; but, the healthcare industries finance conservative politicians such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all Republicans; so, those politicians don’t like single-payer — it would take much of the excess profits out of exploiting the sick, and those excess profits help to fund their campaigns.
The American people’s financial losses produce exceptional financial gains for the investors in healthcare-related stocks, and also inflate the pay for executives in those firms. This helps to fund lots of what conservatives such as Antonin Scalia lovingly call “free speech” — campaign commercials.
A physician in Canada headlined in the Los Angeles Times on 3 August 2009, “A Canadian doctor diagnoses U.S. healthcare,” and he wrote: “Until 50 years ago, we had similar health systems, healthcare costs and vital statistics.” But this situation ended with Canada’s single-payer system, where, “all Canadians have insurance for hospital and physician services. There are no deductibles or co-pays. Most provinces also provide coverage for programs for home care, long-term care, pharmaceuticals and durable medical equipment, although there are co-pays. On the U.S. side, 46 million people have no insurance, millions are underinsured and healthcare bills bankrupt more than 1 million Americans every year.” Nobody goes bankrupt in Canada to pay for needed care. Their system is shared sacrifice, not all of the downsides dumped onto the poorest and the sickest, who can’t pay their bills and end up in emergency rooms until they die of needless ailments.
The Canadian doctor explained that, in that year: “Canada spends 10% of its economy on healthcare; the U.S. spends 16%. The extra 6% of GDP amounts to more than $800 billion per year. The spending gap between the two nations is almost entirely because of higher overhead. Canadians don’t need thousands of actuaries to set premiums or thousands of lawyers to deny care. Even the U.S. Medicare program has 80% to 90% lower administrative costs than private Medicare Advantage policies. And providers and suppliers can’t charge as much when they have to deal with a single payer.”
So, Hillary received many bursts of applause from her audience of people who profit from other Americans’ being vastly overcharged for inferior healthcare. In fact, the transcriber of her speech headlined “Hillary Clinton wows the HIMSS14 crowd.”
From the New York Times –
Beer bottles clinked and indie-rock classics played overhead at a gallery opening here on a Friday night recently, as one artist after another chatted with Julie Sokolow, a filmmaker and health care advocate who has documented the Pittsburgh scene in detail.
There was Eanna Holton, who makes horror masks and props and recalled spending the last five years paying off a $10,000 surgery bill for her toddler. China Horrell, her co-worker, had a pulmonary embolism that cost more than $100,000 to treat. And Daniel McCloskey, a comic-book artist, told of being uninsured when he smashed his teeth in a bicycle accident last year, at a cost of more than $22,000.
These are among the dozens of stories Ms. Sokolow, 26, has collected over the past two years, showing how the lives of Pittsburgh artists are intertwined with their struggles over the costs of medical coverage. Her online video series, “Healthy Artists,” has chronicled the experiences of more than 40 painters, poets and musicians — talented, ambitious and often with a painful story of medical debt — and drawn the attention of national media figures like Michael Moore.
“Everyone in America has a health care story,” said Ms. Sokolow, whose project has culminated in a new 30-minute documentary, “Healthy Artists: The Movie.”
Ms. Sokolow’s films — made on a shoestring budget and uploaded to YouTube — are also a microcosm of the national health care debate as it relates to the young creative class, a group that is disproportionately underinsured. And while her survey of Pittsburgh’s scene is unusual, it is also an example of grass-roots approaches around the country, like the O+ Festival in Kingston, N.Y., and San Francisco, where performers are paid in free health care.
According to one survey last year, 43 percent of artists lacked health insurance, more than double the national average for the uninsured.
“Julie’s work unearthed what was obvious but hidden at the same time,” said Dan Byers, a curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh who helped judge a “Healthy Artists” poster competition that is featured in the documentary. “It brought the more abstract national debate into a very specific, concrete, local context.”
Ms. Sokolow, who grew up in New Jersey and studied psychology and fiction writing at the University of Pittsburgh, said the origins of her project came through her volunteer work at a nonprofit organization, HealthCare 4 All PA. Assigned to film interviews with people who had dire health care problems, she was troubled by a lack of involvement among 20-somethings.
In response, the “Healthy Artists” series was conceived as a kind of “indie ‘Cribs’ for social justice,” profiling young creatives in brief vignettes and getting them talking in a personal way about medical issues. The pieces were collected online and publicized through social media.
The goal, Ms. Sokolow said, was not to dwell on tragedies but to approach the problem with some optimism and use the films to advocate for broad reform through the idea that basic health care is a human right.
“I wanted to take a more positive approach, to not just focus on health care horror stories, but the people who would be empowered by a universal health care system,” Ms. Sokolow said. “Look at the work they are able to do without it. Imagine what they’d be able to do if they had a social safety net.”
Yet part of the power of the vignettes is how they detail the frustrations of freelancers in an economy in which health insurance has historically been tied to employment. In one profile, Jennifer Gooch demonstrated some of her work as a “musician, artist, crafter, maker, doer,” before tearfully recounting how she had declared bankruptcy after getting an $18,000 medical bill that included a colonoscopy.
“The procedure I got would have cost $800 in a socialized-medicine country, and I lost 10 years of credit,” Ms. Gooch, whose work has been covered by National Public Radio and the BBC, said in a recent interview. As a result of the bankruptcy, she had to give up her tailoring business. The $180-a-month plan she recently signed up for through the Affordable Care Act is a big help, she said, but still expensive.
The number of people ages 18 to 34 who have signed up for health coverage through federal and state exchanges grew substantially last month. But Ms. Gooch’s view was echoed by many artists who came out for a gallery crawl in the artsy Garfield section of Pittsburgh, some of whom said they had signed up for plans, while others said they still could not afford one.
Ms. Sokolow said that with the completion of the 30-minute documentary, the “Healthy Artists” project in Pittsburgh was now largely finished, and that she hoped it would be a model for activism in other cities. She is also finishing her first feature film, “Aspie Seeks Love,” another documentary about the dating life of a Pittsburgh man who learned in his 40s that he had Asperger’s syndrome, and in her parallel career as a musician, she is recording her second album.
“Julie’s ability to reach out through social media and connect artists and culture to a critical social policy issue is significant,” said Jim Ferlo, a Pennsylvania state senator who has introduced a single-payer health care bill. “I wish we could multiply her around the country.”
A subtext in the “Healthy Artists” films, and in Ms. Sokolow’s wider advocacy, is a challenge to the notion that artists must suffer outside the basic economic protections of society. A single-payer health care system, offering coverage to all, could solve that problem, at least as far as it applies to health. But an important step, Ms. Sokolow said, is persuading artists simply to stand up for themselves and address a problem that is felt by all but rarely talked about.
“I would like for artists to be advocates for themselves and their own health and not buy into stereotypes,” Ms. Sokolow said. “The people I profiled are working hard and trying to be healthy, and working against a society that’s not allowing that for them.”
From Unions for Single Payer –
“The Eastern Panhandle Central Labor Council is proud to support HR 676,” said Ken Collinson, President. “We believe that health care is a right, not a privilege, and we do everything that we can to support single payer. We are close to DC so we go to rallies whenever they are called.”
The Eastern Panhandle CLC represents workers in the seven counties in eastern West Virginia and is headquartered in Martinsburg. Collinson is also the President of United Auto Workers Local 1590.
The Eastern Panhandle CLC is the 610th labor organization to endorse HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, sponsored by Congressman John Conyers. At the end of January, Representative Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35) signed on to HR 676, bringing the total of cosponsors in the House, including Conyers, to 55.
“When people do not have health care, it is unimaginable. An injury to one is an injury to all—this is what we feel in our hearts,” said Collinson.
The labor council is taking further action to promote public support for single payer by joining with the Eastern Panhandle chapters of Physicians for a National Health Program and Healthcare-NOW! and the Jefferson County NAACP Branch, the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County, and Shepherd University Lifelong Learning Program to bring a one hour, one man play featuring actor Michael Milligan to six West Virginia cities.
The play is Mercy Killers and admission is free. The schedule is below:
Friday, March 28, 7:00 PM, Ice House, 138 Independence St. Berkeley Springs
Saturday, March 29, 1:30 PM, Fisherman’s Hall, 312 South West St. Charles Town
Sunday, March 30, 2:00 PM, Opera House, 131 W. German St. Shepherdstown
Monday, March 31, 7:00 PM, Calvary Church, 220 W. Burke St. Martinsburg
Tuesday, April 1, 7:00 PM, Baha’i Regional Center, 308 S. Buchannan St. Ranson
Wednesday, April 2, 12:30 PM, Erma Ora Byrd Nursing Hall Auditorium, Shepherd University Shepherdstown
From the Times Union –
Twelve years after he first introduced a bill to promote universal health coverage in New York, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried thinks Obamacare may give his cause the push it needs in 2014.
Federal officials have made successive fixes to address snags in the health law, formally the Affordable Care Act, which is intended to increase Americans’ access to health care.
“I think we are ready to refocus on real reform and real change and not just patchwork change,” Gottfried said Tuesday at the Capitol.
He stood flanked by state Sen. Bill Perkins, sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate, with a backdrop of representatives from labor unions, medical groups and the Working Families Party, who gave their support for the proposal, which is called New York Health.
While Gottfried could not say how much universal health care would cost state taxpayers, he estimated it could cut 20 percent off the more than $100 billion spent by government, private employers and individuals on services covered by the bill.
“The one thing that is certain is that money that we now spend … is dramatically more than what we would pay through New York Health,” Gottfried said.
An anti-insurance-industry refrain ran through the statements supporting the bill. Proponents of a so-called single-payer health system — under which the government is the sole purchaser of medical services — have decried the insurance industry’s influence in shaping Obamacare. The health exchanges that are at the heart of the law are government-run websites which allow individual consumers to shop for private insurance.
Dr. Frank Proscia, president of Doctors Council SEIU, a physicians union, denounced an insurance system that forces health providers to navigate a “maze of complex and counterintuitive policies” to provide care. “In a true single-payer system, all hospitals, doctors and providers would bill one entity … and the profiteers would be gone,” Proscia said.
Health care benefits have been negotiated by unions at the bargaining table, but labor representatives said they are happy to give up that contract fight to have universal coverage.
Bob Master, director of legalization/political action and mobilization for the Communications Workers of America, said employers have had the upper hand in negotiating health benefits, progressively reducing them or increasing employees’ contribution in recent years.
“All we have done in health care negotiations in the last 15 years is go backwards,” Master said.
From Talking Points Memo –
On his first day as governor of Massachusetts, Donald Berwick promises to set up a commission tasked with finding a way to bring single payer to the Bay State. It’ll have report back to him within a year — ideally sooner.
Having run Medicare and Obamacare in Washington for 17 months, he has concluded that the existing hybrid system is too cumbersome and expensive, and that single payer is the right fix. And he’s the only candidate in this year’s contest who dares to go there.
“The Affordable Care Act is a majestic step forward for this country — for the only nation that hasn’t made health care a human right yet. But luckily I’m in a state that’s able to take even a bigger step,” Berwick told TPM in an interview. “And a single payer option — even if the country is not ready for it, I think Massachusetts is ready and it’s worth exploring.”
A political novice, Berwick is an underdog candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2014 elections — the most outspoken progressive in the race. A pediatrician, Harvard health policy professor and former health care executive, his talent for — and obsession with — health management caught the eye of President Barack Obama, who in 2010 appointed him to be the Administrator of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which was tasked with getting Obamacare off the ground in its infancy. Berwick left in December 2011, after his recess appointment expired and Senate Republicans refused to confirm him.
“I’ve been looking hard at the Massachusetts budget and I’ve become more aware than ever of how the rising costs of health care are taking opportunity away from other investments,” he said. “I saw it in Washington, and I see it in Massachusetts. We need to find money for transportation, education, the social safety net. … And so I feel a sense of urgency about getting costs under control without harming patients at all.”
There are huge obstacles, as he acknowledges. Entrenched industry groups who prefer a multi-payer system. Insurance companies who would cease to exist. Conservatives who view such a system as an affront to economic freedom. Questionable support from the state legislature. Even though liberals across the country passionately support the idea, no state has set up a single payer system yet and no president has seriously considered it. Luckily for Berwick, Massachusetts is ahead of the curve on health care: In 2006, Gov. Mitt Romney set up the nation’s first ever state-based universal health care system, which subsequently became the template for Obamacare.
Berwick and three other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination are getting crushed in the polls by Martha Coakley, the attorney general known nationally for her 2010 U.S. Senate campaign that failed spectacularly. She has the support of 56 percent of Democrats, according to a Suffolk University poll out this week. Berwick is a distant fourth place tie, with a measly 1 percent. (Worse yet, he’s polling behind the top Republican candidate, Charlie Baker.) He refused to talk about Coakley, but pointed out that Elizabeth Warren was also relatively unknown early in her Senate campaign, and that Mitt Romney was also a political newbie. The primary is seven months away, on Sept. 9.
So far, his campaign says he’s raised about $847,000 and spent $706,000. He touts endorsements from Massachusetts State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D) and Mass-Care, the state’s campaign for single payer. Mass-Care’s executive director Ture Turnbull said rising health care costs “are crippling the economy in Massachusetts” and harming families and clinicians. Berwick’s spokesman, Joshua Cohen, predicted that “we’ll start picking up more support soon.”
“I would claim that I’m the boldest progressive in the race,” Berwick told TPM. “We’ve not minced our words. I say what I believe. I’m the only candidate to support single payer. I’m the only candidate opposing that law that allows casinos in the state.” He worries about being seen as the health-care-only candidate when it’s not the top concern of Massachusetts residents — 98 percent of whom have insurance — and insists he’ll also prioritize education reforms and “repairing our very flawed transportation system” if he becomes governor.
Berwick has the scars to show his liberal credentials. Former underlings at CMS lavishly praise him. He had a series of high-profile clashes with congressional Republicans in Washington, who forced him out because he once said nice things about the British health care system. They said it signaled his support for “rationing” — a claim that Berwick vociferously denies.
“What did I learn? People took comments out of context and converted it into basically lies,” he said. “They attributed to me ideas I didn’t have, and they did it for distortion. It happened more than I thought. But it never for a moment changed what I believe.”
This little Appalachian community that made national news a year ago by passing a Fairness Ordinance did it again tonight. It voted to endorse Single Payer Healthcare, HR 676, joining 54 other American cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore.
The struggling coal town of 334 people unanimously endorsed Expanded and Improved Medicare for All, HR 676, national single payer legislation sponsored by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI). Vicco—established by the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company—is now the fourth Kentucky local government to favor Single Payer Healthcare. The others are Metro Louisville, Boyle County, and the City of Morehead. In 2007, the Kentucky House legislators also endorsed the bill.
Vicco was put on the map early last year when the New York Times, USA Today, the LA Times and other national media covered the passage of the town’s new law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It was the smallest city in America to pass such a law.
Vicco gained further fame last August when Mayor Johnny Cummings and City Commissioners were featured on the Colbert Show on cable television. The Colbert Segment went viral with almost three quarters of a million views.
Since then, Vicco, Mayor Johnny Cummings, and the city commissioners have won further state and national praise. At an event that featured Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan last September, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto referred to Vicco when he described Kentucky as a place “deep in values that show up in unexpected ways and in unexpected places.”
Vicco’s new-found reputation as a progressive and humane community led to a presentation Monday night on health care by Dr. Garrett Adams, past president of Physicians for a National Health Program, and three Louisville colleagues, all representing Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare (KSPH).
The KSPH members pointed out that every person in Vicco—and everywhere else in the United States—would be covered by a plan similar to but better than the Medicare system that now serves those over 65 years of age. The HR 676 bill would expand Medicare to all ages and would improve it to include dental, vision, mental health–all medically necessary care. Patients would choose their own doctors and hospitals and there would be no co-pays or deductibles. HR 676 would annually save over $400 billion by ending the profits and waste caused by private insurance companies. The savings would then be used to expand an improved care to everyone in the country.
Kay Tillow, Chair of KSPH, said, “It’s a moral issue. We believe that health care should not depend on ability to pay. We invite other cities to join our grassroots movement.”
The Vicco city commissioners decided to throw the weight of the town government behind this movement.
Text of the Resolution under the seal of the City of Vicco
Whereas: Barriers to quality medical care infringe on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and access to health care is a fundamental human right, and;
Whereas a bill has been introduced in Congress, HR 676, aka The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, that will provide all medically necessary care, including dental and prescription drugs, to everyone in the country from birth to death. There will be no co-pays nor deductibles so that inability to pay will be removed as an impediment to care.
Whereas with HR 676 each person will choose their own physicians, hospitals, and other providers.
Therefore be it resolved that the City of Vicco wholeheartedly endorses HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act; and
Be it further resolved that we call on our representative in Congress, Representative Harold Rogers, to formally co-sponsor HR 676 so that the people of our city, our state, and our nation can move forward toward the excellent health care we deserve.
Mayor Johnny Cummings
Claude Branson, Commissioner
Lula Regina Gibson, Commissioner
Jimmy Slone, Commissioner
Electronic copy of the resolution available upon request from Kay Tillow, firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the ACA takes effect, an alternative gains ground at the state level.
When Sergio Espana first began talking to people, just over a year ago, about the need for fundamental changes in the U.S. healthcare system, confusion often ensued. Some people didn’t understand why, if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) had passed, people still wanted to reform the system; others thought organizers were trying to sign them up for “Obamacare.”
Healthcare is a Human Right Maryland, the group to which Espana belongs, is in pursuit of something else: a truly universal healthcare system that would cover everyone and eliminate insurance companies once and for all. Espana and many others in the growing movement see opportunity in the renewed discussion around healthcare reform as the ACA’s insurance exchanges go into effect.
They believe that the ACA’s continued reliance on (and subsidies of) private insurance simply aren’t good enough. People are still falling through the cracks, employers are trying to dodge the requirement that they provide insurance for their workers, and many states refused federal subsidies to expand their Medicaid programs. What these activists want is a program that would replace existing insurance programs, cover everyone regardless of their employment status, and be funded by the government, with tax dollars. Such a plan had strong support when the national healthcare overhaul was being crafted in 2009—including initial backing by President Obama—but the president and Congress decided it wasn’t politically possible and passed the ACA as a compromise.
Now, the rocky launch of the healthcare exchanges that form the cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act has helped revive interest in single-payer, says Ida Hellander, director of policy and programs for the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program. New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, the author of a 20-year-old single-payer bill that is receiving renewed support, points out that single-payer would avoid many of the issues of the ACA’s launch. “When you don’t have means testing and you don’t have to make guesses about who’s going to cover your doctor or your ailment, it’s very simple.”
While Republicans on the national stage have been grandstanding about “repealing and replacing” the ACA, grassroots activists are on the ground in many states organizing their neighbors around the idea of real universal healthcare. A national program remains the end goal, but Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First! Pennsylvania believes that state efforts could have a domino effect. “Our job is to change what’s politically possible,” says Drew Christopher Joy of the Southern Maine Workers’ Center, which is leading the effort in that state.
According to Hellander, about 25 states already have solid organizing toward single-payer, often accompanied by pending legislation. Some of these efforts predate the ACA: The California Nurses Association led the charge for single-payer in the mid-2000s, twice getting a bill through the California legislature only to have it vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hellander says that the ACA has slowed down some efforts at state reform, as officials turned to setting up exchanges, but the law spurred others in Minnesota, Washington, Hawaii and Oregon. In New York, Gottfried notes that his bill has support from physicians groups, the nurses union and a majority of the lower house of the legislature. And in Massachusetts, considered the laboratory for the ACA, single-payer is now on the table thanks to gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama.
The biggest legislative victory to date has come in Vermont. Act 48, signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin in May of 2011, would begin to create a “universal and unified” healthcare system for the state. The bill, pioneered by the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC), is at the cutting edge of national healthcare policy. Its passage resulted from years of on-the-ground organizing around the principle that healthcare is a human right—that it must be universal, equitable, participatory, transparent and accountable.
However, Act 48 marks just the beginning of a lengthy process toward healthcare for all residents of the state, regardless of employment or citizenship. The next steps are to figure out how “Green Mountain Care” will fit into federal requirements set by the ACA and to pass a mechanism by which the program will be financed.
The VWC favors a more progressive income tax on individuals and employers, along with a wealth tax. Mary Gerisch, president of the VWC, says, “Even though new taxes or progressive taxation sounds very scary, in reality it’s going to be cheaper for everybody, just like it is in every other country, for them to pay it in taxation rather than to pay out of pocket at the doctor.”
This growing movement has attracted growing opposition, says Gerisch, who notes that a number of TV ads and websites have popped up to oppose Green Mountain Care. And Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, a new 501(c)4 organization founded by longtime Republican political operative Darcie Johnston, has paid for several ads and robocalling campaigns against the plan.
Small business owners, in particular, are susceptible to the fear that new taxes will put them out of business, Gerisch says. She mentions one example of a small business owner who was worried about a 10 percent tax (even though no tax has been decided upon), only to find out that he was already paying 13 percent of his profits to buy insurance for his employees, which would be unnecessary under a state plan.
Healthcare is a Human Right believes the organizing model pioneered in Vermont represents the best chance for passing universal healthcare, and the group is forging ahead with that model in its Maine, Maryland, and Pennsylvania chapters. Among the key elements are base-building and education. To combat corporate scare tactics, activists focus on arming citizens with good information.
In Maryland, according to Espana, more than 90 percent of the 1,200-plus people the organization has surveyed over the last year believe that healthcare is a right, and more than 86 percent support a publicly funded system. “Maryland has been coming off more and more as a progressive state. We’ve been able to get some version of a DREAM Act through, we got marriage equality last year—those are great victories but, economically, they’re not that transformational,” he says.
Joy sees an opportunity to build a strong community-labor alliance around universal care in Maine, where the state AFL-CIO has gotten on board with the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign, and the Maine State Nurses Association held a free health clinic to provide services and connect people to the campaign.
Dzurinko and Put People First! Pennsylvania have been organizing statewide—not only in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but in rural counties where the conventional wisdom has been that progressives can’t win. Dzurinko says that people in those counties frequently suggest, unprompted, that the U.S. should have a national healthcare system “like in Canada.”
“We often limit ourselves tremendously by not talking to people that we fear or that we have been told won’t agree,” Dzurinko says. “We can’t talk about universality unless we really are talking about everyone, and that means organizing in all communities.” Joy agrees: “If you’re not taking the time to really organize from the ground up, we’ll end up with the ACA again.”
For Espana, organizing around single-payer presents an opportunity to begin a broader discussion about economic justice and human rights. “All of these politics of austerity are just lies,” he says. “Through a fight for healthcare reform you can demonstrate that not only is it morally righteous for us to have a universal healthcare system, but it’s actually cheaper.”
Almost 200 supporters have received their “Single-Payer Activist Guide to the Affordable Care Act” as gifts for donations since December, and it is now available at wholesale prices at our online store. You can order your copy for only $5, which includes the cost of shipping, or save by ordering in bulk.
The 30-page, 8.5″ by 11″ Guide is designed for individuals and organizations to identify organizing opportunities to build the single-payer movement as the Affordable Care Act is implemented over the next four years. It is a great way to educate yourself about the new law, and to figure out how to get involved in 2014.
For example, learn how new reporting requirements of the Affordable Care Act can support single-payer advocates’ public education efforts; how single-payer groups in the South are harnessing movements to expand Medicaid to get the single-payer message out; how threats to labor unions’ healthcare plans are creating new opportunities for single-payer activists to engage with the labor movement; and more.
Please email Ben if your group would like to order 100 copies or more so we can discuss special discount rates and co-branding the guide with your organization’s logo.
Doctors must advocate for their patients’ health — with supervisors who approve procedures, for instance, or insurance companies that pay for services.
On Tuesday, dozens of doctors-to-be tried different advocacy skills — lobbying state lawmakers to advance proposals they believe will improve New Yorkers’ health.
“If we are not going to fight for our patients, who will?” Albany Medical College student Xin Guan asked a few dozen young adults in white coats who had stopped in the basement of the Legislative Office Building for coffee, bagels and a press briefing between their morning and afternoon visits to lawmakers.
It was the first Medical Student Advocacy Day, organized by Guan, originally from California, and two other second-year students from Albany Med, Ajay Major of Indiana and Phyllis Ying of Seattle.
Some 60 to 70 students from around the state joined them. A glance at the coats suggested most were from Albany Med, but some had traveled from several downstate schools, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine, SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Mt. Sinai Medical Center.
Guan, Major and Ying had prepped them with some activist training before the event. Lobbying representatives was a new activity for about half the students, they said.
While the group shared a concern for health issues, they spoke with legislators about proposals that interested them as individuals. Small groups organized around a few popular issues, including bills to provide universal health coverage for all New Yorkers, allow marijuana for medical use, and prohibit doctors from participating in the torture and improper treatment of prisoners.
Anti-hunger advocate Mark Dunlea gave the students a pep talk before they headed back out to meet their afternoon slate of legislators. Dunlea’s group, Hunger Action Network of New York State, works with a coalition of organizations that provide aid to low-income people who struggle with the costs of health care.
He told the students that their future profession would carry some weight with legislators. And he reminded them that legislators are public servants.
“Remember, these guys work for you,” he said.
The 2013 Award for Profiteering and Deceit in the Private Health Insurance Industry goes to… UnitedHealth for paying its CEO, Stephen Hemsley, $49 million in 2012.
We want to thank everyone who participated. We’re planning to send the award to UnitedHealth’s world headquarters in Minneapolis, MN soon. We’ll also include all of the reasons you gave us about why they are the worst. Including:
“They never approve anything needed by the patients. They have made the process so cumbersome to jump through for authorization that it is impossible for physician to get appropriate treatment for patients. That is how they make their money is by denying appropriate coverage of their enrollees.”
37% – UnitedHealth
30% – Humana for charging women over 50% more than men for the same insurance plan.
27% – Anthem Blue Cross for predatory premium increases.
6% – Moda Health for paying $40 million for naming rights to the Portland Trailblazers arena.
Among CEOs, healthcare CEOs receive the highest median pay at $11.1 million. There are thousands of insurance companies, but the seven largest publicly traded health plans alone are paid their CEOs a collective $87 million.
Under a single-payer health plan, health coverage would be offered as a public good to all, administered by civil servants who will not siphon millions of dollars meant for patient care into their personal bank accounts. So we could use that $87 million in wasted money on CEOs to pay for as many as 8,700 hip replacements.
While Obamacare Enrollment Continues to Lag, Labor Builds Support for Expanded and Improved Medicare for All
The 113th Congress will likely be remembered as the most unproductive in our history, and with an overall approval rating of 9 perent, it is safe to say that most Americans do not consider this bunch to be a noble group of public servants engaged in good works for the people of this country. It is rare that any member of Congress is honored on any level these days, but one truly worthy exception is Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), who early in December was honored with a breakfast celebration attended by some 40 union representatives at a restaurant on East 29th Street in New York City.
Those present included leaders from Actors Equity, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the New York City Central Labor Council (NYCCLC), whose President, Vincent Alvarez, declared his support for Mr. Conyers’ bill HR 676, The Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, and promised to deliver their 1.3 million members to back this cause. This is a very significant development, as the 300 unions under the umbrella of the NYCCLC are made up of truck drivers, teachers, nurses, operating engineers, construction workers, janitors, train operators, electricians, fire fighters, retail workers and many more hardworking Americans who, along with everyone else in our nation, would benefit greatly from this revolutionary healthcare plan. They are the face of American labor today, and Mr. Alvarez spoke of the need for labor and the general public to unite and work together for this imperative cause: providing affordable, quality healthcare to all Americans.
We might recall that it was labor that gave us the middle class during the post World War II years as they worked to indeed lift all boats in that time of unprecedented prosperity. Can they lead our nation once again in this time of unprecedented need? They have been taking quite a beating, and have been decimated in several states by the lackeys of the 1 percent. But their values are America’s values, and it is critical that they remain a vibrant force for change in this country.
Mr. Conyers was introduced by his longtime friend, TV talk show host Phil Donahue, and other speakers that morning included Robert Score, Recording-Corresponding Secretary of Local 1 of IATSE, and Stephen Shaff, speaking on behalf of Progressive Democrats of America. Mr. Conyers himself noted that it took him 15 years to move Congress to declare a national holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King, so he is prepared for a long haul to achieve Medicare For All. He has reintroduced HR 676 in every Congress since 2003, and has now garnered support from 54 other House members, along with an impressive 609 union organizations, including 146 Central Labor Councils/Area Federations and 44 State AFL/CIO’s. Obamacare’s failure to address the Taft Hartley Plans and the operating procedures under which they work could create even more union support for the Single Payer movement. The president must address this issue.
Meanwhile, support from the public also continues to build, as the warts on the ACA become more apparent and the questions about its viability grow louder on almost a daily basis. This will undoubtedly drag into the 2014 election and continue to send shock waves throughout the political world into the 2016 race for the White House, as the Conservatives will remain active in their attacks and continuing efforts to end Obamacare.
Following the breakfast, Mr. Conyers and his policy director Mike Darner met with 15 of his core Single Payer activist leaders from organizations like Physicians For A National Health Program and Healthcare-Now! — as well as some doctors — to discuss strategy and continue building the movement. This group is definitely in it for the long haul, too, as they have supported Mr. Conyers and his bill for years. This is a bill that would deliver all necessary health services at less than half the cost we pay now, eliminating co-pays, deductibles and co-insurance while providing long-term care — including all of those expensive dental specialties. The estimated savings would be in the range of $592 billion a year. Better healthcare at lower costs — what’s not to like? And if you like your doctor, you actually could keep him or her — did you hear that, Mr. President? You can also pick any doctor you like — no more provider networks. These healthcare professionals would be able to become doctors once again, instead of a “provider” or “vendor,” and we could become patients again, ending our dehumanizing role as a “consumer” or “customer.”
Of late, we have been reading about Medicare For All from such luminaries as Robert Reich, Ralph Nader and William Greider in The Nation, among others. Even Bill Clinton mentioned it during President Obama’s second campaign. If Hillary were to acknowledge that Medicare For All is the next logical step after Obamacare, she would gain tremendous support and a second opportunity to get the right healthcare plan in place for her presumed 2016 run for president. Unfortunately, Hillary has proven herself to be far from progressive on many issues in the past, so we will have to wait and hear from her what her healthcare plan actually is if she decides to run.
Meanwhile, in the past few weeks Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. James McDermott (D-WA) — who is also a doctor — have both introduced Single Payer bills. Bernie’s bill is a Medicare-for-All proposal known as the American Health Security Act of 2013 (S.1782), which would be administered by the states and transferable between states. The McDermott bill also moves the initiative outside of D.C., leaving it up to the states to develop their own plans based on their diversity and individual needs. As Massachusetts was the template for the ACA, it makes sense to finally introduce Single Payer on a state-by-state level.
Vermont has approval in both of its houses for a Single Payer plan, but it needs a waiver from the ACA to implement it in 2017. Can’t the federal government speed up that process? There are also plans at the ready in New York and in Rep. McDermott’s home state of Washington. And what of California, which has come so close in the past? One state can lead the country toward this monumental goal, the way Massachusetts did with the ACA. We just need to find the will.
In the Greider article in this month’s The Nation, entitled “Reviving The Fight For Single Payer,” he raises the question many of us ask: Can Obamacare deliver what it promised? One of the major problems he notes is that “…the reformed system will also still rely on the market competition of profit-making enterprises, including insurance companies.” Rep. McDermott was interviewed for this article, and he pointed out another major flaw in the ACA: “In the long arc of healthcare reform, I think [the ACA] will ultimately fail, because we are trying to put business-model methods into the healthcare system. We’re not making refrigerators. We’re dealing with human beings, who are way more complicated than refrigerators on an assembly line.”
Rep. McDermott – an advocate for Single Payer for decades – further wondered if hospitals will become “too big to fail” as they continue to merge and buy up private practices, and continue hiring younger doctors as salaried employees. Mr. Greider also made the following revelation: “An AMA survey in 2012 found the majority of doctors under 40 are salaried employees.” Rep. McDermott sees the troubling direction of this trend, noting that many new doctors “…will simply be serfs working for the system,” and Mr. Greider referred to another key point in the AMA research, noting that “…hospitals focus on employing primary-care physicians in order to maintain a strong referral base for high-margin specialty service lines.” Mr. Greider added further insight from Rep. McDermott: “Big hospitals need a feeder system of salaried doctors, McDermott explained, to keep sending them patients in need of surgery or other expensive procedures.” Even so, Rep. McDermott remains optimistic that stronger health care systems resembling Single Payer will spring up moving forward.
The New York Daily News offered a scathing editorial on December 24th entitled “Can This Patient Be Saved?” in which we were given a blow-by-blow analysis of the devastatingly mishandled rollout of the Obamacare exchanges and the problems millions of Americans have been having signing up for them. The situation was so bad that the deadline was extended until Christmas Eve for those to sign up who wanted their insurance to kick in on January 1, 2014. The CBO projects seven million will sign up in 2014, in addition to the about 1.1 million this year — well below the Administration’s projections. Meanwhile, millions will be losing their current plans due to the mandate. The question of more people losing their insurance than gaining it as a result of the president remaking the “healthcare economy” was also raised in this Op Ed piece.
Key provisions of the bill have already been waived in the past three years since its passage, and an additional postponement of the requirement for companies with fifty or more employees to offer health insurance or pay a tax penalty has now been postponed until 2015.
The individual mandate requiring most Americans to find coverage by April is also waiving penalties for those who had insurance and lost it this year. Most glaring in this critical article is the fact that there is “little reliable” information on who is getting what as far as coverage is concerned, and at what cost. The even larger question is, will those younger and healthier people opt in at all? If not, financially this boondoggle will sink. Obamacare is counting on them.
As the tinkering continues on the ACA, a major architect of this mess has just been rewarded by the president with an ambassadorship offer to China. Senator Baucus, do you not know the meaning of the word “retire?”
All good wishes for a (hopefully) healthy and happy New Year!
- with Jonathan Stone
While it was enacted in 2010 without a single Republican vote, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare,” was built on a model first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation in the 1990s and implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006. The ACA extends the public safety net to more of the working poor but otherwise keeps the private health insurance system intact. Rather than replacing the private system—and far from the “government takeover of health care” its critics claim—it provides subsidies for individuals to buy private health insurance through state-level “exchanges.”
As social policy, the ACA is a qualified failure. The expansion of Medicaid and mandates for individuals to buy subsidized private insurance will expand health insurance to an additional 30 million people. Regulations establishing minimum standards for coverage and barring exclusions for pre-existing conditions will improve coverage for many. On the other hand, by maintaining the existing system of for-profit medicine and private insurance, the ACA does little to rein in out-of-control cost growth while leaving millions without coverage. We can hope that the ACA’s strengths and its failures will soon pave the way for a rational universal system such as single payer health care.
Not Everyone Will Be Insured: While the ACA will provide health insurance to millions of Americans, millions of others will remain uninsured. While over 25 million will gain coverage either through the expansion of Medicaid or by buying subsidized private insurance, somewhat more will remain without coverage. Some are not covered by the act (including undocumented immigrants); others will be excused from the requirement to have insurance because of cost; and others will not comply.
Problems of People with Insurance Will Remain: Because it builds on the existing private health-insurance system, the ACA does little to reduce access problems for people with health insurance. Those with insurance have dramatically fewer problems accessing health care (including seeing doctors, arranging follow-up visits, and filling prescriptions) than those without. But even insured Americans are twice as likely as citizens of countries with public insurance to have trouble getting care (see Figue 2).
States Rejecting Medicaid Expansion and Exchanges Are Lowering Enrollment: The ACA’s Medicaid expansion would cover everyone with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Half the states, all with Republican governors, rejected expansion, denying coverage to 7.5 million people. States can establish “health exchanges” for people to choose a health plan and sign up for federal subsidies. Republicans refused to establish exchanges in 34 states.
After a slow start, enrollment has picked up states with their own exchanges. Problems with the federal website slowed errollment elsewhere, though it has recently surged as well. Including those newly covered by the Medicaid expansion, the ACA has now extended coverage to about 4% of the uninsured in non-cooperating states, compared to over 15% of those in the cooperating states. If the proportion enrolling were the same in the non-cooperating states as in states with their own websites, an additional 4 million Americans would now have health insurance.
The ACA Is Highly Redistributive: The ACA will reduce out-of-pocket spending on uncovered expenses, deductibles, and copayments. Federal subsidies will reduce premiums while coverage expansion will lower reduce hospital surcharges for the uninsured. Public spending will increase, on Medicaid and subsidies; expenditures paid for with other savings taxes on expensive insurance plans, and increases in the Medicare payroll tax for high-income individuals. Taxing the rich to provide health care for the working poor, the ACA is the largest redistributive program enacted since the 1960s.
The ACA Does Not Control Costs; Single-Payer Would: The ACA does not establish a sustainable health-care finance system in the United States. Under the ACA, health care spending will continue to increase significantly faster than the economy as a whole and the share of the economy going towards health care will rise in the next decade to nearly 20%. By controlling administrative costs and drug prices, a single-payer system can hold healthcare spending to less than 17% of the GDP.
The latest outcry for a single-payer healthcare system comes from a duo of prominent cancer doctors who call on their fellow oncologists to support what they call “an improved Medicare for all” resembling Canada’s healthcare system.
In an article scheduled to be published today in the Journal of Oncology Practice, Drs. Ray Drasga and Lawrence Einhorn remark that, as cancer doctors, they’re challenged by trying to advise the best treatments that a patient can afford. Because underinsurance is becoming the “new normal,” they say, cancer treatment may need to be compromised. And because every insurance plan is different, it’s hard for providers to know whether certain treatments will be covered.
Einhorn is a professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, a past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the doctor who led treatment of Lance Armstrong. Drasga spearheaded efforts to start a free clinic in Crown Point, Ind.
They proposition that a single-payer system would remove some of the financial barriers to cancer care, make reimbursement simpler and cut down on the burdensome administrative overhead of private insurance companies.
They lay out their case:
“(The single-payer system) would provide universal, comprehensive coverage with free choice of providers. All medical care would be covered, including provider visits, hospital care, prescription drugs and rehabilitation. Copayments, deductibles, insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses would be eliminated.”
A public agency would manage a single insurance plan for each region of the country that would be financed by payroll and income taxes.
“The public agency would manage the plan and the health care budget in a transparent way. The allocation of available health resources (ie, rationing) would be guided by medical considerations, not on the basis of meeting corporate requirements for a return on investment or on the basis of a patient’s ability to pay.”
Doesn’t that all sound too good to be true? “We think not,” they write. “Because a single-payer system is a sensible and realistic solution, we believe its achievement is possible with sufficient understanding among the public and their elected representatives.”
It would be a challenging transition, they admit. But state-by-state implementation would lessen the administrative burdens, and ultimately such a plan could save up to $380 billion annually, they write.
From Truthout –
New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who represents the Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen sections of Manhattan (D-75th District), has introduced a bill to implement a true single-payer healthcare system in New York State. Although the legislation made it out of the healthcare committee of the Assembly last year, it then was basically stonewalled from going much further.
Gottfried, chair of the health committee, told BuzzFlash at Truthout, the bill was re-introduced at the beginning of this session on January 8th of 2014.
What makes Gottfried’s bill distinct is that it would — if implemented in its ideal configuration — be a true single-payer healthcare system for all New Yorkers (except Veterans, who receive care through a government-administered system of providers employed by the Veterans Administration.)
This differs from what is called the Vermont “single-payer” system, which is a laudable one coming down the pike. But the Vermont healthcare insurance program would more accurately be called a comprehensive coverage system than a true single-payer.
Gottfried’s bill (2078A) would create the New York Health Trust Fund and all New Yorkers — in theory — (except veterans) would eventually receive care through the fund. They would carry a “New York Health” card for all their medical needs. Although still far from being enacted, what would make Gottfried’s bill a near seamless single-payer, if passed and implemented in its ideal form, is that the federal government would (and that is something, alas, unlikely to see for the time being given current DC private insurance control of politicians) pay Medicare and other federal programs directly into the state health insurance program. (Medicaid is already paid to states to administer the program within each state — but Gottfried’s bill would make Medicaid party of the pool of money funding “New York Health.”) There are still some gaps and exceptions that would be closed at a later time were the bill ever to be passed and the feds were to provide waivers, but it puts the first stage of a state single-payer on the map of consideration even if it is a political long shot.
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An Everybody INstitute is a one or two day training focused on developing skills and strategies for single-payer organizing, messaging, outreach, public education, media, and legislative advocacy.
Whether it’s starting a new chapter, getting more activists involved, advancing single-payer legislation, organizing creative actions, or dealing with the ACA, Healthcare-NOW! can help.
The prospects for single-payer health care — adored by many liberals, despised by private health insurers and looking better all the time to others — did not die in the Affordable Care Act. It was thrown a lifeline through a little-known provision tucked in the famously long legislation. Single-payer groups in several states are now lining up to make use of Section 1332.
Vermont is way ahead of the pack, but Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Washington, California, Colorado and Maryland have strong single-payer movements.
First, some definitions. Single-payer is a system where the government pays all medical bills. Canada has a single-payer system. By the way, Canada’s system is not socialized medicine but socialized insurance (like Medicare). In Canada, the doctors work for themselves.
Under Section 1332, states may apply for “innovation waivers” starting in 2017. They would let states try paths to health care reform different from those mapped out by the Affordable Care Act — as long as they meet certain of its goals. States must cover as many people and offer coverage as comprehensive and affordable. And they can’t increase the federal deficit. Qualifying states would receive the same federal funding that would have been available under Obamacare.
My conservative friends complain that the innovation waiver requirements would rule out everything but single-payer. No doubt they are diligently working on a more privatized alternative that would cover less, cost more and raise the federal deficit.
“Vermont is the only state where they’re thinking very concretely about using (the waiver) as part of their plan,” Judy Solomon, health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told me.
Hawaii got close. Its Legislature passed a single-payer bill in 2009, which was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican. Lawmakers overrode the veto, but Lingle refused to implement the law.
The quest remains rocky, Dr. Stephen Kemble, a single-payer advocate and past president of the Hawaii Medical Association, told me. “If Vermont can get things going, that would make things easier for others.”
In Washington state, “our focus is to work on grass-roots support,” says Dr. David McLanahan, Washington coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program. “We’re laying the groundwork” for legislation and a request for an innovation waiver.
Problems in the Obamacare rollout have energized fans of single-payer. Computer glitches aside, the troubles stem chiefly from the law’s complexity. Single-payer is all about simplicity.
Under the Vermont plan, employers and individuals would no longer have to buy private health coverage.
They would instead pay a tax. The state-run system would also cover more things, like dental. And oh, yes, Vermonters could choose their hospitals and doctors.
William Hsiao, an economist at the Harvard School of Public Health, has projected that Vermont’s annual health care spending could fall 25 percent. The savings would more than pay for the new benefits.
How? Fewer dollars would go to advertising, executive windfalls and payouts to investors. Doctors dealing with one insurer would save on office staff. Fraud and abuse would shrink as a comprehensive database makes crooks easier to spot.
It’s too bad that some liberals have turned single-payer into a religion and are whacking the Vermont plan for not being pure enough. Vermont is permitting continued private coverage for very practical reasons.
Bear in mind that the most acclaimed health care systems — in Germany, in France and our Medicare — combine single-payer for basics with private coverage for the extras.
Vermont intends to use its state health insurance exchange as the structure on which to build its single-payer system. By 2017, the road to an innovation waiver should be clear.
Go forth, Green Mountain State. Show us what you can do.
NO, NO and no: That’s been the Republican Party position on health care reform since the Obama administration’s first months in office. No matter how many pro-industry concessions were made in drafting what came to be called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Republicans never wavered in their all-out opposition.
But increasingly since its disastrous rollout last fall, the ACA has had critics from the left, too–people who oppose a “reform” that falls far short of universal coverage while threatening harsh financial penalties on those who can afford them least unless they purchase the defective products of the private insurance industry.
Groups that criticized the ACA all along, such as Physicians for a National Health Program and National Nurses United, continue to stand for a “single-payer” program–where the government cuts out the insurers and guarantees health care for all under a system similar to the current Medicare program for the elderly, but much better funded and available to the whole population.
Then there are those among liberals and the left who disagree with both sides. They continue to defend the ACA–on the grounds that it is a step toward universal health care.
An editorial in the Nation magazine last month, for example, acknowledged that the ACA came about because Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress “believed [single-payer] was politically unachievable, so they cobbled together a hybrid of public regulation and private insurance that has come back to haunt them.”
Nevertheless, wrote the Nation’s editors, the left should defend this “hybrid”: “Progressives must step in not only as ardent advocates for better implementation of the ACA–a relatively easy task–but also for structural repairs to the law that will make it a better bridge to the truly universal, truly humane and truly functional health care system that America needs…Indeed, winning [the fight for the ACA's effective implementation] will make future reforms all the more possible.”
The Nation is wrong. The ACA isn’t a bridge to universal health care. It is a cul-de-sac, structured above all else to maintain the central role of the health care industry in general, and private insurance companies in particular.
Achieving universal health coverage and access to care will require dismantling the core of the ACA and replacing it with something else entirely. Making a defense of the ACA in the way the Nation does–as a step in the direction of a single-payer system–cedes ground to the right and is counterproductive to the goal of winning health care as a human right.
Dr. Richard Propp and Alice Brody thought Obamacare might sink their movement.
Instead, based on the interest they say they are getting, the federal Affordable Care Act has buoyed their cause of universal health coverage, or “improved Medicare for all,” they said.
At the heart of the new federal law are government-run online markets that provide one-stop shopping to public and private insurance plans for previously uninsured people. The intent was to improve access to health care.
But confusion over the insurance websites and disappointment with the coverage offered has fueled interest in something the activists say is simpler and better — a national health system supported with tax dollars. On Tuesday, they’re screening a documentary about the issue at the First Unitarian Society in Albany.
Recently joining the ranks of single-payer promoters are young adults and labor unions, they said. Both have been dismayed by the trend toward higher-deductible health plans, whether through the new government-run health exchanges or from private employers.
“We’re really surprised at how much new interest there is in this issue,” said Brody, 69, who is active in Single Payer New York, which has supported a proposed state law that would create universal health coverage for New Yorkers.
Propp, 79, launched the Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare in 2005. The group is an affiliate of Healthcare-Now!, a national grass-roots advocate that supports similar federal legislation.
The trouble with the Affordable Care Act, single-payer proponents said, is that lawmakers gave too much weight to the concerns of the industries that profit from an overpriced medical system. The result, they say, was a convoluted law that perhaps no one understands completely.
“The reason Obamacare is so complex is it’s so gerrymandered,” said Dr. David Ray of Albany Medical Center, who is active in CDAUH and heads the local chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, a Chicago-based advocacy group. “The power of the moneyed interests — specifically the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry — was not taken out of the equation.”
By contrast, Medicare is easy to apply for and use, they said.
“You can understand Medicare,” Brody said. “The main problem with Medicare is it only serves the elderly, who are very sick. That’s why costs are high on Medicare.”
Another group whose support of universal health coverage may be surprising is doctors. Close to 60 percent of doctors support a single-payer health system, according to PNHP. Doctors support universal health coverage because it would make their business operations simpler, Ray said. Instead of meeting the requirements of dozens of insurance contracts, they would have to handle just one — with the government.
“Most physicians are dealing with so many masters, in terms of the insurance companies,” Ray said. “Single-payer is the only road to continuation of physician autonomy. And if there’s anything that physicians care about, it’s their autonomy.”
Ray, who has practiced medicine for 35 years at the former Community Health Plan and at the Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center in Albany, said he has long held a philosophy that doctors should be paid for keeping people healthy, not for treating them only when they’re sick. His work at Whitney Young, an Albany-based clinic serving low-income patients, showed him the need for better health coverage for all people, he said.
Propp founded CDAUH when he retired, shortly after reading a Harvard study that showed uninsured people with diabetes had a 50 percent higher death rate than insured patients.
Brody’s impetus to join the movement came with the understanding in recent years that her childhood had been shaped by her family’s struggle to secure adequate health care. Her mother had multiple sclerosis, and her father worked three jobs to pay the household and medical bills. She and her sisters, Brody said, raised themselves.
“Health care should be a human right,” Brody said. “You have a right to be able to, if you’re sick, go see a doctor. It should be with you from birth to death.”
From the Brattleboro Reformer –
The health care committee of the Vermont House is lining up some of the tasks that will have to be finished before the state rolls out the first-in-the-nation single payer health care system, now scheduled for 2017.
Meeting Friday at the Statehouse, the committee heard from legislative staffers who outlined details that will have to be worked out, such as how to ensure the state gets the maximum amount of federal dollars and who would be covered.
There are details such as what would happen if a person living in Vermont works in another state where their employer offers health insurance or if someone from another state worked in Vermont and their employer didn’t offer insurance.
On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin recommitted the state to the single payer goal.