Doctors Protest Exclusion of Single-Payer at Senate Finance Committee
WASHINGTON – May 5 – Doctors and other advocates of a national single-payer health system – also known as an improved Medicare for All – directly confronted senators at a Senate Finance Committee “roundtable” on health reform today.
One-by-one, eight single-payer advocates in the audience stood up during the opening comments of the hearing and asked why single-payer experts were being excluded from the proceedings. They each spoke out in turn until they were removed from the committee hearing room, one-by-one, by U.S. Capitol police.
The doctors and others said that a publicly funded, privately delivered single-payer system is the only solution to the crisis plaguing our nation’s non-system of health care, noting that single-payer national health insurance would guarantee coverage for everyone and contains costs.
Despite polling that shows a clear majority of public and physician support for a single-payer system, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has stated on multiple occasions that single payer is “off the table” of health reform.
Today’s round table, the second of three, consisted of 15 witnesses with no single-payer advocates among them. By contrast, several witnesses have direct ties to the for-profit, private health insurance industry.
The doctors and activists were dressed in black, which they said was in memory of the 22,000 people who die every year due to lack of health insurance. They represented a coalition of single-payer advocacy organizations including Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Healthcare-NOW, Single Payer Action, Private Health Insurance Must Go, the Campaign for Fresh Air and Clean Politics, Prosperity Agenda, and Health Care for the Homeless.
“Health insurance administrators are practicing medicine without a medical license,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-chair of Maryland chapter of PNHP. “The result is the suffering and death of thousands of patients for the sake of private profit. The private health insurance industry has a solid grip on patients, providers and legislators. It is time to stand up and declare that health care is a human right.”
Much to the frustration of Baucus, the multiple disruptions demanding single-payer be on the table set the tone for the second of three roundtables on Health Reform by the Senate Finance Committee.
Katie Robbins, assistant national coordinator of Healthcare-NOW, said: “The current discussion on health reform is political theater at its best. Our elected officials are hosting these events to go through the motions of what developing effective national health policy should look like. There is a big difference between getting health policy experts in the room and the witnesses here today who would profit the most from reform. That difference means our hard-earned dollars will go to further insurance industry profits, not to guarantee health care to the American people.”
“It’s a pretty spectacular display of raw political power,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “The health insurance industry demands that not one of the 15 people who testified today shall be a single-payer advocate. And the industry gets what it wants. It’s time for the American people to storm the gates and demand – put single payer on the table.”
Single payer is successfully implemented in the United States’ own Medicare system providing comprehensive care to the elderly, as well as in many of the best health care systems in the world. A single-payer system, as embodied in legislation H.R. 676 and S. 703, would provide guaranteed, quality care to all Americans with no increase in U.S. health spending.
The single-payer advocates said they will continue to use direct actions and nonviolent civil disobedience to urge the inclusion of a publicly funded, privately delivered system.
Other methods of communication with elected officials have failed in delivering the demand for single-payer national health care as evidenced by the exclusion of single-payer advocates from official hearings on health reform.
Healthcare-NOW! is a national grassroots advocacy organization in support of single-payer national health care with a network of activists in 42 states. More information can be found at www.healthcare-now.org
Single Payer Action is a nonprofit activist fueled organization. Find out more at www.singlepayeraction.org
Maryland Chapter Physicians for a National Health Program is a chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit research and education organization of 16,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance. More information can be found at www.md.pnhp.org
Prosperity Agenda includes single payer national health care as one of the policy changes needed to create an economy that benefits all Americans, not just the wealthiest. www.prosperityagenda.us. Prosperity Agenda is an economic justice project associated with The Campaign for Fresh Air & Clean Politics (www.FreshAirCleanPolitics.net
Margaret Flowers, MD & Katie Robbins
Carol Paris, MD
Pat Salomon, MD & Kevin Zeese
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: On May 5, the US Senate Finance Committee held hearings on health care reform. During the session, senators asked the panel of what Washington calls “invited stakeholders” their opinions on the best ways to reform the American health-care system. Missing from the panel were advocates of a single-payer health-care system, which is a way of saying a primarily government-run insurance plan like that in Canada, Europe, and most of the industrialized world, a plan that more or less cuts out private insurance companies. Opponents of a single-payer plan say Americans will never accept socialized medicine, which they say describes the single-payer plan. But according to a 2008 poll by the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, when Americans were asked what they thought of socialized medicine, 45 percent said it would be better, and only 39 percent said it would be worse. Although Senator Baucus did not invite single-payer advocates onto his panel, several made an appearance anyway, and they demanded a seat at the table.
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: We don’t need a pay-to-play Senate taking millions from the insurance industry, the HMOs, and the pharmaceutical companies. And you’re denying the people a voice. Single-payer national health care is what these people need. [inaudible] the public. What kind of democracy is it when you pay to play, when you take millions from the people of the [United States] and give money to your corporate donors and not provide health care to all? What kind of Senate is this? Is this the Blagojevich Senate? Are you the Blagojevich chairman? We need single-payer on the table now!
SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D-MT): Committee will stand in recess until the committee can restore order.
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: [inaudible] national health program [inaudible]
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: We want a seat at the table.
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: We want more police.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): Isn’t there someplace they can watch it on television?
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: You said yesterday, Senator Baucus, that everything’s on the table. Why not single-payer? We have doctors in this room right now who are willing to take a seat at that table to testify in favor of Medicare for all, single-payer. They should be at the table. You can’t exclude what the majority of Americans want and the majority of doctors want.
BAUCUS: The committee will be in order. The committee will stand in recess until the police can restore order.
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: Mr. Chairman, members, we need to have single-payer at the table. I have had friends who have died who don’t have health care, whose healthcare did not withstand their personal health emergencies. It’s only when the people that are living in the park and the people that are living in Park Avenue have the same health care that everybody will have high-quality health care. Single-payer now.
OFF CAMERA: I wonder how many there are.
HEALTHCARE NOW ACTIVIST: Every health care lobbyist in America is at the table. When are the American people going to be heard? We need health care now! Put single-payer on the table now!
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Is there anybody in the audience who didn’t come to—?
BAUCUS: Let me say this. I think I speak for everybody on the committee and everybody in the Congress seat deeply, deeply respect the views of all members of the audience and all Americans who feel deeply about health care reform.
JAY: The hearing themselves were not quite as riveting as the pre-session combat. Much of the proceedings featured Republican Senators and industry panelists arguing not only against a single-payer plan but questioning any kind of expanded public health insurance at all, even when it keeps private insurance companies in the game. Here’s Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky.
SEN. JIM BUNNING (R-KY): Those of us who are presently covered and paying are going to have to ante up more to make sure that everybody is covered. When I look at Sweden and I look at Canada and I look at the United Kingdom, where we have single-payer, and government single-payer, we have a tax rate of 60 percent or higher in those countries.
JAY: Perhaps if single-payer advocates had been at the table, they might have pointed out the following. According to the 2009 OECD factbook, the tax on an average worker in Canada is 33.3 percent. In the UK, it’s 32.6 percent. In Sweden, it’s 50.1 percent, but people there get free university, and a host of other social services to boot, including unemployment insurance of 42 weeks—64 weeks for those aged 55 and above. Most American workers get 26 weeks. None of the OECD countries have a 60 percent tax rate for workers. Perhaps the good senator wasn’t worried about what workers might pay. And what’s the average tax rate for workers in the USA? 30.4 percent. So why do workers in Canada and the UK get health insurance and American workers paying almost the same amount of tax don’t? And what about the quality of care? Well, infant mortality is considered one of the best measurements of the success of a health-care system. In the United States, 6.26 infants die in 1,000 births. In Canada, it’s 5.04. If you’re about to be born and want the best chance of making it, you’d probably choose, at 2.75 infant deaths in 1,000, Sweden. And just what does big business want out of all of this? Here’s the CEO of the Business Roundtable, which represents 150 CEOs from leading US companies with more than $5 trillion in average revenues and nearly 10 million employees.
JOHN CASTELLANI, PRESIDENT, BUSINESS ROUNDTABLE: We want to be in this game, but it is the single biggest cost pressure that we face, day in and day out. It took oil at $150 to even tie it. In an increasingly international marketplace, where we are competing against companies who reside in countries that have a different model—a different tax model, a different health-care cost model—or we’re competing against companies that do not provide health care, this cost burden for US corporations, particularly ones who participate in the global marketplace, is really unsustainable.
JAY: Well, you might ask, if a company that comes from a country with a government health plan (that is, a government single-payer plan) has a competitive advantage, then why doesn’t the Business Roundtable favor the single-payer government plan? Well, perhaps Mr. Castellini should’ve informed us that of his 150 member CEOs, 35 are CEOs of HMOs, health insurance, and pharmaceutical companies, all of whom stand the most to lose from a government-run single-payer plan. Well, according to Senator Baucus, the single-payer option is not on the table. Is that because it’s not the best plan for the American people? Or is it because of the power of the insurance and pharma industries and the pressure of Cold War rhetoric? Perhaps it would make more sense putting the single-payer plan on the table. But I guess you can always do this instead:
BAUCUS: We need more police.
GRASSLEY: Isn’t there someplace they can watch it on television?
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.