Posted on September 19, 2008

On the Single Payer Road Again: It'll Be a Tough Lobby to Beat


Doctors, Nurses, Med Students and Patients Join Government and Business Leaders

Calling for Single Payer Reform in Pennsylvania and the Nation

By Donna Smith, community organizer

LANCASTER, PA — I haven’t seen Dr. Walter Tsou of PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program) as much as I would like to since a sweltering June day last year when he welcomed the huge SiCKO bus into Philadelphia. It isn’t that both he and I haven’t been out talking about single payer healthcare reform, but we don’t often get the opportunity to be in the same place at the same time — until tonight.

We both were panelists for a forum entitled: Single-Payer, Guaranteed Healthcare for All, A Mainstream Solution. We were at the historic Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, and we were joined by medical students, doctors, nurses, business leaders and legislators.

This was a powerful bunch of people — each told a piece of the picture of a broken system and of the single payer solution. And this is one lobby group I’d match against any in tenacity, intelligence and just plain humanity. As each spoke, it was clear that respect and passion are hallmarks of this movement. You cannot buy that sort of lobby effort — it rises up from the heart and soul of decent Americans fed up with what we know can be so much better.

Talk about family values… with young women like Mary Carol Jennings, medical student and leigislative director for the 67,000 member American Medical Student Association, working on publicly funded, privately delivered, single payer health care, we clearly have strong, purposeful young women who know how to be political powerhouses and stay grounded in compassion and justice for all. I’d sure choose her to be my doc and she’ll be a fine one in the future… but she’ll be working on single payer in the coming year for AMSA.

Then there was Alan Jacobs, president of the 20-restaurant Isaac’s Deli corp, who shared his objections to hearing John McCain say he didn’t want bureaucrats involved in healthcare. Alan said as an employer under the current healthcare system in the U.S. he becomes the first-line bureaucrat for his employees as he decides which coverage the company will offer with what scope of benefits and at what price. Then he noted that the private insurance company itself becomes the next bureaucrat injected into the patient’s healthcare or lack thereof.

But then Alan finished by talking about his frustration and pain in watching an employee who suffers the onset of a health issue struggle to keep working then ultimately lose his or her job due to illness followed by a lack of income making the former employee unable to afford the insurance once held through employment. “So it is in this final brutality I am forced to participate,” he said.

Dr. Tsou gave a lively talk about the failures of various incremental programs in individual states over the years — Oregon, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Maine — and his prediction that other plans like the one currently being touted by Pennsylvania’s Governor Ed Rendell would not enjoy any different results.

Dawn Ali, RN, of the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professions, told the crowd about how many nurses she knows who just cannot stand the physical and emotional strain of being nurses at the bedside under current conditions. She talked about the medical errors that follow — like night follows day — the pressures placed on nurses to handle unworkable patient loads and work mandatory overtime shifts. All this, she said, the result of a system gone mad on profit.

From one speaker to the next, the case for single payer grew ever sharper and more contrasted with the status quo. Audience questions revealed strong support for making the right sorts of political pressures heard in the right places. And this is one lobby with motivations so focused and strong that it was energizing just to be in the room.

Single payer history tonight. Onward.