Posted on August 5, 2009

House vote on single payer will be historic first, doctors' group says


Physicians call on lawmakers to ‘do the right thing’ on health reform

Aug. 5, 2009

Quentin Young, M.D., (312) 782-6006,
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006,
David Lerner or Karmen Ross, Riptide Communications, (212) 260-5000

Hailing last week’s pledge by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a floor debate and vote on single-payer health reform this fall, a group of 16,000 physicians is launching an intensified campaign to educate lawmakers about the urgency of a “Medicare-for-All” solution to the nation’s health care crisis.

Leaders of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) say their campaign includes a stepped-up program of visits by doctors to House members in their home districts during the August recess.

Last Friday’s commitment by Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to put his single-payer amendment to H.R. 3200, the House leadership’s health reform bill, to an up-or-down vote before the full House has set the stage for first-ever floor vote of its kind. The House debate on the amendment could begin as early as September.

“Single payer has gone from being ‘off the table’ to ‘on the floor,’” said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of PNHP. “This dramatic turn of events is a striking indicator of our success. It shows the House leadership recognizes the strong public support - including among doctors - for removing the wasteful insurance company middlemen from our health system and redirecting the resultant savings into care.”

Weiner’s amendment would delete most of the language in the House bill and instead substitute language from H.R. 676, the single-payer bill introduced by Reps. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

The Weiner amendment, unlike the House leadership’s bill, assures universal, comprehensive, and high-quality coverage, free choice of doctor and hospital, and no co-pays or deductibles through a publicly financed system similar to Medicare. Young said that because of massive savings on private insurance overhead and paperwork, the amendment would entail no increase in U.S. health spending, in contrast to the House bill’s $1 trillion price tag over 10 years.

“By recapturing the administrative waste associated with our present multi-payer, for-profit private insurance system, estimated to be $400 billion annually, a single-payer program would have more than enough resources to cover everyone who lacks insurance now and to upgrade everyone else’s coverage,” he said.

“A single-payer system would also possess strong cost-control tools like bulk purchasing of drugs, negotiation of fees and global hospital budgeting, controls that are notably absent in the House bill,” he said.

Young says many union, civic and faith-based groups will be watching how lawmakers vote with an eye to the 2010 election cycle. “Lawmakers now have a golden opportunity to stand up for the best interests of their constituents, to rebuff the private, for-profit health insurance industry, and to assure the health of our nation,” he said.

He continued: “Many members of Congress - including Speaker Pelosi - have told constituents that they personally support a single-payer, Medicare-for-all approach, but claim they can’t vote for it because it’s not politically feasible. Yet polls that show they would have the public’s support for such a stand. Now we’ll be watching to see whether their votes match their words.”

Single-payer bills have been introduced in Congress repeatedly over the past 60 years - starting with the Wagner-Murray-Dingell bill in the 1940s, and including the Kennedy-Griffiths bill of the 1970s and the Wellstone, McDermott and Russo bills of the 1990s - but none has ever reached the floor of the House or Senate.

Physicians for a National Health Program ( is an organization of 16,000 doctors who advocate for single-payer national health insurance.

Several leaders of PNHP have testified before congressional committees in the current health reform debate. (See links below). To interview any of these or other spokespersons, please call (312) 782-6006.

Testimony of Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H., on medical bankruptcy and health reform before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative and Commercial Law, July 28, 2009

Testimony of Dr. Woolhandler before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, July 24

Testimony of Quentin Young, M.D., M.A.C.P., before the House Ways and Means Committee, June 24

Testimony of Margaret Flowers, M.D., before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, June 11

Testimony of Dr. Walter Tsou before the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, June 10

Testimony of David U. Himmelstein, M.D. before the Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor, April 23