Posted on August 11, 2009

Single-payer doctors and RNs volunteer at Remote Area Medical in L.A.


Providers call on lawmakers to do the right thing on health reform

For Immediate Release
Aug. 11, 2009

Two single-payer proponent organizations, the California Physicians Alliance (CaPA) and the California Nurses Association (CNA), will send physicians and registered nurses to help staff the Remote Area Medical (RAM) expedition at the Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles from Aug. 11-18.

What: RNs and doctors who volunteered for the first shift will be available to speak to the press. Participating physicians include Drs. Nancy Greep, Bruce Hector, Jerry Helman and Matt Hendrickson of CaPA.
When: 1 p.m.
Where: The Forum in Inglewood, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Los Angeles

The RAM-LA 2009 expedition is the first visit to Los Angeles for the Tennessee-based nonprofit organization that is best known for its work delivering free health care to remote areas of South America.

The group’s visit to Los Angeles underscores the dire nature of the American health care crisis: 1 out of 6 (18 percent) non-elderly Americans were uninsured in 2007, over 400,000 Americans have lost insurance every month since the beginning of the recession, nearly two-thirds (62.1 percent) of bankruptcies are now medically related, the risk of dying is 40 percent higher for uninsured Americans between 55-65 years of age, and 80 percent of the uninsured are employed.

Patients who plan to seek care at the Forum over the next week are warned to expect prolonged waits and no guarantees are made that they will actually be seen.

Last year, “60 Minutes” on CBS did a segment on one of the free RAM health care expeditions held in their home town of Knoxville, Tenn. According to “60 Minutes,” over the course of a weekend they saw 920 patients, made 500 pairs of glasses, did 94 mammograms, extracted 1,066 teeth and did 567 fillings. But when Stan Brock (the founder) called the last number, 400 people were turned away.

A similar story plays out everyday at any Los Angeles Emergency Department where critical overcrowding leads to long waits, many left without being seen, ambulance diversions, delay to care of time-sensitive or painful conditions and deaths.

Wendell Potter, the former top public relations executive for Cigna who has recently become an outspoken critic of the private health insurance industry, cites a RAM event in Virginia as the turning point in his career: “Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the Wise County Fairgrounds, where the expedition was being held. Hundreds of people had camped out all night in the parking lot to be assured of seeing a doctor or dentist when the gates opened. By the time I got there, long lines of people stretched from every animal stall and tent where the volunteers were treating patients.

“That scene was so visually and emotionally stunning it was all I could do to hold back tears,” Potter continued. “How could it be that citizens of the richest nation in the world were being treated this way? A couple of weeks later I was boarding a corporate jet to fly from Philadelphia to a meeting in Connecticut. When the flight attendant served my lunch on gold-rimmed china and gave me a gold-plated knife and fork to eat it with, I realized for the first time that someone’s insurance premiums were paying for me to travel in such luxury. I also realized that one of the reasons those people in Wise County had to wait in long lines to be treated in animal stalls was because our Wall Street-driven health care system has created one of the most inequitable health care systems on the planet.”

The administrative waste associated with the private-insurance-based industry — enormous paperwork, marketing costs, and other costs that have nothing to do with delivering care — amounts to at least 31 cents of every health care dollar. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine has demonstrated that replacing the private insurance industry with a single-payer system would save $400 billion, which would allow not only universal coverage but first-dollar coverage for everyone.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has committed 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, setting the stage for a first-ever floor vote on single-payer health reform. The House debate on the amendment could begin as early as September.

The California Nurses Association is the largest and fastest-growing organization of direct-care registered nurses, representing 86,000 nurses in 225 hospitals throughout the nation.

The California Physicians Alliance is the California chapter of the Physicians for a National Health Program, a 16,000-member physician organization with a single mission of educating and advocating for a universal, comprehensive single payer health plan.