Local physician condemns healthcare reform plans now before Congress

Sound and Town Report (Larchmont and Mamaroneck, N.Y.)
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Mamaroneck physician believes that a single-payer plan would be the only effective way to reform the nation’s health system. Early this week she denounced the reform bills passed by the House of Representatives and now up for debate in the Senate. “I don’t think [they] will fix things,” said Dr. Elizabeth Rosenthal. “The best thing to do [would be] scrap them both and do single-payer. But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”

A dermatologist who lives in Larchmont, Rosenthal spoke at a recent meeting of the Larchmont/Mamaroneck League of Women Voters (LWV-LM), where she said 60 percent of doctors nationwide support a single-payer system. Rosenthal is a board member of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)/NY Metro chapter, a non-profit research and education organization whose 17,000 members support single-payer national health insurance. But single-payer is absent from the bills now before Congress.

On Nov. 6, Dr. Rosenthal told the LWV audience at Hector’s Village Cafe in Mamaroneck, “I went into medicine to help people get better.” But that is increasingly difficult to accomplish, she said, because “the business side” of medicine is taking over. She said the cost of the reform will be more than legislators anticipate; she called the system difficult to navigate and added it still left many uncovered.

The doctor cited Medicare as an example of a single-payer system which she said has worked well for 40 years. “In Canada they have Medicare for everybody,” she said.

She further charged that the current bills allow insurance companies to continue to act as middlemen between patient and doctor. “How are they going to bring down the cost without eliminating the middleman?” she said. The companies spend huge amounts of money on administration, 20 percent of total expenditures, according to PNHP, while the single-payer Medicare spends 2 percent. “With the money we’d save by getting rid of the insurance industry, we could take care of everybody,” she declared. Yet neither bill addresses costs, she believes. Instead, she said, “Insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are going to get millions of new customers.”

In addition, she said that the “public option” in either bill had been so watered down as to be “meaningless.” (The inclusion of any kind of public option is strongly opposed by some Senators). She denounced the exclusion of illegal immigrants in the proposal.

The bills’ only positive aspects, she said, are that they prohibit insurance companies from rejecting patients for pre-existing conditions, dropping them once they become sick, and placing caps on the amounts they pay out.

Rosenthal countered critics of a national health plan who fear it will lead to rationing of healthcare. “We already have rationing,” she stated, via money: those who can afford more comprehensive insurance have access to more healthcare than those who cannot.

The doctor found many other faults with the current healthcare system, including:

  • It rewards doctors for giving “too much care,” via superfluous tests.
  • It is “top heavy with specialists” and lacks enough primary-care physicians.
  • The pharmaceutical industry spends more on marketing than on research and development, which drives up the cost of prescription drugs.

“At some point you have to choose between [pleasing] the people who profit from healthcare [and making] a commitment to see that all people are protected with healthcare they can afford,” Dr. Rosenthal insisted this week. “Our country has not made a commitment to take care of all the people.”

As to the future, “Of course we’re going to continue the struggle,” Rosenthal said.

But it looks like any possibility of a single-payer plan will have to wait till another year.