Obama's health care reform policy is the wrong prescription, say president's former physician and public health groups
President and Congress urged to support legislation for single-payer health reform
For Immediate Release:
July 30, 2009
Rick Claypool, Public Citizen, (202) 588-7742
Katie Robbins, Healthcare-NOW! (330) 618-6379
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006, cell: (312) 622-0996, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON — On the 44th anniversary of Medicare’s creation, President Barack Obama’s former primary care physician has joined leading public health groups in calling on the White House and Congress to solve the health care crisis by instituting a national single-payer health care system.
Dr. David Scheiner served as President Obama’s doctor at a clinic based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood from 1987 to 2009. A strong Obama supporter, Scheiner nevertheless is secure enough in his convictions to publicly voice his difference with the president’s approach to health care reform.
“Our nation is at a crossroads,” Scheiner said. “We must not give in to the insurance and drug companies and instead do what is right for all Americans,” noting that a single-payer, Medicare-for-All program is the way to go.
The groups at Thursday’s news conference include Healthcare-NOW!, Public Citizen and Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), the latter of which will release a letter to President Obama and Congress this morning from more than 3,500 physicians and medical students calling for single payer. Scheiner is a member of the physicians’ group.
The call for reform comes as grassroots single-payer advocates from across the nation, including Scheiner, gather today to rally support and urge the White House and Congress to implement a plan that would cover everyone — expanded and improved Medicare for all. Throughout the recent health care reform push, this type of national reform has been considered “off the table,” even though proposed half-measures, including the so-called public plan option, would still leave millions uninsured and lack the cost-control tools single-payer would offer.
In calling for a national single-payer system, Scheiner points to Medicare, a successfully functioning single-payer program since 1965 that now serves 45 million Americans, as a model. “In the 40 years I have been practicing under Medicare, I have never encountered an instance where Medicare has prevented proper medical care,” Scheiner said. “On the other hand, [private] insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care.”
Recent research in the health policy journal Health Affairs supports Scheiner’s observations, showing that compared with people who receive private health insurance through employers, people covered by Medicare “report fewer problems obtaining medical care, less financial hardship due to medical bills, and higher overall satisfaction with their coverage.”
Added Dr. Sidney Wolfe, acting president of Public Citizen and director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, “We should be celebrating the 44th anniversary of Medicare by finally passing legislation that would truly result in everybody in, nobody out, instead of seriously considering legislation that guarantees that millions still will be left out just so the private health insurance industry can stay in.”
Under a national single-payer system, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers are paid from a single fund administered by the government. The high administrative costs and wasteful spending associated with the private health insurance industry would be eliminated, resulting in savings of nearly $400 billion annually and enabling all Americans to receive high-quality care, including those who currently have insurance but still cannot afford medications and treatment.
“As President Obama says, ‘We must build on what works and leave out what doesn’t,’” said Katie Robbins, assistant national coordinator for Healthcare-NOW! “President Obama also stated at a recent press conference in Cleveland that single payer is the only way to cover everyone. We agree and ask that he implement a single-payer system as not only the best way, but the only way, to meet his goals for quality, affordable health care for all Americans.”
In Congress, single-payer proposals have been introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 676, The U.S. National Health Care Act) and the Senate (S. 703, The American Health Security Act of 2009).
“Single-payer reform, as embodied in these bills, would eliminate the bewildering patchwork of private insurance plans with their exorbitant overhead and profits, as well as the costly paperwork burdens they impose on providers,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers of PNHP. “These savings on bureaucracy are sufficient to cover all of the uninsured and to provide first-dollar coverage for all Americans.”
Added Pennsylvania state Sen. Jim Ferlo, “While I commend the president and the 111th Congress for thoroughly addressing this most important domestic issue in terms of its impact on our economic and social well-being, I cannot support the enactment of anything less than a single-payer proposal.” Sen. Ferlo is co-convening sponsor of State Legislators for Single-Payer Healthcare, a nationwide campaign of state lawmakers who advocate for national single-payer.
July 30, 2009
Statement of David L. Scheiner, M.D.
I am here today because years ago I was practicing medicine in an office on the South Side of Chicago with my partner and friend, Dr. Quentin Young, when a young community organizer came to see me as a patient. I became his personal physician for 22 years and he became president of the United States. I support and admire him and consider him to be the most promising president of my lifetime, which stretches back to 1938. But I respectfully differ with him on his approach to health care reform.
I speak to you today as an advocate for the single-payer approach to health reform, an expanded and improved Medicare for all, but I am hoping that President Obama and Congress will hear me also. As some of you may know, I was supposed to be at the recent town hall meeting at the While House where I was to ask a question of the president, but my visit was cancelled at the last minute, presumably to prevent the national airing of my views on health reform. Is the single-payer message so dangerous that it cannot even be discussed by Congress and the administration?
Yes, there are parties who stand to lose out under a single-payer program — the private, for-profit health insurance companies and their multimillionaire CEOs in the first place. The head of Aetna, for example, received $18.6 million in compensation last year. That’s obscene.
Investor-owned, for-profit hospitals won’t benefit from single payer either. Neither will the big pharmaceutical companies, who will no longer be able to sell their drugs at such outrageous prices. A single-payer system will be able to buy drugs in bulk and negotiate prices.
Some critics attack single-payer, arguing that under such a program, government bureaucrats will be between the patient and the physician. In the 40 years I have been practicing under Medicare, I have never encountered an instance where Medicare has prevented proper medical care. On the other hand, insurance companies frequently interfere and block appropriate care.
There are multiple problems with the present congressional health reform proposals, but allowing private insurance to continue being involved is the most egregious. The insurance companies actually like many of the proposed reforms, including the requirement that every American purchase insurance or suffer a tax penalty, which would be a windfall to the insurance industry. That alone should be a warning.
I mentioned who will lose out under a single-payer program. But who benefits? The American people. But do they matter? Do we really care about the 50 million without health insurance as long as the rest of us have our own coverage? Do we think about the additional tens of millions who are underinsured, who face economic hardship or bankruptcy when serious illness strikes? Single payer will offer secure, comprehensive and quality care to all.
A single-payer program could be implemented comparatively easily, without disruption, as was the case with traditional Medicare. And there are other advantages: with single payer, we can discontinue Medicaid, which is bankrupting states and treats a large number of individuals as second-class citizens.
This is a moral obligation, and we are all responsible for seeing that health care is a right. That’s the view of Physicians for a National Health Program.
Opponents of single-payer say that if the government pays for health care, the system will deteriorate. But we have two single-payer programs already operating that work superbly — Medicare and the Veterans Administration hospital system. Medicare overhead is 3 percent. Private insurance overhead is five times that. Forty years ago, I worked in a public health service hospital in Boston, which delivered excellent care to all comers. Sadly, the system was closed down.
I grew up as a child during World War II and loved my country then as I do now. I grew up revering the ideals of this country. Although there were unsettling periods, our country remains a beacon of hope for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that quality universal health care falls under these watchwords.
Our nation is at a crossroads. We must not squander the opportunity of this momentous time. We must not give in to the insurance and drug companies and instead do what is right for all Americans. Please, Mr. President and Congress — enact an expanded and improved Medicare for all.
July 30, 2009
Statement of Margaret Flowers, M.D.
I am here today, the 44th anniversary of Medicare, on behalf of Physicians for a National Health Program, a national organization representing over 16,000 physicians who advocate for the only health reform that can provide truly universal, comprehensive and affordable care: single-payer national health insurance, expanded and improved Medicare for all.
We are presenting an open letter to President Obama which has been signed by over 3,500 physicians from across the nation and across the spectrum of our profession. Signers include Drs. Marcia Angell and Arnold Relman, former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine and Dr. David Scheiner, President Obama’s personal physician for more than two decades. It has also been signed by medical students who represent the future of medicine in the United States.
We are calling on the president to endorse national single-payer health care. Sound single-payer proposals have been introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 676, The U.S. National Health Care Act) and the Senate (S. 703, The American Health Security Act of 2009).
Single-payer reform, as embodied in these bills, would eliminate the bewildering patchwork of private insurance plans with their exorbitant overhead and profits, as well as the costly paperwork burdens they impose on providers. These savings on bureaucracy — nearly $400 billion annually — are sufficient to cover all of the uninsured and to provide first-dollar coverage for all Americans.
We agree with the president that our nation’s economic recovery depends on effective health care reform. However, it will not be achieved by mandating that individuals and families hand over even more money to the private, for-profit insurance industry. A plan similar to that being proposed by Congress was put in place recently in Massachusetts. This plan, largely written with input from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, is already proving to be financially unsustainable. In addition, the Massachusetts plan is dropping 30,000 people from its rolls and is being sued by Boston Medical Center for $180 million for uncompensated care.
We ask why the president is not endorsing a national single-payer system, which is the only reform with inherent cost-controls in the form of global budgeting for hospitals, bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals and medical devices and decreased administrative costs, to name a few.
We also agree with a recent statement by the president that a single-payer national health system is the only way to provide health care to all people in America: everybody in and nobody out. If the proposed health reform is not going to be universal, we would ask which of our patients do you suggest we leave out?
The simplest and least disruptive solution for our nation, and one that will preserve the legacy of Medicare for generations to come, is to expand and improve our uniquely American and very successful Medicare to everyone. Surveys done this year demonstrate that people with Medicare are more satisfied with their health care than are persons under age 65 who are covered by private insurance. People with Medicare report fewer problems getting access to care, greater confidence about their access, and fewer instances of financial hardship as a result of medical bills. Patients on Medicare choose their doctor and treatment without the restrictions and denials inherent in private insurance. When they need care, they receive it simply and with less worry.
That is why we, the members of Physicians for a National Health Program, celebrate Medicare’s anniversary and why we wish it many more.
Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org), a membership organization of over 16,000 physicians, supports a single-payer national health insurance program.