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Single-payer advocates win seats at White House health summit, remarks by Dr. Oliver Fein

Dr. Oliver Fein releases prepared remarks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 5, 2009

Contact:
Oliver Fein, M.D.
Don McCanne, M.D.
Steffie Woolhandler, M.D.
David Himmelstein, M.D.
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006, mark@pnhp.org

Two leading advocates of single-payer health reform, sometimes characterized as an improved Medicare for All, received last-minute invitations to attend the White House health care summit being held today. The invitations were greeted as a victory by single-payer supporters.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chief sponsor of the single-payer U.S. National Health Care Act, H.R. 676, was invited to attend the meeting late in the day on Tuesday, and Dr. Oliver Fein, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, was invited on Wednesday afternoon.

The White House invitations were extended to the two leaders after intense grassroots lobbying efforts by single-payer supporters, who were concerned that no single-payer voices would be present at the meeting. The efforts included an outpouring of phone calls and e-mail messages to the White House, along with a threatened demonstration outside the White House gates by doctors and other health professionals wearing their white coats. The demonstration was called off when word arrived that Rep. Conyers and Dr. Fein had been invited.

In his prepared remarks, the full text of which follows, Dr. Fein says, "We are pleased to be here today and appreciate the implicit recognition of the majority support for single payer in our country. We hope this is the beginning of a serious dialogue on how to enact single-payer health reform and we look forward to working with [President Obama] and the Congress toward this end."

Dr. Fein's prepared remarks for the summit follow.

Prepared remarks by Dr. Oliver Fein

Mr. President, Physicians for a National Health Program agrees with your statement during your presidential campaign: health care should be a basic human right.

Physicians recommend an improved and expanded Medicare-for-All - that is, a single-payer national health insurance program, providing care that is publicly financed but largely privately delivered. This fundamental health reform - which enjoys solid majority support among physicians and the public - has become even more urgently needed in view of our severe economic recession.

Millions of people are losing their employer-sponsored health insurance, joining the 46 million who already lack coverage. Millions more, including those with insurance, are finding it harder to pay their co-pays and deductibles and are scrimping on their medications and doctor visits. Many go without care, risking their health and often their very lives.

Physicians find that private, for-profit health insurance companies add cost but no value to the health care system. 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 - consumes 31 cents of every health care dollar.

As long as we rely on private health insurers, universal coverage will be unaffordable.

Mandates to buy private insurance are not the answer. Experience with mandate plans in Washington state (1993), Oregon (1992) and Massachusetts (1988 and today), shows they simply don't work, achieving neither universal health care nor cost containment.

Some of these plans offer a Medicare-like, public option that people could buy into, but experience with Medicare shows that the private plans refuse to compete on a level playing field. They cherry-pick healthier patients and insist on more than their share of payment.

In contrast, single payer guarantees everyone access to comprehensive, quality health care and choice of their own doctor and hospital.

Single-payer health reform, an improved Medicare for All, is the only reform model that offers $400 billion in annual savings in administrative costs. It is the only approach that contains effective cost-containment provisions such as bulk purchasing and global budgeting.

Such economies would allow for expanding health coverage to everyone - with no co-pays or deductibles - with no overall increase in health care spending. In other words, it's the only health reform proposal that pays for itself.

The single-payer model is the only fiscally prudent proposal available, an especially important consideration at a time of economic distress. And we know from our experience with Medicare and other single-payer systems that it will work.

With a single-payer national health insurance program we can assure lifelong, high quality, comprehensive and affordable coverage for everyone. Such a program will lift the heavy burden of crushing medical expenses off the shoulders of our population, expenses that often lead to personal bankruptcy. And we can save lives: the Institute of Medicine estimated in 2002 that more than 18,000 Americans die each year from lack of health insurance. That number is certainly higher today.

From the standpoint of what benefits our patients, single payer is the health policy model that best reflects their needs and values.

Support for single payer is extensive. In a peer-reviewed statistical study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 59 percent of U.S. physicians said they would support government action to establish national health insurance. In a recent Associated Press poll, 65 percent of the respondents said, "The United State should adopt a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxes."

Single-payer health reform is embodied in the U.S. National Health Care Act, H.R. 676, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). It had 93 co-sponsors in the 110th Congress, the most of any health reform legislation.

We are pleased to be here today and appreciate the implicit recognition of the majority support for single payer in our country. We hope this is the beginning of a serious dialogue on how to enact single-payer health reform and we look forward to working with you and the Congress toward this end.

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A short biography of Dr. Fein is available here: http://www.pnhp.org/stateactions/new_york/

Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org), a membership organization of over 15,000 physicians, supports a single-payer national health insurance program. To contact a physician-spokesperson in your area, visit www.pnhp.org/stateactions or call (312) 782-6006.