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Doctors, nurses to demonstrate for single-payer health system outside Senate Finance Committee hearing

Physicians join with nurses in 'Florence Nightingale protest' in support of Medicare for All

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2009

Contacts:
Margaret Flowers, M.D.
Carol Paris, M.D.
Clark Newhall, M.D.
Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006, mark@pnhp.org

WASHINGTON - Physicians, nurses and other advocates of a single-payer health care system will demonstrate outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building Tuesday morning while the third and final Senate Finance Committee "public roundtable" on health care reform is being held inside.

The demonstrators will protest the continuing exclusion of single-payer advocates from the committee's deliberations and will assert that the list of expert witnesses who have so far been invited to testify is stacked in favor of the private health insurance industry, big pharmaceutical companies and other for-profit health industry interests.

The activists will also reject this week's pledge by the private insurance industry, big pharma, and other big health industry players to voluntarily control health costs as fanciful, noting that the corporate boards of these companies are committed to maximizing shareholder profit, a goal that has shown itself to be incompatible with cost control or compassionate and effective patient care.

Last week, at the second roundtable, eight people, including three physicians, were arrested for voicing support for a single-payer national health system. Members of the group said they resorted to respectful civil disobedience because the committee's chairman, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), has turned a deaf ear to thousands of phone calls and faxes from people across the country, including from his home state of Montana, asking that single payer be placed "on the table."

The arrest of the eight has led to an outpouring of support for them in the form of e-mail messages and phone calls, and has prompted additional physicians from across the nation to travel Washington to join Tuesday's demonstration.

Single-payer advocates say that replacing the fragmented, wasteful private health insurance system that the U.S. presently has with a single-payer system would result in administrative savings of more than $400 billion annually, enough to guarantee all necessary medical care for everyone in the country and to eliminate all co-pays or deductibles. Patients would no longer be restricted to private networks and would be able to go to the doctor and hospital of their choice.

"There seems to be some confusion in Congress about what type of choice Americans want when it comes to health care," says Dr. Margaret Flowers, one of the eight arrested May 5. "Most Americans want a choice of health care provider and hospital and a choice of treatment without interference from health insurance companies, which value profits over patients' needs."

Tuesday's action, which begins at 9:30 a.m., coincides with the 189th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the 19th-century nurse whose work was distinguished by a commitment to patient care. The protest has been called by activist caregivers and patients from the Leadership Conference on Guaranteed Health Care, including the California Nurses Association, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, and Physicians for a National Health Program.

Organizers of the protest say the current proposals by Baucus for health care reform amount to a bailout for the for-profit, private health insurance industry. Among the leading ideas is a requirement that every American buy health insurance, something that Sen. Baucus calls an "individual obligation," but which is really a mandate like the one recently implemented in Massachusetts.

Despite the fanfare over the Massachusetts reform, single-payer advocates say it has failed to ensure universal coverage or to control costs. The Massachusetts plan is facing an acute financial crisis, they say, and should not be used as a model for national reform.

Flowers notes that, not surprisingly, those who do have a seat at the congressional health reform table represent the same interests who profit off the current multi-payer system. These include Karen Ignagni of America's Health Insurance Plans, the CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield and big-business players such as the Business Roundtable.

Baucus himself has close ties to health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. During the 2008 election cycle, he received over $1 million in donations from these sectors. Between 1999 and 2005, Baucus was one of two top recipients of special-interest dollars. Over two dozen of his former staffers have worked or are working as lobbyists on K Street. In fact, Baucus has been given the title of "K Street's favorite Democrat" by some who follow congressional lobbying.

Polls show a solid majority of the public and of physicians now support some form of national health insurance, but these findings have been repeatedly dismissed by Baucus.

"One has to wonder how much Sen. Baucus' close ties to the private health industry interests are causing him to disregard or marginalize majority opinion on health care reform," said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program. "We need a disinterested, evidence-based approach to determining what's best for our patients and nation. We need to put all options on the table. I'm confident that with such an approach a single-payer national health program, an improved Medicare for All, will come out on top."

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Physicians for a National Health Program, a membership organization of over 16,000 physicians, supports a single-payer national health insurance program. To contact a physician-spokesperson in your state, visit www.pnhp.org/stateactions or call (312) 782-6006.