Alabama doctors' Rx: an improved Medicare for All

By Pippa Abston, MD, PhD and Huntsville-area physicians.
Huntsville Times
Sunday, October 11, 2009

We are your doctors, and we are frustrated. Frustrated over endless insurance paperwork and denials of coverage. Frustrated that our patients can’t choose their own doctors because of insurance restrictions; frustrated when our patients lose their insurance coverage and can’t afford medical care.

We have seen patients go bankrupt trying to pay for life-saving treatments, or forgo preventive services that might have helped them live longer, healthier lives. And we have been devastated to witness our patients suffering and even dying prematurely because of inability to afford care.

Private insurance companies have raised premiums in Alabama 95 percent since 2000. And instead of using our money to improve our health, it has kept those profits for itself.

Each week, 19 Alabamians die from being uninsured, and 600 more lose their insurance. Alabama health care providers lose over $1.3 billion a year in bad debt - and that gets passed on to you.

We believe health care is a human right, and that medicine is a profession.

When you come into our offices, we do not want to have to check your insurance coverage before we decide if we will be allowed to see you or whether you can afford the care we recommend.

We want to be able to make decisions with you based on our skills, experience, and the best medical evidence, and we want to know that whatever care we decide you need, you will be able to get it.

That’s why many Alabama physicians have joined the thousands of doctors who belong to Physicians for a National Health Program.

We believe the best moral, medical and financial solution is an improved and expanded Medicare for all. Such a program, detailed in bill HR 676 by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would allow private practice doctors to see patients with government-funded insurance.

Universal coverage would provide all Americans with comprehensive medical benefits - coverage for doctors’ visits, hospital stays, lab tests, X-rays, dental care and medications.

You would know, before going to the doctor, that you would be able to get what you need to stay healthy. You would not have to split your pills because you couldn’t afford the whole dose, or delay going to the doctor until your problem can’t be fixed.

This would be an easily affordable plan. By eliminating private insurance overhead, and replacing insurance premiums with a much smaller payroll tax, we could take care of every person in this country without adding anything to our national debt.

We would increase our productivity with healthier workers. We could solve our mortgage crisis - most bankruptcies are caused by health care debt.

And we would have to cover fewer people on disability by providing timely medical care.

We want you to know that care is being rationed every day in our offices, and this is unacceptable. For the insured, it is rationed by what insurance companies will cover. For the uninsured, it is rationed by being completely unaffordable. Instead of this rationing, we want all patients to have access to care.

We want our patients, both young and old, to be treated with respect. It upsets us that our elderly patients will not only die years earlier than they would in countries with universal care but also be less healthy in their remaining years.

We know that if we had universal coverage, we would be able to provide needed services to our older patients as well as keeping our children healthy.

Some people think our patients can get health care at the ER. But the ER will not give you preventive care for high blood pressure.

It will take care of you when you have life-threatening bleeding in your brain from untreated hypertension - and after you are sent home from the hospital, partly paralyzed and unable to speak, it will get whatever payment it can from you, including your home.

We have decided in the past to have certain rights as citizens, rights we all enjoy equally - for example, the right to vote, to a fair trial and to a free public education.

Health care is also, we believe, a human right. As such, it should be offered to all citizens, without discrimination.

We are your doctors, and we are frustrated, but we are also hopeful.

We believe that the U.S. can improve its health care system so that our patients live as long as patients in other developed countries. And we believe this can be done while saving money, improving quality, shortening wait times, and putting a stop to rationing of care.

Please help us take care of you, our patients.

Read about universal coverage at and get the truth.

Then contact your senators, representatives and the president to insist that they put your needs ahead of wealthy insurance companies. Tell them you want real health care reform.

[This article originally appeared under the headline “Doctors say health insurance system needs healing but find no easy cures.”]

Huntsville Area Doctors Favoring a Government Health Care System: Drs. Pippa C. Abston, Robert H. Creech, D. Wayne Laney Jr., Lola T. Brown, Celia Lloyd-Turney, J. Walden (Wally) Retan (Birmingham), Ronald M. Wyatt