Doctor panel advocates Medicare-for-all legislation

By Patricia C. McCarter
Huntsville Times
October 21, 2009

HUNTSVILLE, AL -- Asked how many people knew someone who had died because they couldn't afford medical care, five of the 70 people at the Health Care is a Human Right physicians panel discussion stood up.

Asked how many knew someone who "suffered unnecessarily" for the same reason, almost everyone at the Tuesday night meeting at St. Bartley Primitive Baptist Church rose.

Huntsville pediatrician Pippa Abston, a leading voice for the all-volunteer North Alabama Healthcare for All, called those numbers "abominable."

"These are real people," said Abston, adding that 19 Alabamians die every week because they can't afford care.

North Alabama Healthcare for All has sponsored other forums since national medical insurance became such a hot topic this summer, but this one was designed to focus on how people of color are impacted.

Dr. Celia Lloyd-Turney is medical director of the nonprofit Choice Medicine clinic in Toney and local chapter president of the National Medical Association, which is composed of African-American doctors. She said that poverty has caused blacks to get lesser medical treatment than other patients, and that her race tends to suffer more from diabetes, high pressure and kidney failure.

But even if all Americans had the same insurance, she said some doctors wouldn't give blacks the same level of care because of prejudice.

Abston said Medicare-for-all couldn't erase prejudice, but it would at least enable all people to get a doctor's appointment. The pediatrician also agreed with a woman who commented that it would be hypocritical and morally wrong to leave out 13 million illegal immigrants.

The third doctor on the panel was Birmingham's Wally Retan, state coordinator of Health Care for Everyone. He said most people who don't approve of such an "incredibly simple" single-payer program distrust government, already like what they have, fear enormous tax increases or feel "better the devil you know than the devil you don't."

Regardless, he said he believed that reform could happen, and he even began a brief chant of "Yes, we can," President Barack Obama's campaign slogan.

The group endorses HR676, proposed by Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.