Posted on September 23, 2009

Doctors walk for health care


Group supports single-payer plan

By Sean Rose
Courier Journal
September 22, 2009

A group of Oregon doctors stopped by Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind., on Tuesday to voice their anger over what they see as a broken health care system.

The group, who call themselves the Mad As Hell Doctors and support a single payer health care plan similar to Medicare, staged a rally in Jeffersonville followed by a candle-lit march across the Clark Memorial Bridge to Louisville to memorialize those who die each year because of a lack of access to health care.

Churchill Downs’ bugler, Steve Buttleman, played taps during a moment of silence during the rally.

The doctors left Portland, Ore., earlier this month on a 27-city tour that will end Sept. 30 in Washington, D.C., where they plan to meet with lawmakers and share stories they’ve gathered along the way.

Dr. Eugene Uphoff, of Portland, said he has been a family physician for 41 years and in that time has “seen practically every way people have been raked across the coals by health plans.”

About 100 local citizens joined in the rally, sharing stories of falling into bankruptcy after being dropped by their insurer or having to travel overseas because treatment was cheaper.

Uphoff said the stories people shared illustrate the reasons to support a single payer plan, the first being a moral responsibility.

“We’re a Christian nation, still, I hope, and this is the right thing to do,” Uphoff said. “We should be taking care of neighbors.”

Another benefit a single payer plan has is it’s the only plan being considered in Congress that shifts the health care system from a profit-driven structure, which could save on cost in the future, Uphoff said.

A single payer plan also would allow citizens to have more control over their health care, Uphoff argued, because if everyone “had skin in the game” politicians would be forced to address problems.

“I have no control over the board of directors for Blue Cross,” he said. “I can’t do anything to those folks. But I know where my senators and congressmen are and I know how to get a hold of them.”

The rally and march came as the health care debate continues to simmer in Congress and less than a month after U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District, faced a boisterous crowd at a town hall meeting on health care reform at Central High School in Louisville.

Many at the rowdy town hall said they were opposed to health care overhaul because they didn’t want the government involved in health care and the cost to taxpayers would be too great.

Since that time, President Barack Obama has been more receptive to a plan that compromises and includes a place for private insurance companies.

The odds are stacked against a single payer plan coming from this Congressional session, something everyone at the march seemed to acknowledge.

“I believe that the plans are getting watered down too much to do any good even if they do pass,” said Ricky George of south Louisville.

“But hopefully this generates attention,” his wife, Nicole, said of the rally.

Charlie Francis, of the Irish Hill neighborhood in Louisville, joined the rally as a supporter of a single payer system and said he wanted to hear the views of people in the medical profession.

“These people are doctors,” he said. “We have senators telling us what we need; doctors are the ones in the business.”

Still, Francis said he didn’t have much hope for actually seeing a single payer plan emerge.

But Uphoff said eventually the cost of health care and problems with the current system would grow too great to handle.

“I don’t know if it’ll be this week or next month or even this year, but what I do know is that until we get a single payer plan, the costs will continue to rise, people will continue to die,” he said. “It will happen, I guarantee it will happen. It’s just a matter of how many people we want to make suffer and die before we enact it.”

Two local groups, Southeast Hoosiers for a Common Sense Health Plan and Kentuckians for Single Payer Health care, sponsored the event.

Groups who have organized rallies in the Louisville area against the health care plan being considered by Congress, Americans for Prosperity and Our Country Deserves Better PAC, could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday night.

Reporter Sean Rose can be reached at (502) 582-4199.