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Pro-single-payer doctors available to comment on Obama speech

Physicians for a National Health Program urges president to take fresh look at single-payer Medicare for All

As President Obama prepares to address Congress tonight, calling for action on a final health care bill, members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a nonprofit research and educational organization of 17,000 doctors, are urging the White House and Congress to take a fresh look at single-payer national health insurance.

They note the health care crisis in the U.S. is getting worse, yet the health insurance reform bill being developed in Congress and by the president is looking like just another corporate bailout -- this time for the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. A new mandate requiring everyone to buy private would be a windfall for the insurance industry. Failure to comply would result in heavy financial penalties to middle-income individuals and families. Even so, over 20 million people would remain uninsured.

PNHP spokespeople will say that as long as we continue to rely on private for-profit insurers, universal coverage will be unaffordable.

Often called Medicare for All, a single-payer program would replace today's for-profit health insurance industry with a streamlined, publicly financed social insurance fund, thereby saving $400 billion annually in administrative costs, enough to cover the entire population, including the 46 millions Americans that are currently uninsured, and to eliminate all co-pays and deductibles. The delivery of care would remain largely private and patients would enjoy unrestricted choice of doctor and hospital.

Spokespeople from PNHP are now available to comment on President Obama's health care speech and their full biographies are appended. To place a request, please contact Mark Almberg, PNHP (312) 782-6006 or (312) 622-0996, e-mail mark@pnhp.org, or Riptide Communications (212) 260-5000.


Advance comment on President Obama's speech

In recent blog postings, Dr. Don McCanne, senior policy fellow for PNHP, noted the following:

In his Labor Day speech, President Obama, in using his "I continue to believe..." phrasing when mentioning the so-called public option, made it clear that he will tell Congress that the inclusion of such an option in health legislation is not an absolute necessity.

The hype following his speech will be that insurance market reforms will be his line in the sand, and that he will let the public option go if necessary (perhaps as a "trigger" -- with a weld on the trigger lock).

But the debate over the public option has been a very successful diversionary tactic on the part of the insurance industry. The real debate should have been over whether to replace the private insurance plans with a single public plan. The insurance industry won outright since we never had that debate.

Now everyone will have to buy a private plan with inadequate benefits (65-70 percent actuarial value) and unaffordable premiums, with inadequate subsidies, and with continuing unaffordable cost escalation. The penalties for non-compliance for families with income greater than 300 percent of poverty could reach as high as $3,800 annually. This will negatively impact middle-income individuals and families the most.

President Obama has said that controlling the growth in health care costs is essential if we expect to provide everyone with affordable access to health care.

Unfortunately, the model of reform that the administration and Congress has selected - building on our existing multi-payer public and private systems - is the most expensive model ever devised, and will result in a continuation of excessive cost increases.

An improved Medicare for All would be the most effective model for slowing the increase in health care costs. And because it's both automatic in enrollment and equitable in its financing, it would ensure that everyone would have affordable access to health care. The model described tonight, though more expensive, will fall short of these goals.


Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H. Miami, FL
Dr. Olveen Carrasquillo is a nationally recognized expert on health disparities. He is an associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. His research interests include minority health, health insurance, managed care and access to care, particularly among Latinos. Prior to his position in Miami, he was on the faculty of Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons for 12 years and directed their NIH designated Center of Excellence in Health Disparities Research. Dr. Carrasquillo serves on the Advisory Committee of the HHS Office of Minority Health. He is available for interviews in English and Spanish.

Claudia Fegan, M.D. Chicago, IL
Dr. Claudia Fegan is associate chief medical officer for Chicago's South Side and southern suburbs at the Woodlawn Health Center in Chicago. She specializes in internal medicine. Dr. Fegan is a past president of Physicians for a National Health Program and has lectured extensively to both medical and lay audiences on health care reform across the United States. She is co-author of the book "Universal Health Care: What the United States Can Learn from Canada" and a contributor to another book "10 Excellent Reasons for National Health Care." The daughter of a labor union organizer and a social worker, Dr. Fegan received her undergraduate degree from Fisk University and her M.D. from the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

Oliver Fein, M.D. New York, NY
Dr. Oliver Fein is president of PNHP. A general internist who is active in clinical practice, he is also professor of clinical medicine and clinical public health at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, where he serves as associate dean responsible for the Office of Affiliations and the Office of Global Health Education. Dr. Fein has advocated for an expanded role for primary care, for academic health centers in urban health care delivery systems, and for national health system reform. He was Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow during 1993-1994, when he worked in the office of Senate Democratic Majority Leader George Mitchell. He spent 17 years at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center developing community-based ambulatory care practices and the Division of General Medicine. He is chair of the NY Chapter of PNHP and immediate past vice president of the American Public Health Association.

Margaret Flowers, M.D. Baltimore, MD
Dr. Margaret Flowers is a Maryland pediatrician with experience as a hospitalist at a rural hospital and in private practice. She is currently working as PNHP's Congressional Fellow on single-payer health care reform full time. In addition to her activity with PNHP, she is a member of Health care-Now! of Maryland and a co-founder of the Conversation Coalition for Health Care Reform. Dr. Flowers obtained her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and did her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Dr. Flowers testified before Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on June 11, 2009. A little more than a month prior to that, she was among those who stood up and spoke in support of putting single payer "on the table" at the May 5 meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, leading to her arrest along with seven others.

David Himmelstein, M.D. Cambridge, MA
Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of PNHP, practices and teaches primary care internal medicine at the Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., and is an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He co-authored PNHP's original proposal on single-payer health insurance, its long-term care proposal, and its proposal for financing a national health program. He co-founded the Center for a National Health Program Studies at Harvard. His research focuses on problems in access to care, administrative waste, and the advantages of a national health program. He co-authored a study published in the American Journal of Medicine showing that medical bills and illness are now linked to 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the U.S. On April 23, he testified before the House Subcommittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H. Cambridge, MA
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a co-founder of PHNP and current board member, is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the school's General Internal Medicine Fellowship program. She is also a primary care physician at Cambridge Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. She worked in 1990-91 as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health policy fellow at the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Congress. Dr. Woolhandler is a frequent speaker and has written extensively on health policy. She is a principal author of many PNHP articles published in the JAMA, the New England Journal of Medicine and other professional journals. On June 24 she testified before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and on June 28 to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law about medical causes of bankruptcy.

Quentin Young, M.D., M.A.C.P. Chicago, IL
Dr. Quentin Young, an internist who recently retired from a decades-long practice in the Hyde Park community on Chicago's South Side, is national coordinator of PNHP. He is clinical professor of preventive medicine and community health at the University of Illinois Medical Center. Dr. Young graduated from Northwestern Medical School and did his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. During the 1970s and early 1980s, he served as chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Cook County, where he established the Department of Occupational Medicine. He has been a member of the American Medical Association since 1952. In addition distinguished career as a physician, Dr. Young has been a leader in public health policy and medical and social justice issues. He was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal physician during Dr. King's stays in Chicago. In 1998, he had the distinction of serving as president of the American Public Health Association and in 1997 was inducted as a Master in the American College of Physicians.

Physicians for a National Health Program is a 17,000 member nonprofit national organization of doctors who advocate for single-payer health insurance.