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Obama should seize moment to push for Medicare for All, doctors group says

Dr. Quentin Young comments on Massachusetts election, next steps for health reform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE     
Jan. 22, 2010   

Contact:
Mark Almberg, (312) 782-6006, cell: (312) 622-0996, mark@pnhp.org
Quentin Young, M.D., (312) 782-6006

A spokesman for a national physicians' group says it would be a mistake for President Obama to conclude from Tuesday's vote in Massachusetts that he needs to "tack more toward the right," as some pundits have advised, or to aim for a scaled-back set of piecemeal reforms. Instead, the spokesman says, the president and Congress should immediately move to expand the popular Medicare program to cover everyone.

"President Obama and Congress should seize this moment to change course and re-inspire the U.S. public with a plan that is simple, clear, workable, fiscally responsible, comprehensive and truly universal  -- namely, single-payer Medicare for All," said Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Young dismissed suggestions by some that the House should adopt the Senate bill as it presently reads, send it to the president's desk, and have Congress improve upon it later. "The Senate bill is rotten," he said. "It's a huge financial handout to the for-profit insurers and big drug companies. If passed, it will still leave at least 20 million uninsured and millions more unable to afford the care they need.

"Yesterday's Supreme Court decision removing bans on corporate contributions in candidate elections will only make this fatally flawed bill even more difficult to improve upon," he said. "It's too laden with concession after concession to the private health industry to serve as a starting point."

"Instead, we need to start anew and build on a system that we know works well, is cost-efficient and that could quickly be extended to cover everybody," Young said. "That's the Medicare program, which was implemented within one year of its enactment in 1965 and now covers about 45 million people, mainly seniors and the totally disabled."

"Extending Medicare to cover the entire population would result in $400 billion savings annually by eliminating the administrative waste -- the unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy -- inflicted on the U.S. economy by the private health insurers," he said. "That would be enough to ensure high-quality coverage for everybody."

Young said it would be a mistake to interpret the election of Republican Scott Brown to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat as a rejection by voters of fundamental health reform. Many independents and Democrats voted for Brown or stayed home because of mounting economic insecurity and their belief that the health reform process led by the Democrats had been corrupted by the big insurance and drug companies, he said. Union voters were especially angry with the proposed excise tax on workers' health plans.

"It was more of a protest vote," he said.

Young pointed to a 2008 ballot initiative in 10 legislative districts in Massachusetts, including one that overlaps with Brown's state senatorial district, that asked voters if they support "legislation creating a cost-effective, single-payer health insurance system that is available to all residents, and oppose laws penalizing those who fail to obtain health insurance," i.e. an individual mandate.

"Seventy-three percent of Massachusetts voters in these districts voted for a single-payer program and against the individual mandate, a hallmark of their own state's plan," Young said. "The Massachusetts plan is now in financial trouble. It's fair to assume that those who voted this way in 2008, like many others in exit polls this week, believe the bills in Congress don't go far enough toward real reform."

"Nationwide," he said, "polls show about two-thirds of the U.S. population would favor a Medicare-for-All approach, and a solid majority of physicians now support efforts to establish national health insurance."

Young also pointed to the robust movement in several states, including California and Vermont, where physicians, among others, are pressing for single payer at the state level.

Nearly 1,000 health professional students and their allies rallied on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 11, in support of S.B. 810, a single-payer bill that was reintroduced Thursday in the Legislature, he said. Similar bills were approved twice by California lawmakers in recent years, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In Vermont, some 300 citizens bearing thousands of petition signatures flooded the chambers of the State Capitol in Montpelier on Jan. 12, calling for enactment of a similar proposal there. Many participants said the national bills were completely inadequate to address the state's urgent health care needs, Young said.

A bold policy shift to single payer on the national level is more plausible than many people think, given the public's support for such an approach, he said, and given the Medicare program's "44-year track record of proven success."

Whatever deficiencies the Medicare program presently has could be easily remedied in a streamlined, better-funded single-payer system, he said. "In fact, single-payer Medicare for All would yield enormous efficiencies and savings through measures like bulk buying and negotiated fees, benefiting everyone and making the program sustainable for future generations. It would also be a much-needed boon to our economy."

"The president and Congress, if they truly stand up against the insurance and drug companies and press for single-payer Medicare for All, will find a public and a medical community ready and willing to support them," he said.

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Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org) is an organization of 17,000 doctors who advocate for single-payer national health insurance. To contact a physician-spokesperson near you, visit www.pnhp.org/stateactions  or call (312) 782-6006.