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Prominent physician tells Portsmouth Rotary Club single-payer system would extend care to all

By Jason Claffey
Foster's Daily Democrat
Friday, June 11, 2010

PORTSMOUTH — The health care reform bill passed earlier this year — the largest expansion of coverage since Medicare was enacted in 1965 — did not go far enough, a prominent physician told the Portsmouth Rotary Club Thursday.

Dr. Oliver Fein, president of the Physicians for a National Health Program, argued a single-payer system would extend care to all Americans, slash billions of dollars in administrative waste, broaden patients' choices of doctors, and increase the quality of care.

"It's a much better deal," said Fein, a general internist and professor at Cornell University's Weill Medical College in New York.

He said a single-payer system, or "Medicare for all." would save $400 billion, enough to cover 50 million uninsured Americans. The health care reform bill is projected to extend coverage to 32 million Americans by 2019.

Fein attended President Obama's health care summit before the bill was passed. His and others' advocacy of a single-payer system was watered down to a public option that would compete with private insurers, but Congress ultimately left it out of the final version of the bill.

Physicians for a National Health Program is comprised of 17,000 physicians still fighting for the single-payer system, which offers universal coverage through one insurance pool operated by the government.

Fein and representatives of the group were scheduled to canvas the state Thursday and Friday, making additional stops in Lebanon, Hanover, Concord.

One member of Physicians for a National Health Program is Portsmouth-based Dr. Tom Clairmont, who organized Fein's appearance Thursday afternoon at the Redhook Ale Brewery.

Clairmont claimed premiums at his practice recently skyrocketed 22 percent.

Fein said that can be attributed to out-of-control administrative costs, which represent more than 30 percent of total health care costs.

"We have to deal with this huge waste in the health care system," he said.

Private insurers limit a patient's choice of doctors to those within their network; Fein said a single-payer system would allow patients to choose any doctor.

One drawback of transitioning to the single-payer model is there could be a dearth of primary-care physicians, Fein said, but that would be remedied by an "enormous incentive" to train more.

He argued the quality of care in America is lower compared to other countries with the single-payer model like Canada and the United Kingdom because private companies restrict access to their data for competitive reasons.

"We need a national system that allows data to be collected so quality can be measured," he said.

He said the U.S. needs to move away from a premium-based system because, if nothing else, "The president of a company pays the same premium as the secretary."

http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100611/GJNEWS_01/706119903