Physicians still pushing for health care for all

By NCBR staff
Northern Colorado Business Report, April 12, 2011
FORT COLLINS -- Even as a bill that would create health insurance exchanges for Colorado is set for a crucial vote on Wednesday morning, Margaret Flowers, M.D., is bringing the case for a single-payer health care system to the state.
"Physicians for a National Health Program supports work on systems at the state level, but we think it's important to keep pushing at the national level as well," she told about 50 health professionals and community members at Poudre Valley Hospital Tuesday afternoon. "The only model we had (during the debate over the federal Affordable Care Act in 2009) was Massachusetts; we need a better model than Massachusetts."
That model might be evolving in Vermont, where during the last gubernatorial race, candidates ran on who supported a single-payer system more, she said. But even there the effort is running into problems, since federal waivers are required to implement state programs.
Senate Bill 200, co-sponsored by Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Sen. Betty Boyd, D- Lakewood, would create an Internet portal where Colorado individuals and small businesses could shop for health coverage. It has received support from business groups including the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, NFIB, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and others, but an amendment proposed last week in a Senate committee that would only allow it to be enacted if the state rejected all provisions of federal health-care legislation.
SB 168, sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, M.D., which would create a Colorado Health Care Cooperative, is currently stalled in the Senate.
Flowers is a pediatrician who left her Baltimore practice in 2007 to work on health-care reform full-time. When efforts to include a single-payer option in the federal health care debate were unsuccessful, she and seven others confronted the Senate Finance Committee in May 2009 and was arrested. She testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in June 2009.
Flowers told the group at PVH that House Resolution 676, which has been introduced every year since 2003, has 37 co-sponsors this year, less than half of the 80 it attracted in 2009 while the reform debate raged. She said it would provide automatic, universal coverage for everyone living in the United States -- regardless of immigration status -- in an expanded, improved Medicare for all. Everyone is in a unified risk pool and pays based on ability. All medically necessary care is covered, everyone has a choice of physician, and by getting private insurance companies and employers out of the picture, saves about $400 billion in administrative costs each year.
"Any increase in a progressive income tax to fund the system would be offset by individuals no longer paying co-pays, premiums and the cost of care," Flowers said.
The reason she keeps working for a single-payer plan, she told the health professionals, is that even a year into reform, "health care is headed in the wrong direction in this country," she said. "We're essentially paying for universal coverage (through emergency room care) but we aren't getting the benefits. People look to us as health professionals for information and guidance, and we can help turn it around and put it on the right track the same way we treat patients -- one on one."
As congressional fellow for the 18,000-member PNHP, she travels throughout the United States, spending four or five days in each state, making the case for a national single-payer plan.
"People in Colorado are more fired up than I expected," she told the Business Report Daily. "They really want to do something."
Flowers has two more talks scheduled in Fort Collins today. At 5 p.m., she will speak at a reception at the Rocky Mountain Innosphere, 320 E. Vine Drive, and then again at 7:30 p.m. at Colorado State University in Yates Hall, Room 104. She has already appeared in Denver, Pueblo, Boulder, and has additional appearances scheduled for Denver and Frisco.
For more information, go to Health Care for All Colorado,