Doctor urges single-payer health plan

Advocate invokes King during talk

By Nancy C. Rodriguez
Louisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 15, 2011

President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law was significant, “but it is not enough and it will not solve our problem,” a national advocate for single-payer health insurance told an audience Saturday at the Urban League of Louisville.

The legislation still leaves 23 million Americans uninsured and without access to quality health care, said Dr. Claudia Fegan, past president of Physicians for a National Health Program.

“This is about justice,” she said. “Heath care should be a right to which everyone is entitled.”

Fegan was the guest speaker at an event that was sponsored by Physicians for a National Health Program-Kentucky and Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care and tied to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. It was called “Remembering Dr. King’s Cry for Justice in Health Care” and was attended by about 60 people, including Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Urban League executive director Ben Richmond and U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-3rd District.

“I want everyone in our community, and particularly in the South and minorities, to know we can do a better job of providing health care to all our citizens,” said Dr. Garrett Adams, president and Kentucky coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program.

During her talk, Fegan — who practices primary care internal medicine at the Woodlawn Health Center of Cook County in Chicago — said African Americans are more likely to be uninsured and suffer from higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and HIV.

“This is our issue. … This is our reality,” said Fegan, who called the fight for better health care the civil-rights struggle of the 21st century.

A single-payer health care system would involve the government or a government-run organization collecting all health care fees and paying out all health care costs.

Fegan said she knows some are reluctant to criticize Obama’s health care law because they support the president. “I think Dr. King would say it’s important to tell the truth. Remember, he said, ‘The time is always right to do the right thing,’” she said.

She said a single-payer plan would lead to better access to quality health care for all Americans. “There are no easy solutions. We have to be willing to fight and continue to fight,” said Fegan, who ended her talk by leading a chant of, “Everybody in, and nobody out.”

Fegan’s comments came just days before the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote to repeal the health care law. The repeal vote would fulfill a campaign promise of Republicans who won control of the House in the November elections. The measure is expected to stall in the Senate, where Democrats remain in control.

Obama has said he would veto a repeal if Congress passes it.

Democrats argue that the health care law, which was signed last year, will expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and help rein in soaring medical costs. Republicans argue that the coverage mandated in the legislation is unconstitutional and that penalties for employers who don’t provide coverage discourage hiring.

Yarmuth said the health care law was “an important first step,” but he acknowledged that “it was not what I wanted to see. I’m a single-payer guy.”

He said health care is a moral issue. “It’s not a question of politics; it’s not a question of economics,” he said. “It’s a question of morality.”