50 doctors for single payer urge Supreme Court to strike down individual mandate
By Single Payer Action
CommonDreams newswire, Feb. 14, 2012
PNHP note: An amicus curiae brief challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act – and noting that, by contrast, a single-payer, Medicare-for-All or VA-for-All-type system would be constitutional – was filed Tuesday by 50 physicians who support single payer. While Physicians for a National Health Program has taken no position on the constitutionality of any of the ACA’s provisions, we think readers will find the brief described below makes some interesting points.
WASHINGTON -- Fifty medical doctors who favor a single-payer health insurance system today urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the individual mandate.
In a brief (pdf) filed with the Court, the 50 doctors and two nonprofit groups – Single Payer Action and It’s Our Economy – said that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate is unconstitutional.
The individual mandate is the provision of the ACA that requires Americans to purchase health insurance from private insurance companies if they do not otherwise have coverage.
The doctors are challenging the government’s claim that the individual mandate is necessary to reach Congress’ goal of universal coverage.
“The court should decide the constitutionality of the individual mandate based on the best available evidence,” said attorney Oliver Hall. “That’s why it is so important that these medical doctors provide the court with the information in their brief, which demonstrates that Congress can address the United States’ health care crisis by adopting a single-payer system.”
“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single-payer national health insurance system.”
“Congress could have taken seriously evidence presented by these single payer medical doctors that a single-payer system is the only way to both control costs and cover everyone,” Mokhiber said. “Instead, Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee which drafted the law that became the ACA, had two of those doctors – Dr. Margaret Flowers and Dr. Carol Paris – arrested and thrown in jail. Those doctors are now two of the 50 who have signed onto this brief challenging the constitutionality of the ACA.”
“If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no brainer to adopt a single-payer health system much like our own Medicare,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers. “We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care. All the data point to a single-payer system as the only way to accomplish this and control health care costs.”
"People will have the greatest control of their own health care if the insurance industry is removed from between doctors and patients,” said Kevin Zeese of It’s Our Economy. “And, people will no longer be threatened with increased premiums, decreased coverage and financial ruin caused by a health crisis."
Read the full brief here.
Universal: Medicare for all
By the Editorial Board
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, Feb. 21, 2012
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Various Republicans are pressing the U.S. Supreme Court to rule the 2010 Affordable Care Act unconstitutional because it requires millions of "working poor" Americans to buy health insurance from commercial carriers.
Surprisingly, a crusading liberal Charleston reformer and activist has joined a Supreme Court brief demanding exactly the same thing.
Retired anesthesiologist Hedda Haning -- a leader of several social action committees and recent organizer of an Occupy the Court protest -- says it's wrong to let commercial carriers earn fat profits from America's medical system.
Instead, she says, the nation should have a government-run "single-payer" universal plan providing treatment for every citizen, as other advanced democracies do. Simply expanding Medicare to cover all ages would achieve it. That would extend coverage to 50 million left-out Americans, and save billions now wasted on the bureaucracy of competing private insurers.
We agree -- but we fear that Republicans in Congress would kill such a universal proposal, if they succeed in defeating the ACA.
Dr. Haning joined Russell Mokhiber of Berkeley Springs and others in filing a friend-of-the-court brief saying:
"The only solution to the healthcare crisis in the United States, which will both control costs and achieve comprehensive coverage for the entire population, is to adopt a national publicly-financed single-payer health insurance system."
Such a system would lift a terrible burden off U.S. businesses and employers now paying extreme costs to insure employees.
"We pay twice as much for our health care in this country as many other industrialized countries do," Haning told reporter Paul Nyden, "but we are far down the list in terms of results. Something you hear all the time is that we have the best health-care system in the world. We do not.
"Forcing uninsured Americans to buy health insurance is a very bad way to go to try to take care of everybody. The purpose of health insurance corporations is to make money. And they make money by not taking care of sick people. ... We are dealing with the corporate takeover of medicine."
Other democracies spend only half as much on medical care, yet they have better health and life expectancy. It's shameful that America, the world's richest society, can't accomplish what other nations do.
2 W.Va. liberals fight against Obama health care law
They want insurance firms out of equation completely
By Paul J. Nyden
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, Feb. 18, 2012
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two West Virginia residents are among the people and groups who filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court last week, arguing that uninsured Americans should not be forced to buy health insurance from private insurance companies.
That requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law on March 23, 2010, is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
A coalition of medical doctors and nonprofit groups filed the friend-of-the-court brief Monday. They argue that the requirement to buy private insurance "exceeds the limits of Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce."
Hedda Haning, a retired Charleston physician and member of Physicians for a National Healthcare Plan, and Russell Mokhiber, a Berkeley Springs resident who edits the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter newsletter, were among those signing the brief.
Unlike many of those who have challenged the Affordable Care Act in federal court, Haning and Mokhiber argue that a single-payer system -- like the United Kingdom's National Health Service -- is the answer to the country's health-care woes. Mokhiber helped organize the group Single Payer Action.
"The only solution to the healthcare crisis in the United States, which will both control costs and achieve comprehensive coverage for the entire population," the brief states, "is to adopt a national publicly-financed single payer health insurance system."
Under that system, one public agency would handle all billing and administrative tasks, the brief points out.
Mokhiber said, "Under Obama's law, individuals are required to purchase health insurance from a private health insurance company. This is the first time the federal government has ever required people to buy a health-insurance product from a private corporation."
"That is very, very unpopular," Mokhiber said. "Most Republicans and conservatives want to knock out that mandate, while Democrats and liberals have supported it.
"We are the only liberal, left-of-center group that says this requirement should be knocked out. And we believe there is a growing public sentiment supporting that. This law [ACA] keeps the insurance industry in the game."
"I have been a strong supporter of single-payer health care for a long time. It is the only way we will be able to take care of all of our citizens and be able to afford it," Haning said.
"We pay twice as much for our health care in this country as many other industrialized countries do, but ... we are far down the list in terms of results. Something you hear all the time is that we have the best health-care system in the world. We do not.
"Forcing uninsured Americans to buy health insurance is a very bad way to go to try to take care of everybody. The purpose of health insurance corporations is to make money. And they make money by not taking care of sick people," Haning said.
The brief states: "Nearly 50 million Americans risk denial of essential healthcare services because they lack insurance from private insurance companies."
Many of those 50 million are working people paid low wages.
Haning said, "We are dealing with the corporate takeover of medicine.
"We have alternatives. Medicare has been wonderful. People who use Medicare, who are taken care of by Medicare, love it."
The brief also points out, "Congress has already implemented successful single payer systems that provide universal coverage to certain subsets of the population, including Medicare for citizens aged 65 and older and the Veterans Health Administration for those who have served in the military."
Adopting a single-payer system would not increase the costs of health care, the brief says.
The ACA, the brief argues, "does little to reduce the cost of healthcare administration, which accounts for 31 percent of all health spending in the United States. ...
"Instead, it entrenches, by force of federal law, the private insurance companies that comprise the greatest source of administrative waste in the current system."
The administrative costs for Medicare, the brief points out, "have remained steadily low - about 2 percent of program expenditures. ...
"By contrast, private insurance companies estimate that their administrative costs, including 'commission, premium tax and profit,' range as high as 16.7 percent of overall spending."
Canada's single-payer health system uses an even lower percentage to administer its expenditures.
Today, salaries paid to some insurance executives range between $10 million and $20 million annually, the brief adds.
Haning said, "I practiced medicine for over 40 years and still have not gotten used to what the costs are. Some young women pay $50 a month, or more, for birth control pills.
"Many medications have been around for a long time. They are not expensive medications. There is no excuse for how much people have to pay."
Utah doctors join push for single-payer health care system
By Kirsten Stewart
The Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 14, 2012
Fifty medical doctors who want a single-payer health care system rather than the proposed federal reform have signed a legal document opposing the law.
Among them are two from Utah: Joe Jarvis and Clark Newhall.
In a "friend of the court" brief filed Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court, the doctors and two non-profit groups — Single Payer Action and It’s Our Economy — urge justices to overturn the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that everyone have insurance.
The high court is weighing a challenge to the constitutionality of the insurance requirement via a lawsuit filed by 26 states, including Utah.
The Obama administration argues the requirement is necessary to protect insurance companies from the risk of people waiting until they’re sick to get covered.
But in their legal brief, doctors contend the requirement isn’t necessary to reach Congress’ goal of universal coverage.
"Most people oppose the [law] without having an alternative in mind. That’s disingenuous," said Jarvis of Salt Lake City.
A licensed doctor who no longer earns a living practicing medicine, Jarvis has long advocated for a better, cheaper and fairer way to deliver health care.
His decades-long push for a statewide health cooperative — a publicly-funded, nonprofit health insurance trust to cover every Utahn for all medically necessary care — has been a non-starter in conservative Utah. Chances of it gaining traction grew slimmer with passage of President Barack Obama’s health overhaul.
Jarvis isn’t a betting man. But he says the high court’s decision to consider multiple problems raised in opposition to the law, "shows they’re taking this seriously."
Without the insurance mandate, the law can’t stand on its own, which could open the door to single payer, he says.
Single-payer means different things to different people. Newhall, a doctor and malpractice attorney, wants Medicare for all.
Under the model promoted by Jarvis, a Republican, people would still pay for coverage, but it would be subsidized and kept affordable by eliminating insurance middle men and simplifying payments.
It calls for the creation of a commission to squelch unnecessary tests and procedures ordered by doctors required to meet productivity targets or to fend off malpractice lawsuits. The commission, composed of medical experts, would determine which services are covered for given conditions based on research. It would also hear malpractice claims and insurance appeals.
Obama’s fix does nothing to curb health spending, Jarvis said. "It’s a propping up of the private insurance business model. What they’re trying to do is force us to buy, in most cases, poor quality health benefits."
Doctors challenge health reform
Corvallis physicians sign brief attacking individual mandate
By Bennett Hall
Corvallis Gazette-Times (Ore.), Feb. 15, 2012
Fifty doctors who support single-payer health care — including two from Corvallis — petitioned the Supreme Court on Tuesday to strike down a key provision of federal health reform legislation.
The physicians joined with two nonprofit organizations, Single Payer Action and It’s Our Economy, to file a friend of the court brief arguing that the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because it would require uninsured Americans to purchase private medical coverage.
The brief contends that provision, known as the individual mandate, exceeds the scope of the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments next month on various challenges to the act, including a lower court ruling that found the insurance mandate unconstitutional. A number of individuals and organizations on both sides of the issue have filed amicus briefs in the case.
“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action said in a prepared statement. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single payer national health insurance system.”
A single payer system funded by taxes — sometimes referred to as Medicare for all — would provide medical coverage to all Americans while eliminating the need for private insurance.
Corvallis physicians Paul Hochfeld and Mike Huntington, co-founders of the single-payer advocacy group Mad As Hell Doctors, say they support some provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as its emphasis on primary care and its prohibition against denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
But they also say commercial insurance plans build added costs into the system and reduce access to care by making it unaffordable for some people, and that’s why they added their names to the brief.
“The mandate is not necessary, and in fact it detracts from what it was intended to do, which is to get affordable health care to more Americans,” said Huntington, a retired radiation oncologist.
“Unfortunately, using the individual mandate isn’t going to result in universal coverage because 27 million people will still be left out and countless others will face bankruptcy when faced with medical conditions which require expensive interventions,” added Hochfeld, an emergency room physician.
“The only way to cover everybody is to do just that, cover everybody and pay for it with tax dollars. Pretending that we have fixed the problem is not the same as fixing it.”
A pair of Portland physicians, Samuel Metz and Kris Alman, also signed the brief. Other signers included Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program and Kevin Zeese of It’s Our Economy, both of whom will be in Corvallis on Friday to speak on the status of health care reform efforts nationally.