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We Must Make It Toxic for Politicians to Not Get on Board with Single Payer

Interview With Dr. Carol Paris

By Amy Goodman
Democracy Now!, July 19, 2017

PNHP Note: To view video of this interview, click here.

As the Republican healthcare bill collapses, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’ll now try to push through legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and wait until after the 2018 midterm elections to propose a replacement. Meanwhile, proponents of a single-payer healthcare plan are organizing to urge Congress not only to stop the effort to repeal Obamacare, but to pass a bill that would guarantee Medicare for all. We speak with Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program. She was arrested Monday during a protest against the Republican healthcare bill.

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Senate Republicans are trying to regroup after their latest efforts to overhaul or repeal the Obamacare failed, dealing a sharp setback to Donald Trump and the GOP’s seven-year quest to kill President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. The defeat shook financial markets Tuesday. The dollar fell to a 10-month low over doubts that Trump could push other domestic policy priorities, such as tax reform, through a divided Congress. Expressing disappointment, Trump suggested he might let insurance markets created under Obamacare go under, and then try to work with Democrats on a rescue.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us, and they’re going to say, "How do we fix it? How do we fix it? Or, how do we come up with a new plan?"

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act collapsed Monday night after Republican Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah announced they would not support the latest version of the bill, ensuring Republicans would not have enough votes to pass it. Their announcement came at the same time President Trump, who has heavily backed the Senate bill, was meeting with seven Republican senators who did support the measure.

The legislation would have cut $700 billion from Medicaid. It faced opposition from all Senate Democrats, a slew of governors from both parties, the majority of the healthcare industry, the American Medical Association, hospitals, doctors, nurses, patient advocacy groups and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Speaking on Tuesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi applauded voters for standing up in town hall meetings and demanding their representatives reject the Republican bill.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: The president, in a statement, said today his healthcare proposals were defeated because he didn’t have the cooperation of any of the Democrats and some of the Republicans. No, he has never really been about increasing access, lowering costs, improving benefits. That’s what the Affordable Care Act is about. So, the reason the Republicans in the leadership—in the Senate found themselves in the situation there is is because people have spoken out.

AMY GOODMAN: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’ll try to push through legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act next week, and wait until after the 2018 midterm elections to propose a replacement.

Meanwhile, proponents of a single-payer healthcare plan are organizing to urge Congress not only to stop the effort to repeal Obamacare, but to pass a bill that would guarantee Medicare for all. On Tuesday, former Vice President Al Gore became the latest prominent Democrat to speak in favor of single payer.

AL GORE: The private sector has not shown any ability to provide a good, accessible, affordable healthcare for all. I believe, for example, we ought to have a single-payer healthcare plan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program. She was arrested Monday at the Hart Senate Office during a protest against the Republican healthcare bill. In March, she spoke out during a Donald Trump rally where she lives in Nashville.

Dr. Paris, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about your latest arrest, what you were calling for? Now, you got arrested Monday right before the Republican healthcare bill collapsed. But talk about what you were calling for then and still calling for today.

DR. CAROL PARIS: I’d be happy to. The reason that I decided to get arrested was to really make it clear that, as physicians, we not only oppose any bill that is going to be hurtful to Americans—and this bill clearly is hurtful, leaving 22 million people off of insurance—but we also champion and advance Medicare for all. That is really the plan that’s going to accomplish what both President Obama and President Trump have said that they support, which is better benefits, lower costs and more coverage. It’s just that the ACA hasn’t been able to accomplish that, and neither is what the Republicans are doing. Clearly, that’s not going to accomplish it. So, what, you know—but the only thing that’s going to work is moving forward now to Medicare for all. And so that was the messaging on Monday: Kill the bill, Medicare for all.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bernie Sanders said on MSNBC’s All In show last night that while the [Affordable] Care Act is not perfect, it shouldn’t be—it should be improved, not destroyed. He laid out his suggestions for how.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: What we need to do is, among other things, in my view, lower the cost of prescription drugs, save consumers, save the government substantial sums of money. What we need to do is provide for a public option in every state in this country. What we need to do is lower the cost, lower Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55, and then begin the process of doing what every other major country on Earth is doing, and that is guaranteeing healthcare to all people as a right, through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dr. Carol Paris, if you can parse that out? First of all, is that what you are calling for? And explain what this would mean, what it means to save Obamacare and then move forward with single payer or Medicare for all.

DR. CAROL PARIS: What it means to save Obamacare, or to save the ACA, is to continue the cost-sharing subsidies, to continue to support Medicaid expansion. But I absolutely don’t agree with Senator Sanders that the way forward is to have a public option and lower the Medicare age from 65 to 55. That is more incremental steps, and it absolutely fails to accomplish what a national single-payer, Medicare-for-all plan does, which is put everyone in the same risk pool. That’s how we garner the half-a-trillion dollars, $500 billion, of savings in administrative waste and profit of the for-profit insurance industry. If we create a public option, we’re just creating another opportunity for the insurance companies, the health insurance companies, to put all the sickest people in the public option and keep all the healthiest young people in their plans. So, no, I don’t agree that doing this incrementally is a good idea. We really need to go forward now to a national, improved Medicare for all. And really, the bill in Congress, HR 676, Congressman Conyers’s bill, is the way we need to go.

AMY GOODMAN: So what exactly would it look like? I mean, you have, on the one hand, President Trump saying, "Let Obamacare fail." First, tell us what that would mean, and what it would mean if the government lets Obamacare fail, and then what it would mean to institute Medicare for all, how you go about doing this.

DR. CAROL PARIS: Letting Obamacare fail, I think, is what the president has implied that he could do pretty easily. The next cost-sharing subsidy payment is due out Thursday. And if he doesn’t continue to fund that, the insurance companies are going to go into even more chaos and uncertainty. And what that’s going to translate into is increases in premiums, not just for people on the subsidies, but everyone in the individual market is going to see their insurance premiums go up by double digits—I’ve heard as high as even 52 percent. So, that’s what’s going to happen if—in the short term, if the president just allows the ACA to languish and fail.

How do we go forward to a Medicare for all? Well, we passed Medicare in 1965. And in one year from the date the bill was passed, in one year, it was implemented. And it happened with a computer system in 1965 that was a whole lot less sophisticated than what we have right now. So I think what we are lacking is the political will to make it happen. We sure aren’t lacking the popular will to have it happen. The American people want this. And what I’m seeing is a growing interest—I live in Nashville, Tennessee, and that’s a—that’s a red state. My congressman, Jim Cooper, is a Blue Dog Democrat. He’s never supported HR 676 in the past. And this year, he became a co-sponsor. I was really glad to hear that Al Gore, another Tennessean, is saying we need a national, improved Medicare for all. This is coming from legislators and former legislators in a red state. That makes me very proud to be from Nashville.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, also, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has expressed her support for single payer. But we don’t see that movement in the Senate or the House, even with 676, which has been introduced for years. It would take political capital on the part of many senators and congressmembers to push this forward.

DR. CAROL PARIS: It would. And I think the way we’re going to do this is, we’re not going to wait around for our members of Congress to say, "Now it’s politically feasible." If we wait for that, we’re going to be waiting for the rest of my life, your life and many more lives. What we have to do is more of what is happening in Congress right now. It’s like Occupy Congress. And that is, having the American people join in a movement of movements. I got arrested. I was sitting in the paddy wagon with four other people, including three young millennials, incredibly energetic young people, and we discovered that we all represented different organizations and didn’t know anything about each other’s organizations. And yet, we had all been arrested together, championing—opposing the BCRA and championing Medicare for all. So, it’s going to take a movement of movements, and it’s going to take the American people making it toxic for our elected officials not to get on board with this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dr. Carol—

DR. CAROL PARIS: We have to take the lead, and they will follow.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Carol Paris, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Physicians for a National Health Program, arrested Monday at the Hart Senate Office Building during a protest of the Republican healthcare bill.

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