Kentuckian still championing single-payer; calls GOP plan 'horrible'

By Berry Craig, AFT Local 1360
Daily Kos, March 15, 2017

When Republicans tout their “free market” based American Health Care Act, they sometimes claim that swarms of Canadians flee their single-payer government health care system for medical treatment stateside.

Kay Tillow of Louisville just chuckles.

“It’s a myth,” says the longtime champion of a U.S. single-payer system.

The Kentuckian is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act. But she says the newly unveiled GOP alternative “is horrible—more cruel and diabolical than the ACA.”

Tillow, who is also a veteran labor and civil rights leader, heads Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care, an affiliate of Physicians for a National Health Program. She said Canada’s single-payer system is a good model for the U.S. 

Meanwhile, Tillow invites single-payer naysayers to take a gander at Phantoms In The Snow: Canadians’ Use Of Health Care Services In The United States, an in-depth 2002 study directed by Steven J. Katz of the University of Michigan.

Katz and his team of U.S. and Canadian researchers debunked the “popular perception” that our northern neighbors routinely flock our way “seeking necessary medical care not available at home because of either lack of resources or prohibitively long queues.”

They found that the number of “refugees” seems “to be relatively small, indeed infinitesimal when compared with the amount of care provided by their own system.” They concluded that evidence doesn’t back up “the widespread perception that Canadian residents seek care extensively in the United States. Indeed, the numbers found are so small as to be barely detectible relative to the use of care by Canadians at home.”

Though Phantoms in the Snow is 15-years-old, a new north-of-the-border poll seems to back up its premise that most Canadians evidently like their single-payer system. Conducted by Toronto-based Nanos Research, the survey showed that 86.2 percent of respondents favored strengthening public health care instead of increasing for-profit services.

The Canadian Health Coalition, a nonpartisan organization that supports Canada’s public health system, commissioned the poll.

Tillow rues the fact that the U.S. is the “the only developed country without some kind of single-payer system. It’s insanity.”

Tillow added that a May, 2016, Gallup poll showed that 58 percent of adults in the U.S. “favor the idea of replacing the [ACA]...with a federally funded healthcare system that provides insurance for all Americans.”

“But we have not been able to translate majority opinion into a program that will get this filthy money out of health care,” she lamented.

Tillow said single-payer is especially popular with union members. She has a list of 628 union bodies that have endorsed a single-payer system, including the AFL-CIO, the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council.

She faults the Democrats, labor’s traditional allies, for not pushing harder for single-payer. “The ACA helped some people but didn’t do right by all of us. But this crazy Republican plan puts us between the devil and the deep blue sea.”

Tillow said the insurance industry and its allies in the GOP and the right-wing media try to convince Americans that they have the best health care system in the world.

But Tillow says Americans pay more—and get less—for health care than citizens of other developed countries. Statistics back her up.

In 2016, the U.S. spent more on health care than 190 other nations, according to the CIA World Factbook online. Canada ranked 15th.

Also last year, the Factbook put the U.S. 42nd among 224 countries in life expectancy. Canada was 19th.

In infant mortality, the U.S. trailed Canada, the European Union and 54 other countries in 2016, said the Factbook

“We are not doing a good job of taking care of our people,” Tillow said.

Tillow has been tirelessly campaigning for a U.S. single payer system for many years. She has barnstormed the country coast-to-coast, talking up universal health care to any group that will listen to her.

Her travels have often taken her to union halls. Though she is an organizer, not a nurse, she represents the Nurses Professional Organization on the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care.

“Jesus healed, and he did it for free,” she said.

In blasting the Republican alternative to the ACA, Tillow cites the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which, according to National Public Radio, reported that the GOP plan could strand 24 million more Americans without health care coverage by 2026.

“It is going to make health care more expensive, particularly for older people. Older people are going to pay through the nose.

“Younger people may get a cheaper premium, but then if they get sick, they’re going to have huge deductibles and out of pocket expenses.”

Tillow, who grew up in Metropolis, Ill., and went south to work in the civil rights movement in the ‘60s, argues that health care is a right, not a privilege. 

“We have allowed insurance companies to put their moral standards on our health care system,” she said. “The companies see somebody using their health care insurance as money coming out of [the companies’]...pockets. So they put up co-pays and deductibles and that keeps people from going to the doctor.”

In other words, they self-ration their health care.

Tillow said proponents of private health care also claim that care is rationed in single-payer countries, thus endangering patient lives. That, too, is a bogus claim, according to Tillow.

She points to Canada. “There is no rationing of care or delay of care if you got into an accident or you have some urgent need. The only delay is if the need is not urgent, like knee or hip surgery.

“There is no rationing of care if you need immediate treatment for an injury or for cancer or some other disease.”

Tillow said gutting Medicaid is the worst part of the Republican bill. The CBO also said that the GOP bill would trim federal spending on Medicaid by $880 billion over the next 10 years, a 17.6 percent cut. As a result, by 2026, “Medicaid beneficiaries would be reduced by about 14 million people--or about half of the additional uninsured under the GOP bill,” NPR also said.

“Under this bill, the poorest people will be hurt the most,” Tillow said. “The insurers and executives will make out like bandits, and the rest of us will be struggling to get care.”

Based on the CBO analysis, the American Health Care Act “offers billions of dollars’ worth of tax cuts to health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, investors and even tanning salon operators,” The New York Times reported. “The cuts amount to nearly $1 trillion over a decade. The beneficiaries would be the richest Americans who for years have complained that the Affordable Care Act unfairly burdened them with the responsibility of subsidizing insurance for the poor.”

A POSTSCRIPT: On out vacation in Fort William, Scotland, last summer, my wife experienced the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which for years U.S. conservatives have decried as “socialized medicine.” Melinda suspected she had a kidney infection and went to the local hospital. She didn’t have an appointment. There were four people ahead of her in the queue and she got in to see the doctor in about 45 minutes. He examined her, took a urine sample, diagnosed a kidney infection, wrote her a prescription and sent her on her way. Knowing that British citizens didn’t have to pay, she figured that as a foreigner, she would. “We have no mechanism for payment,” the receptionist said with smile. Melinda expected that she’d surely have to pony up for the medicine at a local drug store. She didn’t.

Berry Craig is webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and a member of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Board.