Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on May 10, 2009 6:10 AM PDT
We do not know the details of the negotiations because Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has closed the hearings after supporters of a single payer, Medicare for All plan tried to speak from the audience in the opening committee hearing. Instead of being invited to join the negotiations, 13 patriots including doctors, nurses and lawyers were arrested and charged with trespassing for refusing to be silent in the face of this betrayal of the American taxpayer, including most of the millions of workers who were denied access to health care.
The Baucus 13 were forced to speak out when Baucus refused to invite any single payer supporter to the hearing, which was dominated by representatives of the for-profit health care, insurance and pharmacy industries.
The ostensible purpose of the hearings is to come up with a plan that will provide health care to the millions of low and middle income wage earners whose taxes would disproportionately fund the resulting plan. Instead, experts in the economics of single payer health care were excluded from the process of coming up with a plan. Predictably, this will ultimately prove to be a bailout of the medical insurance industry that has caused the crisis. Perhaps it is not coincidental that these same industries gave a combined total of over 1.6 million dollars to Baucus during the previous Congress.
The only reasons Medicare is so expensive is that 1) It covers the at-risk elderly and the much sicker patients who cannot get private insurance and 2) Since the passage of the Medicare Modernization Act, it has been burdened by partial privatization and the unsustainably expensive Part D medication plan that specifically bars the government from negotiating for favorable drug prices using its huge purchasing power. These problems can be corrected by incorporating what amounts to repeal of this law in the reform legislation.
As an Oregonian, I cannot fail to note that our own Senator Wyden cast the final and deciding vote for this bill, despite strong Democratic opposition to this blatant gift to the private medical insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
Polls show that this is the option favored by over 60% of the American public and 60% of physicians. These numbers are growing rapidly as universal insurance approaches reality and people are educating themselves about the costs and benefits of various proposals. The percentage of doctors favoring a single payer plan has increased by ten percentage points in just five years.
It streamlines paperwork and would dramatically cut administrative costs to providers that currently consume 10 % of the health care dollar. It eliminates excessive insurance industry profits and all of their advertising and marketing expenses. It would lower administrative costs because government employees do not demand excessive salaries to serve the public. A single payer plan can monitor abuses of fee-for-service providers and administrators will have the mission of ensuring prompt payment to providers, rather than to repeatedly review claims to find loopholes to deny payment.
Most people do not realize that government is only expensive because we keep re-electing pork-loving politicians who reward their corporate masters with lavish contracts paid for by the taxpayer. If we paid more attention to what our Congressional representatives were doing and routinely got rid of those not serving the public interest, corporate money would be less influential. In other words, most of the blame for the exorbitant cost of government is ours.
As for those who put corporate interests over those of citizens, we can send them an even stronger message in 2010 and 2012, when 2/3 of the senate will stand for re-election. While there are compelling reasons to oppose single-issue voting, the establishment of a single payer system is the defining civil rights issue that will tell us which members of Congress understand and believe in democracy and which do not.
Rick Staggenborg, MD
Physicians for a National Health Care Plan
Coos Bay, OR