When it comes to the healthcare reform debate, we don’t often hear politicians or the mainstream media seriously discussing H.R. 676, the United States National Health Care Act (also known amongst supporters as the single-payer bill).
But advocates of this legislation are not put off by a lack of institutional support.
In fact, in our current reform environment, they have become more vocal and visible than ever before.
In May, for example, eight doctors, nurses, lawyers and activists went to the capital to demand that single-payer experts be included in a series of healthcare roundtable discussions that Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) and others are holding.
They were arrested for the “disruption of Congress” after one man stood up during the discussion and stated, “So let me get this straight-you have 15 seats at the table and not one for single-payer? Why is that?” A few days later, five additional folks were arrested during a second hearing.
Single-payer advocates claim that 60% of Americans support a government-financed, single-payer insurance system that would provide comprehensive insurance benefits to everyone, much in the way that Medicare provides insurance to senior citizens.
They argue that such a system would save $350 billion per year by reducing the administrative overhead (advertising, profits, medical underwriting, and exorbitant salaries for management) associated with private insurance companies- and that these savings could be used to cover the uninsured.
- Despite the ongoing recession, CEOs of private insurance plans are still raking in huge salaries. Ron Williams, CEO of Aetna, was the top grossing executive in 2008, with a salary of $24,300,112.
- Click here to see the top ten CEO compensation packages.
- You can read the text of the full single-payer bill here.
Proponents of single-payer insurance are deeply upset that this plan is not more widely discussed amongst legislators.
In an attempt to bring greater attention to this policy option, organizers have staged demonstrations, rallies and marches in cities nationwide over the last few weeks.
From Seattle, Washington, to Pittsburgh, PA, to Louisville, KY, supporters have lined the streets demanding a single-payer solution.
In Seattle, an estimated 3,000 people turned out for a march that was organized and endorsed by over 190 organizations, including labor unions, churches, women’s groups and healthcare providers.
In our hometown of Pittsburgh, several events have been staged near the offices of congressional reps and insurance providers, including Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The focus of these rallies was to highlight the large campaign contributions that Pennsylvania elected officials, including Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA), and Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), have received from the healthcare industry.
- In 2008, insurers donated $2 million to Senator Specter’s campaign war chest.
- You can read about the demonstration outside of Congressman Altmire’s office in Cranberry, PA, here.
Recently, the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare hosted an informational conference on the single-payer legislation.
- Representative Eric Massa (D-NY), delivered a passionate speech about the need for a single-payer system: “Everyday I receive letters from constituents that begin with the sentence: If you do not help me, I will die,” he said. “Constituents call my office after insurance companies have denied their claims or rejected their pleas for help. Our system is broken.”
It appears that the squeaky wheel does get the grease, even in the case of single-payer healthcare!
In response to these coordinated efforts nationwide, lawmakers in D.C. scheduled a single-payer hearing, which was held several weeks ago. You can watch the highlights of the hearing here. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) spoke out in favor of the plan.
We think that this hearing represents a good start towards greater inclusion of single-payer advocates. That said, if this option is to be given full consideration by legislators, there needs to be a seat for single-payer experts at all of the roundtable discussions.
And why not? Until we have figured out the best way to cut costs and increase insurance coverage, there is no need to exclude folks from the reform conversation.
A recent report shows just how important the cost cutting goal continues to be.
Besides driving up our national debt, healthcare costs are hurting individuals and their families.
A study published in the American Journal of Medicine (AJM) in June found that:
- 62% of all bankruptcies in 2007 were filed in the aftermath of a serious medical problem; and
- This figure is up 50% since 2001.
- The researchers also found that more than 75% of the bankrupt families had health insurance but were still overwhelmed by their medical debts.
- The majority of the folks filing for bankruptcy were well-educated, owned homes and had middle-class occupations.
- The study was overseen by Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of Harvard. Both are single-payer advocates.