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The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease

squeaky wheelWhen 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.
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  • Dan July 16, 2009, 11:09 am

    The U.S. Health Care: Anarchy And Apathy

    What follows are believed to be facts that are believed to exist regarding the present U.S. Health Care System. This may be why about 80 percent of U.S. citizens understandably want our health care system overhauled desperately due to the inadequate health care they receive and access:

    The U.S. is ranked rather low in regards to life expectancy and infant mortality, compared with the Western world.

    However, the U.S. is ranked number one in the world for spending the most for health care- as well as being number one for those with chronic diseases. About 125 million people have such diseases. This is about 70 percent of the Medicare budget that is spent treating these terrible illnesses.

    Health Care costs are now well over 2 trillion dollars of our gross domestic product. This is three times the amount nearly 20 years ago- and 8 times the amount it was about 30 years ago. Most is spent with medical institutions, as far as health expenditures are concerned. Some believe that perhaps one third of these costs are for care given to patients by health care providers that is not necessary.

    About another third of that amount is nothing more than administrative toxic waste that does not involve the restoration of the health of others. This illustrates how absurd the U.S. Health Care System is presently. Nearly 7000 dollars is spent on every citizen for health care every year, and that, too, is more than anyone else in the world.

    We have around 50 million citizens without any health insurance, which may cause about 20 thousand deaths per year. This includes millions of children without health care, which is added to the planned or implemented cuts in the government SCHIP program for children, which alone covers about 7 million kids.

    Our children.

    Nearly half of the states in the U.S. are planning on or have made cuts to Medicaid, which covers about 60 million people, and those on Medicaid are in need of this coverage is largely due to unemployment. With these Medicaid cuts, over a million people will lose their health care coverage and benefits to a damaging degree.

    About 70 percent of citizens have some form of health insurance, and the premiums for their insurance have increased nearly 90 percent in the past 8 years. About 45 percent of health care is provided by our government- which is predicted to experience a severe financial crisis in the near future with some government health care programs, it has been reported.

    Half of all patients do not receive proper treatment to restore their health, it has been stated. Medical errors desperately need to be reduced as well, it has been reported, which should be addressed as well.

    Most doctors want a single payer health care system, which would save about 400 billion dollars a year- about 20 percent less than what we are paying now. The American College of Physicians, second in size only to the American Medical Association, supports a single payer health care system.

    The AMA, historically opposed to a single payer health care system, has close to half of its members in favor of this system. Less than 20 percent of all practicing physicians in the United States are members of the AMA, according to others. The membership of the AMA has progressively declined over the years for a variety of authentic reasons.

    Our health care we offer citizens is the present system is sort of a hybrid of a national and private health care system that has obviously mutated to a degree that is incapable of being fully functional due to perhaps copious amounts and levels of individual and legal entities.

    Health Care must be the priority immediately by the new administration and congress. Challenges include the 700 billion dollars that have been pledged with the financial bailout that will occur, since the proposed health care plan of the next administration is projected to cost over a trillion dollars within the first year or so of the proposed plan to recalibrate health care for all of us in the U.S.

    Likely, hundreds of billions of dollars that are speculated to be saved with a reform of the country’s health care system. Health policy analysts should not be greatly concerned on the health care corporate shareholders who may be affected by this reform of our health care system that is desperately needed.

    It is estimated that the U.S. needs presently tens of thousands more primary care physicians to fully satisfy the necessities of those members of the public health. This specialty makes possibly less than 100 thousand dollars annually in income, compared with other physician specialties, yet they are and have been the backbone of the U.S. health care system.

    The American College of Physicians believes that a patient centered national health care workforce policy is needed to address these issues that would ideally restructure the payment policies that exist presently with primary care physicians.

    Further vexing is that it is quite apparent that we have some greedy health care corporations that take advantage of our health care system. Over a billion dollars was recovered for Medicare and Medicaid fraud last year through settlements paid to the department of Justice because some organizations who deliberately ripped off taxpayers.

    These are the taxpayers in the U.S. who have a fragmented health care system with substantial components and different levels of government- composed of several legal entities and individuals, which has resulted in medical anarchy, so it seems.

    Thanks to various corporations infecting our Health Care System in the United States, the following variables sum up this system as it exists today. Perhaps the United States National Health Insurance Act (H.R. 676) is the best solution to meet our health care needs as citizens, it appears.

    We would finally have, as with most other countries, a Universal Health Care system that will allow free choice of doctors and hospitals, potentially, and health care for all completely. It should and likely will be funded by a combination of payroll taxes and general tax revenue which is realistically possible. Because the following seems to be in need of repair regarding the U.S. Health Care System:

    Access- citizens do not have the right or ability to make use of this system as we should.

    Efficiency- this system strives on creating much waste and expense as it possibly can.

    Quality- the standard of excellence we deserve as citizens with our health care is missing in action.

    Sustainability- We as citizens cannot continue to keep our health care system in as it is designed at this time- as it exists today.

    Dan Abshear

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