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Is the President's Health Bill Worth Supporting?


The Bill Moyers Blog
March 5, 2010

"In January, when Republican Scott Brown won the special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy, Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority and the fate of their health reform legislation plunged into uncertainty.

After weeks of strategizing and negotiation, President Obama made headlines Wednesday by encouraging Democratic members of Congress to pass the Senate’s version of the health bill through the controversial tactic known as reconciliation. Originally intended for budget bills rather than more complicated legislation, reconciliation would bypass potential filibusters in the Senate and require only a simple majority of votes in both chambers for passage. Democratic leaders are now working to amass enough support among Democratic Senators and Congressmen, many of whom disagree with aspects of the legislation, to pass the bill despite polls suggesting that a plurality of the public opposes it.

In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two prominent advocates of health reform with very different perspectives on the President’s health bill"

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive who has become an outspoken critic of the industry, said that the legislation is flawed but good enough that it should become law:

    “We need to look at this as a win for consumers as well. Yes, it’ll be a win for the insurance companies, but I don’t think we’re gonna wind up with the insurance companies walking away [and] winning the whole ball game. If we don’t do anything right now, that’s what will happen. They’ll win everything... I was distraught when I saw what happened, what I saw the Senate voting on. But then I realized – you know, I studied a lot of these efforts over the past many years to get reform – [that] often we’ve come short because we’ve tried to get the perfect, and we’ve never been able to get anything as a consequence... We need to have a foundation, and this may seem to be not an adequate foundation for a lot of people, but there are more than 50 million people in this country who don’t have insurance... Wouldn’t you rather, and I think wouldn’t most Americans rather, that we have something to start from rather than starting from scratch the next time? It’s very hard to build up to doing this in the first place... I’m frankly pretty amazed that we’re getting this close to passing something.”

Dr. Marcia Angell, a Harvard medical lecturer and former editor-in-chief of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, has advocated for single-payer reform, in which the federal government would provide a national health insurance program for everyone. Angell argued that the current bill would make a bad situation worse and sour the public on further reforms, so Democrats should regroup and push for better legislation in the future:

    “What this bill does is not only permit the commercial insurance industry to remain in place, but it actually expands and cements their position as the linchpin of health care reform... Not only does it keep them in place, but it pours about $500 billion of public money into these companies over 10 years... and it mandates that people buy these companies’ products for whatever they charge. Now that’s a recipe for the growth in health care costs not only to continue but to skyrocket, to grow even faster... The President’s absolutely right that the status quo is awful. If we do nothing, costs will continue to go up. People will continue to lose their coverage... Things will get very bad. The issue is, will this bill make them better or worse? I believe it will make them worse... Let’s say [the bill] is passed. It will begin to unravel almost immediately, and then what will people do? Well, they’ll say ‘We tried health reform, and it didn’t work. Better not try that anymore’... Whereas if the bill dies now, people can say ‘This bill died because it was a bad bill,’ and the problem is still on the front burner.”

Open Letter to President Obama on Health Care Reform

By Margaret Flowers, M.D.
Op-Ed News
January 28, 2010

President Barack Obama|
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama,

I was overjoyed to hear you say in your State of the Union address last night:

"But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know."

My colleagues, fellow health advocates and I have been trying to meet with you for over a year now because we have an approach which will meet all of your goals and more.

I am a pediatrician who, like many of my primary care colleagues, left practice because it is nearly impossible to deliver high quality health care in this environment. I have been volunteering for Physicians for a National Health Program ever since. For over a year now, I have been working with the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care/ National Single Payer Alliance. This alliance represents over 20 million people nationwide from doctors to nurses to labor, faith and community groups who advocate on behalf of the majority of Americans, including doctors, who favor a national Medicare-for-All health system.

I felt very optimistic when Congress took up health care reform last January because I remember when you spoke to the Illinois AFL-CIO in June, 2003 and said:

"I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program." (applause) "I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single-payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that's what I'd like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House."

And that is why I was so surprised when the voices of those who support a national single-payer plan/Medicare for All were excluded in place of the voices of the very health insurance and pharmaceutical industries which profit off the current health care situation.

There was an opportunity this past year to create universal and financially sustainable health care reform rather than expensive health insurance reform. As you well know, the United States spends the most per capita on health care in the world yet leaves millions of people out and receives poor return on those health care dollars in terms of health outcomes and efficiency. This poor value for our health care dollar is due to the waste of having so many insurance companies. At least a third of our health care dollars go towards activities that have nothing to do with health care such as marketing, administration and high executive salaries and bonuses. This represents over $400 billion per year which could be used to pay for health care for all of those Americans who are suffering and dying from preventable causes.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. You said that you wanted to "keep what works" and that would be Medicare. Medicare is an American legacy of which we can feel proud. It has guaranteed health security to all who have it. Medicare has lifted senior citizens out of poverty. Health disparities, which are rising in this nation, begin to disappear as soon as patients reach 65 years of age. And patients and doctors prefer Medicare to private insurance. Why, our Medicare has even been used as a model by other nations which have developed and implemented universal health systems.

Mr. President, we wanted to meet with you because we have the solution to health care reform. The United States has enough money already and we have the resources, including esteemed experts in public health, health policy and health financing. Our very own Dr. William Hsiao at Harvard has designed health systems in five other countries.

I am asking you to meet with me because the solution is simple. Remove all of the industries who profit off of the American health care catastrophe from the table. Replace them with those who are knowledgeable in designing health systems and who are without ties to the for-profit medical industries. And then allow them to design an improved Medicare-for-All national health system. We can implement it within a year of designing such a system.

What are the benefits of doing this?

* It will save tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of American lives each year, not to mention the prevention of unnecessary suffering.

* It will relieve families of medical debt, which is the number one cause of bankruptcy and foreclosure despite the fact that most of those who experienced bankruptcy had health insurance.

* It will relieve businesses of the growing burden of skyrocketing health insurance premiums so that they can invest in innovation, hiring, increased wages and other benefits and so they can compete in the global market.

* It will control health care costs in a rational way through global budgeting and negotiation for fair prices for pharmaceuticals and services.

* It will allow patients the freedom to choose wherever they want to go for health care and will allow patients and their caregivers to determine which care is best without denials by insurance administrators.

* It will restore the physician-patient relationship and bring satisfaction back to the practice of medicine so that more doctors will stay in or return to practice.

* It will allow our people in our nation to be healthy and productive and able to support themselves and their families.

* It will create a legacy for your administration that may someday elevate you to the same hero status as Tommy Douglas has in Canada.

Mr. President, there are more benefits, but I believe you get the point. I look forward to meeting with you and am so pleased that you are open to our ideas. The Medicare-for-All campaign is growing rapidly and is ready to support you as we move forward on health care reform that will provide America with one of the best health systems in the world. And that is something of which all Americans can be proud.

With great anticipation and deep respect,

Margaret Flowers, M.D.
Maryland chapter, Physicians for a National Health Program


If you were to look on the Internet to learn about Health Care Reform, you would find out that there is there seems to be considerable confusion on this topic. But the reality turns out to be amazingly simple. Of all the industrialized nations in the world, the USA pays the most for health care (per capita) and gets practically the least in return. We could almost extend Medicare to all by using a single-payer to reduce the exorbitant amounts now being paid to the big insurance and drug companies. We Need Health Care Reform.

Here are some basic facts:


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