'There IS a Better Health Plan, Mr. President'

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mark Almberg, PNHP, (312) 782-6006,
mark@pnhp.org

'There IS a Better Health Plan, Mr. President'

Medicare-for-All doctors available for comment on State of the Union speech

WASHINGTON - Rising
to President Obama's challenge to others in his State of the Union
address that they come up with a better approach to health care reform
than his own, physicians who advocate for a single-payer program
stepped forward this morning to again make the case for their
alternative, which they say has solid public support.

Among them is Dr. Margaret Flowers, a pediatrician and congressional
fellow for Physicians for a National Health Program, an organization of
17,000 physicians who support a single-payer system, who is traveling
to the White House today to deliver an open letter to the president calling on him to meet with her and other Medicare-for-All advocates.

Also speaking out today are Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David
Himmelstein, co-founders of PNHP, primary care physicians in Cambridge,
Mass., and professors at Harvard Medical School, who provided commentary in a blog in today's New York Times.

In her letter to Obama, Flowers notes how surprised she and others were
when single-payer advocates were excluded from the early stages of the
discussions on health reform. Flowers was one of several physicians,
nurses and reform advocates who were arrested at Senate Finance
Committee hearings last spring for standing up and asking in a
dignified way why the Medicare-for-All option was "off the table."

Flowers writes: "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."

Flowers then itemizes the advantages of adopting such a system, saying
that it would cover everyone, save thousands of lives, relieve medical
debt, control costs, help the economy, and restore the
physician-patient relationship. Obama himself is on record noting only
a single-payer plan would provide universal coverage: "The truth is
unless you have what's called a single-payer system in which everyone's
automatically covered, you're probably not going to reach every single
individual."

The full text of Flowers' letter, and the blog commentary by Woolhandler and Himmelstein, appear below.

All three, plus several other physicians, are available for comment on the president's speech last night.


There is still time for real reform, listen to the American people

By Margaret Flowers, M.D.

An Open Letter to President Obama on Health Care Reform

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.
Congressional Fellow, Physicians for a National Health Program

[This article originally appeared in OpEd News: http://www.opednews.com/articles/There-is-Still-Time-For-Re-by-Margaret-Flowers--100127-703.html ]


Going Down the Same Old Tunnel

By Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein
New York Times 'Room for Debate' blog, Jan. 28, 2010

Having surrendered in advance to the private insurers and drug
companies who profit from our dysfunctional health financing system,
President Obama and the Democrats who lead Congress couldn't rally the
American people to support their woeful plan against Republican attacks.

In the end, the Democrats' back room deals produced a scheme
reminiscent of the ones crafted by Mitt Romney (in Massachusetts, 2006)
and Richard Nixon (Washington, 1972) -- but even less effective than
those.

A simple single payer program could save $400 billion annually on
insurance-related bureaucracy and profits, and tens of billions more by
driving down drug prices. That's more than enough to cover the
uninsured and to upgrade coverage for insured Americans, without
increasing health spending.

But the Democrats' efforts to appease insurers and pay off the
pharmaceutical industry made covering the uninsured unaffordable. Once
they'd rejected single payer (and its savings on useless bureaucracy),
the Democrats could only offer unpalatable funding options; stick
consumers with ever-higher health costs, raise taxes, or drain money
from care. In the end, the Democrats chose all three.

Their individual mandate would force millions to pay private insurers'
outrageous premiums for coverage so skimpy that a major illness would
still lead to bankruptcy. (And if you currently have coverage you don't
like, they'd force you to keep it). They added a steep excise tax on
workers lucky enough to still have good coverage. And their massive
Medicare cuts included a plan to take billions from already-strapped
public hospitals (and other safety net providers) and give it to
private insurers. In sum, the Democrats asked middle class Americans to
pay more, and get little in return.

The president can regain his footing by reconnecting with the hopes of
Americans who elected him and rejecting the sordid corporate
compromises that signify Washington politics as usual. A single-payer,
Medicare-for-All reform would lower costs, cover the uninsured, and
upgrade coverage for most insured Americans. Leading a crusade for such
a plan, he'd mobilize vast popular support; enough to overwhelm
Republican obstructionism. But instead, he seems intent on looking for
light at the end of the same old tunnel.

During his campaign, President Obama declaimed that he'd back single
payer -- if we were starting from scratch. One thing's clear from the
recent Massachusetts election upset: it's time to start from scratch.

Steffie Woolhandler is a professor of medicine and David
Himmelstein is an associate professor of medicine, both at Harvard
Medical School. They are co-founders of Physicians for a National
Health Program.

http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/did-obama-move-health-care-forward/#steffie

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Physicians for a National Health Program is a single issue organization advocating a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program. PNHP has more than 15,000 members and chapters across the United States.

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