Sanders Holds Forum on Single-Payer: Anything New?

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Common Dreams

Sanders Holds Forum on Single-Payer: Anything New?

In years past, I likely would have been in the audience at U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' forum yesterday in Washington, D.C., on the single-payer movement and what's next for our efforts to advance single-payer.  The panel was populated by several experts in single-payer reform, and I watched on the live streaming function available on Sen. Sanders' website.

Would those on the panel mention those dying, suffering and going broke right now for health care?  Yes, they did -- each from his or her own perspective with a dose of the personal agendas they bring along to every movement function.  Many of the statements were filled with lofty ideals and power, and some statements called for more aggressive action to achieve economic justice in these United States.

Was there one non-lettered member of the patient community represented on the panel?  Nope.  There rarely is on these panels.  The best most of us will see is a patient being used to bolster an individual politician's position or other movement campaign while keeping most patients out of the spotlight.  This is more the norm as we do not bring enough connection to the powers that be in any number of areas.  Lawyers, academics, doctors, labor leaders?  Yes.  Patients?  Nope.  Patients are largely expendable not only in the health care system but also in our political system -- and even by those who claim to speak on our behalf.   OK.  Enough on that as any number of movement leaders and politicians know how I feel about this.  And I will keep saying it.

Did I learn much new about single-payer or about the movement?  A little.  I was thrilled to hear my former boss, Michael Lighty of National Nurses United, stand up against the anti-government mantra that is sometimes sung as loudly by those on the far left as it is those on the right.  Michael said that it is one of our challenges to overcome the anti-government sentiments that have been used to vilify everything from VA healthcare to the national Congress and beyond.  A public, universal, single-payer system relies on our government for its administration, and if we in the single-payer movement are among those saying the entire system of governance is so rotten that it needs to be undone, we will make achieving single-payer much more difficult.  We need to improve and protect our government not throw it out.  I do not like our dysfunctional Congress any more than the next person and I believe we need campaign finance reform to undo the corporate influence in politics, but I generally believe a representative form of government is good for the common good.  A movement for government administered healthcare that stands against government does not make good sense.

Michael Lighty also stood strong for the state-based single-payer movement as more than simply a way to bolster work for a national system. Thank you.  I grow weary of those who keep working to push their own national agendas for single-payer when so many people in their own states are dying and suffering due to terrible access to healthcare issues.

Finally, I heard health economist Gerald Friedman bring up a much higher number of deaths related to health care access problems than have been previously discussed -- or has been previously referenced by me in this blog.  Friedman is still crunching the numbers and cautions against a formal declaration just yet that his number stated during the forum -- 700,000 dead annually in the U.S. due to access issues -- is the definitive number.  But many of the most learned members of our single-payer, economic analysis academicians agree that the number of health care dead in the U.S is much higher than the 45,000 per year I add up daily and cite below.  It is a difference in research tools and data used, as well as a difference between just the uninsured who are dying and including those dead who were underinsured.

So, I learned from the forum in spite of the drawbacks noted.  Thanks, Sen. Sanders, for holding the forum.  Thanks to all the single-payer advocates who keep holding up the banner in D.C. despite what seems to be a lack of interest that continues among those who have the power to change this murderous system.  The dead would thank you if they could, but for now, the patients still living -- those suffering and going broke -- thank you for speaking up.

In the meantime, patients, speak up.  If we are not heard among the voices calling for single-payer change, the system that emerges will not be one that is about our overall health and well-being -- no matter who speaks for us. Demand that your elected officials not ignore you because one of the things I learned again from the D.C. forum was that the value of the patient voice is not where it needs to be.  Not one of the panelists spoke up and said that patients must be viewed as critical to transforming the system as experts.

Video (drag time marker to 25 minutes for start of forum):

http://www.sanders.senate.gov/single-payer-where-do-we-go-from-here

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado and the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation. 

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