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By Donna Smith

Healthcare-NOW!

As my grandmother used to say, “I was born on a weekend but not last weekend.” The latest insult to Americans hungry for a bit of healthcare justice for all comes from the news that the Senate health bill now allows insurance companies to place annual limits on payments for some catastrophic illnesses, like cancer.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Another day. Another lie uncovered in the process. Another piece of this reform bill that favors the for-profit health insurance industry.

Associated Press’ Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes, “Health care loophole would allow coverage limits”: “A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.

“The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.

“As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not ‘unreasonable.’ The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.”

Read that passage again folks. The bill was “tweaked.” No official or legal amendment required when the insurance industry needs a tweak they damn well get a tweak. And this is quite a tweak.

Just hours ago, I continued to read reports that claimed our healthcare reformers in Congress were doing away with pre-existing condition clauses and also ending lifetime caps on coverage. Some patients and families were thrilled with this change alone, and most especially those people struggling with serious illnesses.

This summer, a friend of mine in Colorado was asked to introduce President Obama at a forum in Grand Junction. Nathan Wilkes was selected to do so because he could speak clearly and passionately about his family’s troubles keeping enough insurance coverage for his son, Thomas, who has a serious blood disorder. My friend has been and is a supporter of Medicare for all, single-payer type reform, but this opportunity to introduce the President and weigh in about eliminating lifetime benefit caps was a powerful pull. Nathan gave an intelligent and emotional intro for the President, and he was later invited to Washington to watch Obama’s address to Congress on healthcare reform.

Well, the joke’s on you Nathan and on a lot of others who trusted the details of reform being sold by members of Congress and President Obama. Only this is not at all funny. Families like the Wilkes family will go broke trying to keep kids like Thomas alive. And kids like Thomas will die without the care they need.

Nathan responded to the latest news out of the Senate with the clarity of a father who has fought hard to support reform that would make our system better not more problematic, “Now it looks like such plans will have a floor before they start covering (beyond the deductible/out-of-pocket) and a ceiling at which they stop (no “unreasonable annual limits”). That is the sweet spot for profiteering health insurers. They avoid paying the common and the catastrophic, while soaking up premiums from all of us.”

The death panels allowed by this legislation are those set up and protected by the insurance industry – and tweaked into law by Congress and the President.

You simply cannot do this sort of tweaking and not have people notice. Did you think the Wilkes family wouldn’t notice when the annual cap is reached for Thomas and they have to start paying out of pocket or stop treatment?

This process has been fraught with disclosures of the misleading marketing of various details in the reform legislation from all involved. Who can the American public trust on this? Anybody?

As we sit on the verge of 2010, we citizens have some more political work of our own to do. We need to do some tweaking in the streets and at the polls. Because we surely are not going to get healthcare as a basic human right from this Congress and this administration. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem to get it.

When we do the math for ourselves and when we watch you all play a deadly game of push-me, pull-me with our healthcare reform legislation, we know for certain you are only maneuvering for political advantage while we are out here fighting for our lives, our health and for our financial security. You didn’t hear us loudly enough at the polls in 2008, apparently.

Let me get this straight. You will force us to buy private insurance products that will not guarantee approval of treatment or payment for treatment. You will tax our insurance benefits if our employers offer those deemed as “Cadillac coverage” regardless of whether or not we make less than $250,000 a year. You cannot guarantee that employers will keep our current insurance plans and provider networks or that insurance companies will keep benefits and providers the same – therefore we cannot keep what we’ve got if we like it. You’ve crumbled on the notion of any real public option for coverage at all much less a “robust” option — whatever that squishy word ever meant. And now insurance companies will decide when we’ve had enough treatment for serious illness each year.

Wow. Sweet tweaking indeed for the profit-takers — and without so much as a debate or airing on the floor of the Senate. It seems only the things that would benefit real people require an appropriate following of legal process in Congress and full debate — amendments like Senator Bernie Sanders’ single-payer amendment aimed at strengthening real reform haven’t even gotten a hearing. We’re still fighting for that.

Please don’t insult us any more by selling this legislation as healthcare reform or even health insurance reform. This seems more and more like health industry protection and less like anything at all to do with providing what President Obama declared as a basic human right during the campaign. Even he said the only way to get to full coverage is a single-payer plan. And that’s a tweak too far from profit protection, it seems.

Hang on, fellow citizens. This healthcare mess is about to get messier and make you wonder if anyone told us the truth at all. Then we’ll have some serious tweaking of our own to do in 2010 and 2012. We will not forget this.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

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Citizen juries demonstrate massive support for single-payer

By Kip Sullivan, JD for PNHP

“They contradicted both beltway and public opinion polls. The whole damn world seems to think the Clinton plan is the way to go. Yet they like the single-payer system, which isn’t even getting considered in Washington.”

That was how the president of the Jefferson Center characterized the outcome of a five-day “citizen jury” experiment in which 24 “jurors” listened to and questioned 30 experts on health care reform. (Patrick Howe, “‘Citizens jury’ supports Wellstone’s health care proposal over Clinton plan,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 15, 1993, 10A.) Of those 30 experts, only one, Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), spoke in favor of single-payer. (Gail Shearer of Consumers Union, which had endorsed single-payer by 1993, was one of the 30 experts to speak to the jury, but it is not clear from the Jefferson Center record that she spoke in favor of single-payer.)

The jury heard expert testimony for and against all three of the major types of health care reform legislation that have been promoted in the US over the last four decades. Senator Wellstone presented the case for his single-payer bill, numerous speakers made the case for Bill Clinton’s managed competition bill (a bill based on competition between insurance companies that use managed-care cost-control techniques), and numerous speakers made the case for what later came to be called “consumer-driven” health insurance policies (competition between insurance companies that sell policies with deductibles on the order of $2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for families).

The jury voted by massive majorities to reject the market-based proposals – managed competition and high-deductible policies – and, by a landslide majority (17 out of 24, or 71 percent), to endorse Wellstone’s single-payer bill. At the time the Jefferson Center report noted only that a majority of jurors voted for single-payer. The actual vote count was reported years later by Barry Casper in his book, Lost in Washington: Finding the Way Back to Democracy in America.

The unbearable lightness of polls

Observers were surprised at the jury’s rejection of the Clinton plan because polls taken at the time the Jefferson Center jury was meeting (the second week of October 1993) were reporting that a majority of the public supported Clinton’s Health Security Act, his “managed competition within a budget” bill that was supposed to create a system of universal health insurance. For example, a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll (see Exhibit 1 page 10) released on September 24, 1993 showed 59 percent endorsed Clinton’s bill. But just three weeks later, on October 14, 1993, the jury rejected Clinton’s bill by a vote of 19 to 5. Five jurors out of 24 comes to 21 percent, far below the 60-percent level one would have expected based on polls.

The enormous gap between the citizens jury’s vote on Clinton’s bill and contemporary poll results illustrates a well known problem with polls: Although they can produce consistent and accurate results when the question is about something the respondents are familiar with, such as whether they have health insurance, they can produce wildly divergent and inaccurate results when the question is about a complex issue that respondents have had little time to study or even to think about.

Contrast, for example, a 2007 AP-Yahoo poll, which found 65 percent of Americans support a Medicare-for-all system, with a 2009 CBS poll which found only 50 percent think “government” would do a “better job” of providing health insurance than the insurance industry. The AP-Yahoo poll posed this question (the order of the two solutions was reversed from one respondent to the next):

Which comes closest to your view?

The United States should continue the current health insurance system in which most people get their health insurance from private employers, but some people have no insurance;

The United States should adopt a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers.

Sixty-five percent of respondents chose the second solution – the Medicare-for-all solution – while only 34 percent chose the current system.

Now consider the June 12-16, 2009 CBS poll which asked: “Do you think the government would do a better or worse job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage?” Fifty percent said “the government” would do a better job versus 34 percent who said “the government” would do a worse job.

Now, just to raise your skepticism about polls another notch, consider this wrinkle. When CBS asked the same question two months later – during August 27-31, 2009 – they found 13 to 14 percent of respondents had changed their minds in favor of the insurance industry. That is, by late August (by which time dozens of tumultuous “town hall” meetings about the Democrats’ health care “reform” legislation had taken place), the percent who thought “the government” would do a better job had fallen to 36 (from 50 percent) while the percent who thought “the government” would do a worse job had risen to 47 (from 34 percent).

How do we make sense of these seemingly contradictory results? Do we trust the late-August CBS poll and say only one-third of Americans support single-payer? Or do we go with the AP-Yahoo poll and say two-thirds support single-payer? Or do we split the difference and say the June CBS poll got it about right – that half of Americans support single-payer?

Fortunately, we are not reduced to rolling dice or drawing straws. We can examine research that uses methods more reliable than those used by the typical poll, notably two citizen jury experiments. And we can examine polls that have produced contradictory results to see if we can find a reason why. I will use the remainder of this paper to report on the two citizen juries. I’ll examine polling data more closely in Part III of this series.

Read the rest of this entry »

Introduction to a Six-part series

By Kip Sullivan, JD for PNHP

“Americans are scared to death of single payer.”

These words were not uttered by some foaming-at-the mouth wingnut. They were written by Bernie Horn, a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, a member of Health Care for America Now, on June 8, 2009. Horn explained that he was moved to write this tripe because single-payer supporters were asking why Democrats had taken single-payer off the table to make room for the “public option”:

The question most frequently asked by progressive activists at last week’s America’s Future Now conference was this: We hear Obama and congressional Democrats talking about a public health insurance option, but why aren’t they talking about a single-payer system like HR 676 sponsored by Rep. John Conyers? Why is single-payer “off the table”?

Horn went on to assert that single-payer had been taken off the table because Americans want it off the table. He claimed polling data supported him, but he cited no particular poll. The truth is that the Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) and other groups in Health Care for America Now (HCAN) had decided years earlier they would push Democratic candidates and officeholders to substitute the “option” for single-payer, and they would tell both Democrats and progressive activists that Americans “like the insurance they have” and that Americans oppose single-payer.

The argument that single-payer is “politically infeasible” is not new. That argument is as old as the modern single-payer movement (which emerged in the late 1980s). It is an argument made exclusively by Democrats who don’t want to support single-payer legislation – a group Merton Bernstein and Ted Marmor have called “yes buts.”

The traditional version of the “yes but” excuse has been that the insurance industry is too powerful to beat or, more simply, that “there just aren’t 60 votes in the Senate for single-payer.” But the leaders of the “option” movement felt they needed a more persuasive version of the traditional “yes but” excuse. The version they invented was much more insidious. They decided to say that American “values,” not American insurance companies, are the major impediment to single-payer.

How did the “option” movement’s leaders know that Americans oppose single-payer? According to Jacob Hacker, the intellectual leader of the “option” movement, they knew it because existing polling data said so. According to people like Bernie Horn and Roger Hickey at CAF, they knew it because focus group “research” and a poll conducted by pollster Celinda Lake on behalf of the “option” movement said so.

About this series

This six-part series explores the research on American attitudes about a single-payer (or Medicare-for-all) system to evaluate the truth of the new version of the “yes but” argument. We will see that the research demonstrates that approximately two-thirds of Americans support a Medicare-for-all system despite constant attacks on Medicare and the systems of other countries by conservatives. The evidence supporting this statement is rock solid. The evidence against it – the focus group and polling “research” commissioned by the “option” movement’s founders – is defective, misinterpreted, or both.

In Part II of this series, I will describe two experiments with “citizen juries” which found that 60 to 80 percent of Americans support a Medicare-for-all or single-payer system. The citizen jury research is the most rigorous research available on the question of what Americans think about single-payer and other proposals to solve the health care crisis. It is the most rigorous because it exposes randomly selected Americans to a lengthy debate between proponents of single-payer and other proposals.

Of the two “juries” I report on, the one sponsored by the Jefferson Center in Washington DC in 1993 remains the most rigorous test of public support for single-payer legislation ever conducted. After taking testimony from 30 experts over the course of five days, a “jury” of 24 Americans, selected to be representative of the entire population, soundly rejected all proposals that relied on competition between insurance companies (including President Bill Clinton’s “managed competition” bill) and endorsed Sen. Paul Wellstone’s single-payer bill. These votes were by landslide majorities. Washington Post columnist William Raspberry accurately noted, “Perhaps most interesting about last week’s verdict is its defiance of inside-the-Beltway wisdom that says a single-payer … plan can’t be passed” (“Citizens jury won over by merits of Wellstone’s single-payer plan,” Washington Post October 21, 1993, 23A).

In Part III, I’ll review polling data and explore the question, Why do some polls confirm the citizen jury research while other polls do not? We will discover an interesting pattern: The more poll respondents know about single-payer, the more they like it. We will see that polls that claim to find low support for single-payer provide little information about what a single-payer is (they fail to refer to Medicare or to another example of a single-payer system), they provide misleading information, or both. For example, when Americans are asked if they would support “a universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers,” two-thirds say they would, but when they are asked, “Do you think the government would do a better or worse job than private insurance companies in providing medical coverage?” fewer than half say “government” would do a “better job.” Although neither question provided anywhere near as much information as the citizen jury experiments did, it is obvious the former question was more informative than the latter.

In Parts IV and V, I’ll discuss the evidence that “option” advocates cite for their claim that single-payer is opposed by most Americans. Part IV will examine polling data that Jacob Hacker uses to justify his refusal to support single-payer and his decision to promote the notion of “public-private-plan choice.” Part V will examine the survey and focus group “research” done by Celinda Lake for the Herndon Alliance and subsequently cited by leaders of HCAN, the two groups most responsible for bringing the “public option” into the current health care reform debate.

We will see that Hacker’s research relies on polls that pose such vague questions that the results resemble a Rorschach blot more than a guide to health care reform strategy. Would you make a decision about whether to abandon single-payer based on a poll that asked respondents to choose between these two statements: (1) “[I]t is the responsibility of the government in Washington to see to it that people have help in paying for doctors and hospital bills… ;” and (2) “these matters are not the responsibility of the federal government and … people should take care of these things themselves”? I wouldn’t, but Hacker did. If it turned out that about 50 percent of the respondents said it was the federal government’s responsibility, 20 percent said it was the individual’s responsibility, and the other 30 percent split their vote between government and individual responsibility, would you read those results to mean Americans “are stubbornly attached to employment-based health insurance”? I certainly wouldn’t, but Hacker did. Would you use this poll as evidence that “American values [are] barriers to universal health insurance”? I wouldn’t, but Hacker did.

The “research” that Celinda Lake did for the Herndon Alliance used strange methods. For example, she selected her focus groups based on their answers to questions about “values” that had nothing to do with health care reform. The values included “brand apathy,” “upscale consumerism,” “meaningful moments,” “mysterious forces,” and “sexual permissiveness.” “Meaningful moments,” for example, was described as, “The sense of impermanence that accompanies momentary connections with others does not diminish the value of the moment.” Do you think it’s important to ask Americans about their “sense of impermanence” before deciding whether you will support single-payer legislation? I don’t, but Celinda Lake and the Herndon Alliance did.

The “option” movement’s “research” turns out to be no match for the more rigorous research which demonstrates two-thirds of Americans support Medicare-for-all.

In Part VI I discuss the wisdom of allowing polls and focus group research to dictate policy and strategy, something the “option” movement’s founders talked themselves into doing. Hacker has been especially vocal about this. He repeatedly urges his followers to think “politics, politics, politics,” a squishy mantra that, in practice, translates into an exaltation of opportunism. The failure of Hacker and HCAN to object to the shrinkage of the “public option” by congressional Democrats, from a program covering half the population to one that might insure 1 or 2 percent of the population, documents that statement.

The fact that two-thirds of the American public supports single-payer does not mean the enactment of a single-payer system will be easy. It won’t be. But it does mean the new “yes but” justification for opposing single-payer, or indefinitely postponing active support for single-payer, is false and should be rejected.

Stay tuned.

Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign

While heath care reform dominates the national debate, there is a 14 year-old boy in Kansas City, Kansas named Eduardo Loredo who could die any day.

Eduardo is being denied a heart transplant because he does not have health insurance (or enough money) to pay for a heart transplant and follow up care. Eduardo was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy, a serious disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and eventually stops working altogether, and was hospitalized at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO beginning in July 2009. Eduardo was sent home from Children’s Mercy Hospital on October 14, 2009 and told that he had the potential to live another two or three years, but that he could also die any day.

Missouri’s Medicaid program is generally available only to citizens and certain legal immigrants who meet a five year waiting period. These restrictive rules prevent Eduardo from qualifying for health insurance that would cover both the transplant procedure and the long-term follow up care required to ensure a successful transplant. Without this coverage, the total cost of the transplant would cost his family $500,000. Children’s Mercy Hospital told Eduardo that without an up-front payment of $100,000, he would not even be able to get on the waiting list for a heart transplant. While Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, MO originally offered to perform the transplant surgery for no cost, this offer was later retracted. His family is simply being told that his life is not a priority.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These human rights include necessities such as housing, education, food, and health care. Although the United States signed this declaration, we are still waiting for our government to guarantee these rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr declared: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Whoever we are—whatever the color of our skin or how much money we have in the bank account or where we come from—we all deserve the chance to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. And so does Eduardo.

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) calls on hospitals, doctors, health clinics, politicians, religious people, and all people of conscience to take responsibility for Eduardo’s life, and help him to live. Please contact Cheri Honkala, national Organizer of PPEHRC, at 267-439-8419 or cherippehrc@hotmail.com to help us save Eduardo.

As our government continues the battle to reform our health care system, may they look at Eduardo and declare: ENOUGH.

Enough people have died as a result of being barred from medical care that could have saved their lives.

Not one more Death. Health Care is a Human Right!

by Katie Robbins & Andy Coates –

Healthcare-NOW!

Two weekends ago, after the bait and switch of a vote on single-payer for a vote on an anti-abortion amendment, we felt wizened to the possibility of unknown threats in the legislative churn on health reform. As insurance and pharmaceutical companies, Catholic bishops, and the right wing throw in dollars, lobbyists, and pressure for no votes on the final bill, it is clear we who are in the business of protecting and improving our rights to access to health care, including abortion, must remain vigilant and ready to challenge these threats.

First, a little history is in order. In mid-July Rep. Kucinich passed in the Education and Labor Committee an amendment to the House bill for health insurance reform that would make single-payer easier to enact at the state level. On July 31st Rep. Weiner and 6 other members of Energy and Commerce Committee brought to committee an amendment to that would substitute the text of HR 676, the national single-payer bill, for the House bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a floor vote on single payer — if Rep. Weiner would withdraw the amendment from committee.

Single-payer advocates embraced these efforts wholeheartedly. And we counted upon our champions in the House of Representatives to stand with us.

Vigorous activity ensued, a fourteen week campaign involving millions of people in phone calls, petitions, forums, local protests and vigils, emails and faxes, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor and personal visits. There were conscientious objectors. 158 single-payer supporters were arrested performing acts of civil disobedience, peaceful sit-ins to register their outrage in the offices of health insurance companies and Congress across the nation.

As the grassroots clamor rose, Reps. Weiner and Kucinich sought to surf the wave. The crescendo grew and grew, until one day before the House vote on health insurance reform.

And then — poof! — single payer was back off the table.

Rep. Kucinich’s state-based amendment was out of the bill, “dead as a doornail.” And Speaker Pelosi explained that the substitute amendment couldn’t possibly have a debate and vote, for if it did, amendments to restrict health care for women and undocumented immigrant workers would also get to the floor. Congressional leaders suddenly opined that a losing vote for a single-payer amendment would be “tantamount to driving the movement off a cliff.” Even the President weighed in to discourage a vote on single payer. Rep. Weiner withdrew the amendment.

Yet the next day the Speaker allowed the anti-abortion amendment to the floor, where it passed and was added to the bill. In the end, the only progressive Democrats to vote against the House bill, abortion ban and all, were Reps. Kucinich and Massa, both single-payer supporters.

The people expected universal health care, and the House of Representatives delivered an anti-abortion bill.

Worse, the Democratic Party traded away fundamental women’s rights for a Massachusetts-style mandate, a law to criminalize the uninsured and subsidize unaffordable private insurance premiums with tax money, something we know already will not reduce costs and will not cover everyone, will not lessen disparities and will not improve the health of the nation.

It is astounding to think the Democratic Party has made a bid for the United States to join a few shameful nations that severely restrict women’s access to abortion. Earlier this year we watched, with great dismay, when Mr. Obama chose not to strike the Hyde Amendment from his federal budget proposal. The President has now gone farther, re-affirming the prohibition of federal funding for abortion as a “principle.”

Reproductive rights cannot be bargained away for any reason. Autonomy over our bodies is essential to health care and to democracy.

No nation on earth can call itself a democracy without equal and full access to health care. No nation on earth can call itself a democracy without allowing full personal autonomy over all health decisions, including abortion. These values are severely threatened under the proposed legislation. It is time for protest.

As single payer advocates, we firmly believe that health care decisions must be made between the provider and the patient, with full protection of privacy. Women must be able to access abortion if determined necessary — by either the patient or the doctor.

We call upon the President and the Congress to start from scratch and ask you to join us. Senator Bernie Sanders will introduce a single payer bill in the United States Senate in the coming weeks. Demand that your Senator vote for this bill. In addition, join the National Organization for Women, strong single-payer advocates, in organizing days of action in DC and Pennsylvania to protest the Stupak-Pitts amendment.

The solution to the health care crisis must provide personal freedom from a dysfunctional and unsustainable system that ties health care to the employer and to the spouse. When Medicare was enacted, it reduced poverty in those over 65 by 60%. By this measure, a universal, single-payer system would also provide economic freedom, by raising over 22 million people out of poverty, while providing each of us with full and necessary access to health care. Nothing less will do.

Katie Robbins is National Organizer of Healthcare-NOW! Andy Coates, MD, is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.

By Kevin Gosztola for OpEdNews.com

Myth #1Public option will help control costs

Dr. Margaret Flowers with Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) explains that Americans have been led to believe that “the public option is going to keep companies honest and help control costs.”

Obama and Congress are taking an approach that has failed to control costs time and time again.

“We’ve already had states that have tried this type of approach over the past few decades,” says Flowers. “Every state that has tried this approach has had these grandiose hopes where they had said we’re going to cover this many of hundreds of thousands of people in this time period and not a single one of them has succeeded. They’ve all fallen far short and then gone under financially.”

Self-employed doctor, Dr. Matt Hendrickson, who risked arrest in a MobilizeforHealthcare.org action at the Cigna Offices in Glendale, CA, cites examples “from the last 20 years of states that have attempted a public option.” He explains that Tennessee, Oregon, and Massachusetss (twice) have tried the public option.

“In each case, the number of uninsured went down briefly then returned to the baseline for one reason: cost,” said Hendrickson. “There’s no way to control cost as long as you allow private insurance industry to add a 25% surcharge to all healthcare transaction and to continue divert money to avoiding the sick, marketing and advertising, to avoid the sick and try to dump them onto a public plan.”

Anesthesiologist Dr. Samuel Metz, who is with the Mad as Hell Doctors, explains, “Massachusetts has been held up as an example of a state that has come closest to providing universal health insurance. However, not only has it failed to provide universal health insurance. It is also now the most expensive place on the planet for healthcare. It leads the U.S. in annual cost per person.”

The public option, “will not reduce the cost of healthcare,” says Metz. “In fact, it’s anticipated it will add $800 billion more into a system that’s already twice as expensive as the average industrialized nation.”

Myth #2The public option is a “public” option

The public option that came out of the House, according to Dr. Flowers, is “even worse than we could have imagined because they’re predicting that maybe 2% of the population will be able to go into that public option, that it will be run by private insurance companies, and that it will actually cost more than private insurance.”

What’s so public about something only open to 2% of the population?

As Kevin Zeese from the Prosperity Agendaexplains, “No matter how much you hate your current insurance, no matter how much they’ve abused you with premiums, co-pays, denials of care, no matter what they’ve done to you, you can’t leave your insurance and go to the public option,” said Zeese. “90% of Americans can’t even choose it. So much for choices.”

Flowers adds the government would be subsidizing the purse of private insurance to try to help people buy their products. Government would be putting public dollars into the pockets of private insurance companies. And, a private corporation would be allowed to run the public option.

How many Americans really think putting reform in the hands of those who have created this crisis in health care in America will ultimately work or produce any favorable results?

Myth #3 Public option will make single-payer possible

Doctors, nurses, and patients following the de-evolution of health care reform closely know that the public option (especially the idea of a robust public option) is a carefully calculated political carrot being offered to progressives so they will sit down, shut up about single-payer, and support this current corporate giveaway to private insurance companies, which is moving through Congress right now.

Hendrickson explains, “The reason why the public option was introduced, according to congress people that have spoken to the single-payer movement, was because of the single-payer movement. There was such an upswell in the progressive part of this country for single-payer that they opted for some compromise that would not have been given if there wasn’t so much support for single-payer.”

If you ask Zeese, this won’t do anything to get us closer to single-payer.

This bill will “enshrine and deepen the power of the insurance industry.” Hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue, according to Zeese, will now be available for corrupting and influencing Congress.

It will be even harder to get single-payer if a weak public option remains in the bill. And the money government gives away will help private insurance fight any additional reforms to legislation passed by Congress and Obama.

Metz concludes that the public option will make it impossible for us to achieve universal coverage for at least a decade.

“Every passing year we’ll see more Americans with worse health and nobody will do anything because we will point to our legislation and say give it another couple years to work,” says Metz. “And in five years, we will have exhausted the financial resources of the government, we will have exhausted taxpayers, we will have exhausted the good will of voters, the patience of voters, and no one will want to attempt health reform again.”

November 24, 2009 by Healthcare-NOW!
Filed under Healthcare-NOW! Updates

On November 14 and 15, 2009, 125 single-payer activists met in St. Louis, MO to hash out the strategy for building the Healthcare-NOW! (HCN) network. Despite the passing of the House bill with the Stupak amendment, and the bait and switch of the first vote in the House on single-payer, the energy for going forward was high.

For those of you who were there, and for those who couldn’t make it, we have a comprehensive report back from the panels, workshops, and resources for all to use in their single-payer advocacy.

Video from the conference is at the bottom of this page.

Healthcare-NOW! 2009 Nat. Strategy Conference

This annual conference is meant to bring together activists from across the country to build the movement. Highlights included:

1. Firm commitment to oppose the legislation in it’s current form HCN would oppose the House Bill in its current form but do so in a manner that was respectful of the diversity of views within HCN, clearly distinguishes our position from that of right-wing teabaggers and is mindful of our strategic imperative to reach out to potential allies who realize that the public option movement has reached a dead end. A committee is working on a statement to circulate to HCN activists. If you would like to contribute to this effort, please contact Jeff Muckensturm at jeff@healthcare-now.org.

2. Firm commitment to support the Sanders efforts. Along with the Mobilization for Health Care for All Campaign, we are putting together a call to action to deliver letters to Senators offices, and organizing a day of action around Human Rights Day on Dec 10th. We will be announcing more details soon.

3. 6 new Healthcare-NOW! board members! We welcome Rita Valenti, Lindy Hern, Mikuak Rai, Edith Kenna, Vashti Winterberg, and Mona Shaw to the board! Part of the new structure of HCN which was voted on at the meeting in new bylaws is to allow membership to vote on board members. We welcome these experienced activists and organizers. Board elections will happen every two years, so keep this in mind for the 2011 HCN membership meeting, so that you can run and help in the collective decision making process of HCN.

4. Michael Lighty’s presentation on the current legislation and it’s inadequacy helped shape the membership decision to oppose the bill. Download his comparison of the bills and more resources here.

5. Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organization for Women, announced her plans to roll out a national action plan for single-payer! Also, she announced plans to challenge the Stupak amendment.

6. Ethel Long Scott’s remarks on Going Forward received a standing ovation – Read more here.

7. Sandy Fox made a call to action to save our community hospitals. Reporting on the closing of Braddock Community hospital in Pittsburgh, she said their local coalition has been able to garner significant local media attention and reach a new community to support single-payer national health care. Read about their work here. To get involved with the campaign to Save our Community Hospitals, contact Dr. Anne Scheetz at annescheetz [at] gmail.com.

8. The wonderful hospitality of the Missourians for Single Payer, and having the input from so many committed activists from the area. Special thanks to them for their support.

9. Mikuak Rai closing out with his song “The System is Sick.”

Strategy Ideas for Healthcare-NOW! in 2010

1. Add and build new coalitions while strengthening existing ones (all methods to build local coalitions got priority status, especially working on local hospital and primary care facility closing and cut-backs)
-Go back to all of our local organizations with the info from the conference
-Draw in LGBT community
-Draw in campuses – use their energy – hold meetings on campuses
-Local vigils
-Support local hospital/primary care facility campaigns
-Add a “best practices’ page to our website
-Draw self-help health groups into our movement
-Double our membership over the next year
-Use national and regional conference calls

2. Expand the diversity of our movement
-Add artists from music, poetry, etc. Concert for our issue
-Use You Tube channel, commercials to build our movement
-Reach youth – national book sale, health care stories from youth and minority communities (note Families USA story book from Tennessee)
-Create HCN Youth Advisory Board

3. Grow understanding and support for federal level single-payer
-Don’t be afraid to talk to folks from Chambers of Commerce and AARP that may be disillusioned at this point
-Collect new stories behind HR 3962 or whatever comes out of Congress
-Force insurance industry to be transparent and report their denials
-National demonstration
-One on one house parties
-Consolidate national messaging; coordinated analysis of issue and guidelines for response – have one place for folks to get this information
-New messages that brands our values, gives human dimension to issue, avoids “socialist” problem. “Single payer” works to some degree – may not be our best label.
Perhaps something like “America’s Healthy Families Plan” (Priority—committee set up to work on this; D. Breitzman is taking the lead)
-Healthcare is a human right must be part of the messaging; tie health reform to eliminating poverty
-Tie in activists from various mobilization civil disobedience campaigns – they will help us all understand the importance of these tactics and that they aren’t that scary
Continue to target insurance companies
-Bring HCAN and Obamacare folks into the fold

4. Increase Healthcare-NOW’s national visibility
-Huffington Post, etc. work on fairer media exposure
-More visual media
-Endorse Fair Elections bills
-VOTE DOWN 3962 – support “civilized” medicine; be clear about our message in taking a position (Those present voted to take a position against HR 3269, and a large committee formed to craft the position so that our position is clear and thoughtful; Jeff M. from Healthcare-NOW staff will convene the group on-line)

5. Shift energy from national coalition building effort to grassroots coalitions
-Build groups at the Congressional district level – regional, too.
-Work on electing democrats who might support single payer; make single payer key criteria for election

6. Implement the Marilyn Clement Healthcare Justice Intern Program

Download all the minutes from the conference here.
Download all the strategy ideas from the conference here.
Download the report back from the workshops.

November 23, 2009 by Healthcare-NOW!
Filed under Action Alerts, Healthcare-NOW! Updates

By Donna Smith –

Those millions of us who support a Medicare for All, single-payer, reform for the healthcare crisis in this nation have some work to do over the next few days. Senators are on their way to their home states for the one-week Thanksgiving recess – and they need a little up close and personal constituent attention before dinnertime on Thursday.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a stalwart supporter of doing the right thing for his state, our healthcare system and this nation – and he has said repeatedly that moving toward a just and economically sound system is possible through Medicare for All, single-payer. In the purest sense of giving patients control over their own healthcare, single-payer gives us all control over our choice of providers – and it gives our healthcare professionals the freedom they need to advise us on the basis of health rather than payment source.

So, even though the current Senate bill is not what we want – Senator Sanders will offer an amendment that would be a substitute for that bill and is mirrored on S. 703, The American Health Security Act.

We need to make it clear before our Senators are immersed in their own holiday events and then in traveling back to Washington, DC, that we want them to support Senator Sanders’ amendment.

Call today, call tomorrow and keep calling until the home offices of the Senators close for the holidays – and many will stay open until Wednesday at noon. Tell the staff you want to talk turkey about the Senate effort.

Time is drawing short for our Senators to hear from us. Debate will begin on November 30 on the current Senate bill. Senator Sanders needs support. He has already told us that he does not expect a win on his amendment. But we are all laying groundwork for this nation to move in the right direction before long – we know that the current bills do not “bend the cost curve” enough and we know they certainly do not bend the death or bankruptcy curve nearly enough to make the bills what this nation needs.

Additionally, we want the legislation to contain language that will allow states that opt in to a single-payer system to be able to do so with the appropriate waivers from federal legal provisions which might otherwise present obstacles to doing so.

So, the ask of our Senators – each and every one, liberal, centrist or conservative – is two-fold and urgent:

1. Vote with and for Sanders’ S. 703 substitute amendment; and
2. Support state single-payer enabling language in the final bill.

Calls to DC won’t be effective this week. We can all return to that effort next week. Thanksgiving week calls must go to your Senators’ offices in your state. Look them up here, using your zip code.

Tell friends, neighbors and relatives. This year, talk a little turkey about healthcare. Ask folks how thankful they would be to have healthcare as a basic human right for their neighbors and for themselves. And then help them look up their Senators’ contact information and tell them how easy it really is to call and log your concerns and your expectations for an affirmative vote for the Sanders’ amendment.

Oh, and don’t forget to thank one another for caring enough to join in the struggle. It matters. Everybody in, nobody out. Thank you all for believing that together we can change this, because we can.

by Katie Robbins & Andy Coates –

November 23, 2009 by Healthcare-NOW!
Filed under Single-Payer News

Two weekends ago, after the bait and switch of a vote on single-payer for a vote on an anti-abortion amendment, we felt wizened to the possibility of unknown threats in the legislative churn on health reform. As insurance and pharmaceutical companies, Catholic bishops, and the right wing throw in dollars, lobbyists, and pressure for no votes on the final bill, it is clear we who are in the business of protecting and improving our rights to access to health care, including abortion, must remain vigilant and ready to challenge these threats.

First, a little history is in order. In mid-July Rep. Kucinich passed in the Education and Labor Committee an amendment to the House bill for health insurance reform that would make single-payer easier to enact at the state level. On July 31st Rep. Weiner and 6 other members of Energy and Commerce Committee brought to committee an amendment to that would substitute the text of HR 676, the national single-payer bill, for the House bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a floor vote on single payer — if Rep. Weiner would withdraw the amendment from committee.

Single-payer advocates embraced these efforts wholeheartedly. And we counted upon our champions in the House of Representatives to stand with us.

Vigorous activity ensued, a fourteen week campaign involving millions of people in phone calls, petitions, forums, local protests and vigils, emails and faxes, op-eds and letters-to-the-editor and personal visits. There were conscientious objectors. 158 single-payer supporters were arrested performing acts of civil disobedience, peaceful sit-ins to register their outrage in the offices of health insurance companies and Congress across the nation.

As the grassroots clamor rose, Reps. Weiner and Kucinich sought to surf the wave. The crescendo grew and grew, until one day before the House vote on health insurance reform.

And then — poof! — single payer was back off the table.

Rep. Kucinich’s state-based amendment was out of the bill, “dead as a doornail.” And Speaker Pelosi explained that the substitute amendment couldn’t possibly have a debate and vote, for if it did, amendments to restrict health care for women and undocumented immigrant workers would also get to the floor. Congressional leaders suddenly opined that a losing vote for a single-payer amendment would be “tantamount to driving the movement off a cliff.” Even the President weighed in to discourage a vote on single payer. Rep. Weiner withdrew the amendment.

Yet the next day the Speaker allowed the anti-abortion amendment to the floor, where it passed and was added to the bill. In the end, the only progressive Democrats to vote against the House bill, abortion ban and all, were Reps. Kucinich and Massa, both single-payer supporters.

The people expected universal health care, and the House of Representatives delivered an anti-abortion bill.

Worse, the Democratic Party traded away fundamental women’s rights for a Massachusetts-style mandate, a law to criminalize the uninsured and subsidize unaffordable private insurance premiums with tax money, something we know already will not reduce costs and will not cover everyone, will not lessen disparities and will not improve the health of the nation.

It is astounding to think the Democratic Party has made a bid for the United States to join a few shameful nations that severely restrict women’s access to abortion. Earlier this year we watched, with great dismay, when Mr. Obama chose not to strike the Hyde Amendment from his federal budget proposal. The President has now gone farther, re-affirming the prohibition of federal funding for abortion as a “principle.”

Reproductive rights cannot be bargained away for any reason. Autonomy over our bodies is essential to health care and to democracy.

No nation on earth can call itself a democracy without equal and full access to health care. No nation on earth can call itself a democracy without allowing full personal autonomy over all health decisions, including abortion. These values are severely threatened under the proposed legislation. It is time for protest.

As single payer advocates, we firmly believe that health care decisions must be made between the provider and the patient, with full protection of privacy. Women must be able to access abortion if determined necessary — by either the patient or the doctor.

We call upon the President and the Congress to start from scratch and ask you to join us. Senator Bernie Sanders will introduce a single payer bill in the United States Senate in the coming weeks. Demand that your Senator vote for this bill. In addition, join the National Organization for Women, strong single-payer advocates, in organizing days of action in DC and Pennsylvania to protest the Stupak-Pitts amendment.

The solution to the health care crisis must provide personal freedom from a dysfunctional and unsustainable system that ties health care to the employer and to the spouse. When Medicare was enacted, it reduced poverty in those over 65 by 60%. By this measure, a universal, single-payer system would also provide economic freedom, by raising over 22 million people out of poverty, while providing each of us with full and necessary access to health care. Nothing less will do.

Katie Robbins is National Organizer of Healthcare-NOW! Andy Coates, MD, is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program.

For OpEdNews by Kevin Gosztola

On Saturday night, the Senate will take a procedural vote to move debate on the current health insurance enrichment bill in Congress forward.

Democratic Senators like Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Chuck Schumer, through a project called Citizens for a Public Option, have been building support for the public option and encouraging Americans to write letters to the editor that debunk health care reform myths—myths that the conservative echo chamber have been propagating.

Senators (and representatives in the House and Obama) can champion this health insurance legislation all they want and claim it will “foster greater competition in the marketplace, create more choices for consumers, and lead to lower costs and better quality for all,” but doctors who have been on the front lines of America’s sick care non-system do not believe many of the arguments that Democrats are using to create support for a public option.

Myth #1 – Public option will help control costs

Dr. Margaret Flowers with Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) explains that Americans have been led to believe that “the public option is going to keep companies honest and help control costs.”

Obama and Congress are taking an approach that has failed to control costs time and time again.

“We’ve already had states that have tried this type of approach over the past few decades,” says Flowers. “Every state that has tried this approach has had these grandiose hopes where they had said we’re going to cover this many of hundreds of thousands of people in this time period and not a single one of them has succeeded. They’ve all fallen far short and then gone under financially.”

Self-employed doctor, Dr. Matt Hendrickson, who risked arrest in a MobilizeforHealthcare.org action at the Cigna Offices in Glendale, CA, cites examples “from the last 20 years of states that have attempted a public option.” He explains that Tennessee, Oregon, and Massachusetss (twice) have tried the public option.

“In each case, the number of uninsured went down briefly then returned to the baseline for one reason: cost,” said Hendrickson. “There’s no way to control cost as long as you allow private insurance industry to add a 25% surcharge to all healthcare transaction and to continue divert money to avoiding the sick, marketing and advertising, to avoid the sick and try to dump them onto a public plan.”

Anesthesiologist Dr. Samuel Metz, who is with the Mad as Hell Doctors, explains, “Massachusetts has been held up as an example of a state that has come closest to providing universal health insurance. However, not only has it failed to provide universal health insurance. It is also now the most expensive place on the planet for healthcare. It leads the U.S. in annual cost per person.”

The public option, “will not reduce the cost of healthcare,” says Metz. “In fact, it’s anticipated it will add $800 billion more into a system that’s already twice as expensive as the average industrialized nation.”

Myth #2 – The public option is a “public” option

The public option that came out of the House, according to Dr. Flowers, is “even worse than we could have imagined because they’re predicting that maybe 2% of the population will be able to go into that public option, that it will be run by private insurance companies, and that it will actually cost more than private insurance.”

What’s so public about something only open to 2% of the population?

As Kevin Zeese from the Prosperity Agendaexplains, “No matter how much you hate your current insurance, no matter how much they’ve abused you with premiums, co-pays, denials of care, no matter what they’ve done to you, you can’t leave your insurance and go to the public option,” said Zeese. “90% of Americans can’t even choose it. So much for choices.”

Flowers adds the government would be subsidizing the purse of private insurance to try to help people buy their products. Government would be putting public dollars into the pockets of private insurance companies. And, a private corporation would be allowed to run the public option.

How many Americans really think putting reform in the hands of those who have created this crisis in health care in America will ultimately work or produce any favorable results?

Myth #3 – Public option will make single-payer possible

Doctors, nurses, and patients following the de-evolution of health care reform closely know that the public option (especially the idea of a robust public option) is a carefully calculated political carrot being offered to progressives so they will sit down, shut up about single-payer, and support this current corporate giveaway to private insurance companies, which is moving through Congress right now.

Hendrickson explains, “The reason why the public option was introduced, according to congress people that have spoken to the single-payer movement, was because of the single-payer movement. There was such an upswell in the progressive part of this country for single-payer that they opted for some compromise that would not have been given if there wasn’t so much support for single-payer.”

If you ask Zeese, this won’t do anything to get us closer to single-payer.

This bill will “enshrine and deepen the power of the insurance industry.” Hundreds of billions of dollars in new revenue, according to Zeese, will now be available for corrupting and influencing Congress.

It will be even harder to get single-payer if a weak public option remains in the bill. And the money government gives away will help private insurance fight any additional reforms to legislation passed by Congress and Obama.

Metz concludes that the public option will make it impossible for us to achieve universal coverage for at least a decade.

“Every passing year we’ll see more Americans with worse health and nobody will do anything because we will point to our legislation and say give it another couple years to work,” says Metz. “And in five years, we will have exhausted the financial resources of the government, we will have exhausted taxpayers, we will have exhausted the good will of voters, the patience of voters, and no one will want to attempt health reform again.”