Jul 13, 2009
ER doctor advocates for universal single payer health care
BRIGHTON -- More than 50 people sacrificed a sunny Saturday morning to jam into the Livingston County Democratic Party’s headquarters for a town hall meeting on health care reform.
With more than 46 million Americans without health care, it is a hot issue. The U.S. Senate is currently debating HR 676 that would establish a universal health insurance program.
“We should leave here with a new resolve, and be able to use the info we glean here,” said Donna Anderson, the vie-chair of the LCDP. “Don’t be afraid to call Senators from other states. Call the White House; President Obama made some promises.”
Unfortunately, the bill is in trouble. Although the majority of Americans favor a single payer, universal system like Medicare, some Republicans are fighting against it, and insurance companies are spending $1.4 million a day on lobbying Congress against it.
“There has been a lot of debate on what the bill should look like,” said Callie Fox, the Mid-Michigan Regional Manager for Sen. Debbie Stabenow. “There has to be a strong public option.”
The cost of health insurance is skyrocketing. Insurance rates have increased 73 percent since 2000, and the annual cost is almost $12,000 a year. People without health coverage fail to treat routine problems, and they grow even more serious, forcing them to Emergency Rooms, driving up the cost of health care even further.
“Health care needs to be a right, not a privilege,” Fox said. “There is always the ER, but that is by far the most expensive option.”
Robert Sisler, President of UAW Retirees Local 6000, had horror stories of people being treated in the ER when a routine check up could have caught a minor ailment and treated it before it became life-threatening.
He also had harsh words for the country’s 1,200 for profit health insurance providers where the number one goal is to avoid paying for anything. The current system is extremely wasteful, and 30 cents of every health care dollar goes toward paperwork, marketing and profit. The rules confuse patients, doctors and administrators.
“You know that when you fight for everything your policy allows, you have spent more time with clerks than the doctor,” Sisler said.
As an emergency physician at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor and president of the Washtenaw County Medical Society, Dr. James C. Mitchiner is on the front line of health care. He has been a long-time advocate for single-payer, universal heath care, and he is distressed over where the debate on HR 676 is headed.
“I am very dismayed that we are moving so fast just to get something done for political compromise,” he said. “That means we will have health care reform in name only.”
Mitchiner said people who believe single payer would never work in the U.S .just need to consider that the most popular health insurance program in the U.S., based on patient surveys, is a single-payer, government-run, tax-financed, administratively lean, non-means-tested, universal access program called Medicare. The program operates with less than 3 percent overhead compared to 15-30 percent by for profit provides.
“As an ER physician, I don’t understand why people lose their health insurance when they lose their job,” Mitchiner said. “You don’t lose your car insurance, life insurance or home insurance.”
Mitchiner debunked some of the myths and Republican talking points on health care, such as the alleged long lines and waits in Canada. Mitchiner said that is a myth, and so is the myth that people from Canada cross the border to gain access to U.S. health care. However, many Americans travel the world to get health care elsewhere. The U.S. is the only advanced country in the world that does not have universal health care. The U.S. is also ranked 37th among all countries in health system performance, according to the World Health Organization.
“The first thing to keep in mind about Canada: get this if you do not get anything else: they only spend a fraction of what we spend on health care,” Mitchiner said. “In my years as a physician I have only seen three Canadians in all that time, and one was in a car accident.”
The U.S. spends about 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care, more than any other industrialized nation in the world. Canada spends about 10 percent. Mitchiner said the waits in Canada are no greater than in the U.S., and the Canadian system is simply under funded.
“Who has a longer wait than in the U.S.,” he said.” We have 46 million Americans waiting for health care. That’s a headline you will not see in Canada.”
He said the talking point that a government bureaucrat will get between a doctor and the patients is simply not true. Anyone who has had to fight an insurance company has had a bureaucrat get between the doctor and patients.
He said single payer is not “socialized medicine” because the doctors are not government employees. He also debunked the myth that single payer will hurt innovation. The fact is most of the medical breakthroughs have occurred in other countries, like heart transplants in South Africa. Plus, 90 percent of the drug research is done with tax dollars at research universities, yet the drug companies get the patent and can charge you outrageous prices for the research we paid for.
“There is absolutely no evidence innovation will be stifled,” he said. “Incredibly, most of the medical research is done with tax dollars.”
As for the cost, Mitchiner said we can’t afford not to go with single payer. He favors a phased in approach so the system is not disrupted. The Government Accountability Office has estimated that administrative savings from a single-payer system would be in excess of $200 billion annually, more than enough to cover those who are presently uninsured. Businesses that provide health care will be relieved of that burden, and they will be able to compete globally.
“We don’t need to spend one dollar more if we just prioritize what we spend on administration,” he said. “You wouldn’t have to tax health care benefits, soda pop or cigarettes.”