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A boondoggle in the making

After years of hand-wringing about the growing cost and shrinking availability of health care in the United States, it looks like something is finally going to be done. Everybody, including the health insurance industry, finally admits that there’s a problem, and they’ve all come together to sit down at the table and talk about it in Washington, DC.

Or not quite all. The one idea pointedly excluded from the table is the one that poll after poll says is favored by the general public and members of the medical profession: single-payer health care. Even the “compromise” that remains under discussion—keeping the current for-profit, employer-based health insurance system but including a public option that would allow individuals to choose a government medical plan like Medicare—is gravely endangered.

As noted in the article on page 3, New York Association of Nurses (NYAN), which represents the nurses at CRMC, would prefer a single-payer system. It is not alone. According to a Grove Insight Opinion Research poll, 59 percent of those surveyed preferred a Medicare-type system to the current system. A University of Indiana survey conducted in March found that 83 percent of psychiatrists, 69 percent of emergency medicine specialists, 65 percent of pediatricians, 64 percent of internists, 60 percent of family physicians and 55 percent of general surgeons favor a national health insurance plan. A poll taken by the Annals of Internal Medicine in April of 2008 found that 59 percent of physicians support government legislation to establish national health insurance. (For more such polls, visit

But money talks louder than citizens. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus—who has received more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries than any other current Democratic member of Congress—declared single payer “off the table,” didn’t invite any single-payer advocates to testify before his committee, and called the cops when a handful of single-payer protesters arrived at the hearings. Many medical organizations were in DC protesting for single payer at the same time: The above-mentioned NYAN, the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association, the AFL-CIO affiliated United American Nurses, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the Service Employees International Union Nurse Alliance and Physicians for a National Health Program,

Now, even the public option is being pushed aside, with politicians considering a plan to provide it only if, after seven years or so, it turns out the private system isn’t working. News flash: we already know that the private system, in which premiums, deductibles and co-payments are known as “revenues” and paying off on claims is known as “expense,” does not provide adequate affordable coverage to the public. Nevertheless, the politicians apparently believe that the Massachusetts “solution,” in which the private system is kept but everybody is forced to buy insurance or be penalized, is somehow going to make things better.

How do the residents of Massachusetts like that system? A ballot initiative question posed to them last November read: “Should the representative from this district be instructed to support legislation creating a cost-effective single-payer health insurance system that is available to all residents, and oppose laws penalizing those who fail to obtain health insurance?” The answer was “yes” by an average of 73 percent in the 10 legislative districts in which the question was posed.

Nonetheless, the likelihood as of now is that we will all be forced to buy health insurance from for-profit companies, probably without any regulations limiting co-pays, deductibles, or the rationing of health care that occurs when claims for drugs or procedures recommended by our doctors are denied by the insurance companies. In fact, to the extent that those companies will be handed a captive market, chances are that all that will get much, much worse.

And don’t be fooled by the announcement that the industry has promised to limit costs voluntarily; it backed off its promises a couple of days after it made them—and it didn’t promise to cut costs, only to limit future increases. If you can’t afford health insurance now, you won’t be able to do so in the future either, even if the industry keeps its promises.

Subsidies will be available for some, but judging by the Massachusetts system there will also be some—especially the unemployed and self-employed—who won’t be able to afford the mandate, and even those who do may find their co-pays and deductibles so high as to make the coverage virtually worthless.

A decision will probably be made over the next couple of months. If you don’t like the way things are heading, check out the sidebar links for more information on the alternatives and then get on the phone to your representatives.

Learn more about health care options

Single payer (private health care providers, government pays instead of insurance companies)

HR 676, a bill introduced by John Conyers currently bottled up in committee:

S 703, a bill introduced by Bernie Sanders and currently bottled up in committee:

The California legislature has twice passed a single-payer bill, vetoed both times by Governor Schwarzenneger. This is a description of the bill, introduced a third time:

Public option" target="_blank

Massachusetts plan

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Dr. Punnybone


Letters to the Editor

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A gift to the school district

To the editor:

I would like to take the time to publicly state that I believe the reason Sullivan West is off the front page of every news paper is really quite simple. We have Ken Hilton (our superintendent) to thank.

If you have never taken the time to get to know Ken Hilton, you have no idea just how blessed Sullivan West is to have him here with us. Ken is a great leader. He deals with people directly and answers the questions that people take the time to ask him. It is because Ken Hilton treats others with respect, love, grace and integrity that there is no need to talk about issues on the front page of the newspaper. When an occasional issue comes up that needs to be dealt with, Ken takes care of it.