The Health Care Debate Is Heating Up

by Lesley Politi on May 5, 2009

The debate about health care reform is heating up fast. The lines are drawn and as expected insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and their lobbyists are preparing a hard fight to preserve the current system.

While it’s understood that some change is coming, the final decisions aren’t yet made and the special interests desperately want to shape the debate to their liking, which based on their previous actions isn’t likely to prove beneficial to patients.

Mention the words “Single Payer,” as in a Single Payer Health Care System, and the reflex action that’s been drilled into these charlatans consists of screaming loudly, preferably in an outraged and indignant tone: Socialism!

Suddenly, you’re left of Lenin and plotting the downfall of America and its values.

It’s time for truth, clarity, and above all action. First, some truth.

The health care industry in this country, by any reasonable standard is deeply flawed. To wit:

  • We spend, as a nation twice as much on health care as any other country on earth. For that, we have a health care system whose outcomes rank far behind those of other industrialized nations.
  • Approximately 47 million Americans, most of them employed, are without health insurance coverage at this time. That is about one out of every six Americans. (And it’s one of every three in Rogers Park.)
  • About 18,000 Americans died last year because they lacked health insurance coverage. That’s six and one half times as many people who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks, and almost 150,000 dead in the eight years since that day.

That’s our truth. Now for some clarity about the Single Payer solution.

America already has a Single Payer system in place. It’s called Medicare, and it serves everyone over the age of 65. It’s financed with payroll tax deductions. Administrative expenses in the Medicare program are about 3 percent, compared to private insurance plans where they are estimated to be up to 31 percent.

The best feature of Medicare, however is that everyone is covered. That’s the core value of any ethical health care system: taking care of sick people. Only in the United States is an apparatus that permits insurance companies to cherry pick healthy clients and exclude the people who arguably need coverage most considered acceptable.

This is inevitable under the current system, however, because for insurance companies to stay in business they must show a profit and for that to happen they must limit expenses, which is why they place so many barriers to care in front of patients.

One common and patently false criticism of Single Payer is that “the government will choose your Doctor.” To be clear, with Single Payer you choose your doctor (without concerns about who is and isn’t in the insurance company’s network — they all are, if they’re seeing patients in the U.S.) and the government’s role is limited to paying the bill. Just like we’ve been doing with the Medicare program since 1965.

Now nothing is free; we all understand that. The Single Payer system works on a combination of increased efficiencies from savings on administrative costs and by replacing co-pays, insurance payments, and business health plan expenses with a tax structure that prioritizes delivering health care, rather than quarterly earnings.

Again, that’s how it works in the rest of the industrialized world, in economies that are primarily free market-driven in other industries. And in this country for everyone over age 65.

What’s needed now is action, because where there’s money involved lobbyists and corruption, and often co-opted politicians follow. No where is this more true than with health care, and here in Illinois we know all too well how ugly that can get to be.

The insurance companies and their allies are well-funded and as Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told us by phone this week: “It’s always a battle on Capitol Hill when the insurance companies want to wage one.”  Our congresswoman Jan Schakowsky is a co-sponsor of HR 676, the Single Payer bill in the U.S. House. So here’s what needs to happen: Senators Durbin and Burris need to hear from you. You can find their contact information online at

Also, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee has said in the past that “single payer is off the table.” However, he is now saying that “it might be a little to the side of the table,” which shows clearly that advocates for Single Payer, who include 60 percent of physicians and 61 percent of Americans overall, are making an impact.

It’s time for some thoughtful activism.

Here’s our suggestion: Call Senator Baucus’ office and tell him that you know he has accepted at least $413,000 from the health insurance industry recently, and that you support Single Payer. Go to the Physicians for a National Health Plan website ( in order to learn more about Single Payer as policy. But to compete with the lobbyists and their money we have to be blunt and persistent.

To that end, respectfully assure Senator Baucus that you will help his opponent in the Democratic primary in 2014 if he turns out to be Mr. Pay to Play on this issue. Many of our readers volunteered for President Obama — make it clear that you’re up for a road trip to Montana if necessary to ensure we have a finance committee Chair who gets it. Baucus understands this language; 91 percent of his campaign contributions come from outside of Montana. 

The specter of several thousand single payer advocates contributing to his future Democratic opponent and making calls and knocking on doors is the ONLY WAY Sen. Baucus is going to get this message. Sen. Baucus may think he’s in a safe seat out there in Montana and that we won’t hold him accountable for not putting patients first. We have to make him do it.

In the words of another recent, seemingly impossible yet morally imperative endeavor: “Yes we can.”

And when we do, we’ll finally end the shameful and systematic denial of health care to sick people in the wealthiest nation in the world.


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