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Glimmers of healthcare politics at meeting of Western Washington docs

Tough talk from Kshama Sawant and others at annual gathering of Western Washington Physicians for a National Health Program.
Obamacare critic Kshama Sawant spoke at the annual meeting of Western Washington Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program

Obamacare critic Kshama Sawant spoke at the annual meeting of Western Washington Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program Credit: Western Washington Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program

The Western Washington Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a universal, comprehensive single-payer national health program, held its annual public meeting last Saturday evening at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus. The event provided a useful snapshot of things to come in healthcare politics nationally, but also here in Washington State. 

The meeting, held before a nearly full house that included numerous practicing doctors and nurses, also provided its share of surprises. Here are some highlights:

There was consensus that a single-payer plan is at least several years away and that state- rather than national-level organizing efforts to institute one would bear the most fruit over the next two years. 

The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) allows states, beginning in 2017, to seek exemptions from its provisions provided they present a credible alternative plan to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The meeting’s speakers agreed that between now and 2017 lobbying efforts to enact single-payer alternatives should focus on governors and state legislators. (Such HHS approvals, Rep. Jim McDermott pointed out, would likely occur only during the administration of a President sympathetic to the idea).

There was surprising dissatisfaction expressed toward Obamacare per se.  McDermott, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, said he was "annoyed and disappointed" that President Obama, at the outset of his administration, had refused even to consider a single-payer approach for which many organizations had worked tirelessly in prior years. Dr. Phil Caper, a former senior staff member of Sen. Ted Kennedy's health subcommittee and co-founder of a Maine group which supports a single-payer approach, commended President Obama, Michele Obama and Rep. Nancy Pelosi for their intense efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act. (See video of his talk below.) But he characterized the legislation itself as "bad public policy" because it leaves many without coverage and shifts costs inequitably among various patient groups.

Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant also was critical of Obamacare, arguing that the administration colluded with drug and insurance companies in framing it. Sawant spoke longest and most avidly at the meeting. (See video of her talk below.) She called on committed single-payer supporters to follow the example of those who sought a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, and bring tireless pressure to bear on Democratic officeholders in particular. She derided fellow City Council members, with the exception of Nick Licata, for bending almost automatically toward special-interest and corporate agendas. She solicited support for the defeat of sitting Washington State House Speaker Frank Chopp in upcoming primary elections.

Sawant is a committed socialist who often referred to "working class interests" and "corrupt corporations, banks, and hedge fund operators." Phil Caper, by contrast, noted that, unsurprisingly, drug companies, insurance companies and health-care providers had historically taken positions they considered to be in the best interests of their shareholders and/or bottom lines. Many of their interests, he said, could in fact be better satisfied under a comprehensive single-payer plan than through Obamacare or previous programs. No one's interest is served if health-care remains unaffordable to many, if a catastrophic illness can hurt individuals, families and their insurers and providers, and if the public and private costs of healthcare keep rising.

All conference speakers agreed that a single-payer plan that covers everyone should be financed by general tax funds. Caper reported that, in Maine, doctors required to deal with multiple health-insurance plans spent about three times as much money on administration as Canadian doctors who operate under a simpler single-payer plan. 

Hospitals, he said, spent even more, because of the need for large billing departments with hundreds of employees. The same was true of insurance companies, which maintain large underwriting departments to create hundreds of "risk pools." Estimates in Maine of unnecessary administration came to $1,500 per year for every resident of the state. Affordable Care Act provisions, said Caper, will cause these administrative costs to grow.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 6:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Makes perfect sense. Even the avid supporters say "it's bad legislation, and bad policy" that is "inequitable." No one can understand it. But, as described, the socialists and Democrats love it.

By all means, put the government in charge of our personal health care decisions. It's done such a great job with Social Security (bankrupt), U.S. Mail (been losing money annually for 30+ years with exorbitant salaries and benefits), Medicare and Medicaid and Food Stamps, utter disasters. Absolutely, let's put the government in charge of our health care system and decision. Good thinking.

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

I read within the last few months that the federal government was borrowing over 40 cents of every dollar it spent. I am sure this statistic excluded Social Security payments which, for at least a few more years, are paid out of its "trust fund". "If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it's free" is a PJ O'Rourke line that comes to my mind.

kieth

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 9:37 a.m. Inappropriate

That is a fancy scarf for a Socialist!

BlueLight

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey, take a listen, she's an engaging speaker, you might even enjoy yourself.

afreeman

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Yea, why go to single payer when every other industrialized country in the world, Germany, France, England, Japan, etc. have managed adopt it? I always find it interesting that folks will berate universal health care but have no issues with spending vast sums of money on worthless foreign adventures and corporate welfare.

Single payer is a much more efficient system of delivering health care - Blue Cross of CT has more employees that the entire bureaucracy of the Canadian Health Care system. Multiply that by what? About 50 different insurance care companies in the U.S. Yea - someone is taking us to the cleaners and it's not the government. No wonder the cost for delivery of health care in the U.S. is much higher than any other industrialized country.

Treker

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 8:14 p.m. Inappropriate

It is a puzzle to understand why Americans have screwed up health care.
We have some very good models from democratic, capitalist nations but we don't use them.

Posted Wed, Jul 23, 1:47 p.m. Inappropriate

A single-payer system would not be a health care system, it would be an insurance system. Instead of there being a zillion for-profit insurance companies operated in the US, there would be one, with the result economy of scale. Health care providers would not be employees of the government.

Medicaid and Medicare, far from being "disasters", work quite well, as insurers (again, they do not employ health care providers).

Social Security is not bankrupt.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Ask the middle class Canadians or English how they like their single payer systems. Need a knee replacement and don't want to wait for years? Fly to the U.S. Over 70 and need a hip replacement? Sorry, can't do that in Canada or England --- that's the government's decision. Hope you can afford to fly to the U.S. and get that hip replacement.

A single payer system in the U.S. would be even worse. In Canada and the U.K., the threat of huge malpractice damages is slim/none. In Canada and the U.K. medical school is either free or heavily subsidized, so doctors there (who make little money) can afford to make little money. Medicaid and Medicare materially reduce the amounts paid to doctors. Single payer in the U.S. would quickly cause a huge shortage of doctors. Many smart people will avoid the practice of medicine to pursue more lucrative careers.

PJS

Posted Thu, Jul 24, 6:20 p.m. Inappropriate

These, of course, are the problems posed by a universal, single-payer system. I think, however, that U.S. health-care consumers (and the Congress) would insist on broader coverage of procedures and therapies than some other countries' systems allow.

Critics will say such coverage will add to greater public costs.
Maybe so but there also will be savings created by administrative efficiencies and, as reported in Dr.Caper's remarks, above, elimination of redundancies and costs contained in the present system.

It will be a long journey to such a system---more than a couple years---made especially difficult now by public impatience with
NSA, IRS, Postal Service, VA, and other agencies' performance.

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

I like that she has an opinion on everything. But she seems to lack experience.

pdx

Posted Mon, Jul 28, 11:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Low cost single payer
medium cost single payer
high cost single payer

That is what people will understand. Insurance is a prison for anyone with issues. Life mobility is removed. I don't see ACA improving that at all. It might even worsen it. We need to internetisize the medical world and modularize treatments so we can go anywhere and be treated. With instant communication it shouldn't be that hard. Profit motive does stand in the way of that though. Doctors, Nurses, and Lawyers all need to take huge paycuts if we are going to be successful at socializing medicine.

pdx

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