The Single-Payer Solution
By Amy Goodman TruthDig April 24, 2008
As the media coverage of the Democratic presidential
race continues to focus on lapel pins and pastors,
America is ailing. As I travel around the country, I
find people are angry and motivated. Like Dr. Rocky
White, a physician from a conservative, evangelical
background who practices in rural Alamosa , Colo. A
tall, gray-haired Westerner in black jeans, a crisp
white shirt and a bolo tie, Dr. White is a leading
advocate for single-payer health care. He wasn't always.
He told me in a recent interview: 'Here I am, a
Republican, thinking about nationalizing health care.
It just went against the grain of everything that I
stood for. But you have to remember: I didn't come to
those conclusions with lofty ideals of social justice.'
In the early 1990s, his medical group started falling
apart. White, a keen student of economics and the
business of medicine, determined that it wasn't just
his practice but the system that was broken.
'You're seeing an ever-increasing number of people
starting to support a national health program. In fact,
59 percent of practicing physicians today believe that
we need to have a national health program. I mean,
that's unheard of, even 10 years ago. It's amazing to
see a new generation of physicians coming up who are
disgusted with our current health-care system. You
know, we're trained to be advocates of patients, we're
trained to save lives, we're trained to practice
medicine. And instead, what we're doing is we're
practicing Wall Street economics.'
Single-payer is not to be confused with universal
coverage, which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both
support. In fact, in a recent debate, when Clinton
raised the issue of single-payer, the audience
interrupted with applause. She immediately countered,
'I know a lot of people favor [it], but for many
reasons [it] is difficult to achieve.'
Why? One of the most powerful industries in the country
opposes it-the insurance industry. Under universal
coverage, insurance profits are preserved. Under
single-payer, they are not. Dr. Rocky White, who now
sits on the board of the nonprofit Health Care for All
Colorado, has switched his political affiliation. He
also has updated and reissued Dr. Robert LeBow's book
on single-payer called 'Health Care Meltdown:
Confronting the Myths and Fixing Our Failing System.'
He described possible solutions: 'There are a lot of
different types of single-payer systems-you could have
purely socialized medicine. That's kind of like what
England has. The government owns the hospitals, the
government owns the clinics, the government finances
all the health care, and all the doctors work for the
government. That is truly socialized medicine, as
opposed to the Canadian system, where the financing
comes through their Medicare program, but all the
doctors are in private practice.'
The economics are complex, but this plain-spoken
country doctor explains it clearly:
'You know, this industry is a $2-trillion industry, and
the profits in the for-profit insurance industry are so
huge and it's so deeply entrenched into Wall Street -
but until we move to a single-payer system and get rid
of the profit motive in financing of health care, we
will not be able to fix the problems that we have.'
What would it take? Dr. White has spent his life
dealing with the high winds on the high plains, from
Nebraska to Colorado, and describes the challenge the
country faces in familiar terms:
'I think that our current presidential candidates
understand that ideally single-payer would be the best,
but they don't have the political will to move that
forward. Their job is to feel which way the wind is
blowing. Our job is to turn that wind.'
Amy Goodman is the host of 'Democracy Now!,' a daily
international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations
in North America .
(c) 2008 Amy Goodman