Friday, April 25, 2008

The Single-Payer Solution

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

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