Archive for Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Thousands of doctors urge national health care program

August 13, 2003


Nearly 8,000 physicians have signed a petition calling for a fundamental change in U.S. health care policy.

The petition, published in today's Journal of the American Medical Assn., supports creating a government-financed National Health Insurance Program.

"The system we have now is inequitable," said Dr. William Hale, a Lawrence psychiatrist whose name appears on the petition.

"I firmly believe we can cover everybody without incurring additional costs simply by not paying insurance companies' CEOs' huge salaries, by not paying their advertising costs and by ensuring them a profit," Hale said.

Dr. Joshua Freeman, chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at Kansas University's School of Medicine in Kansas City, Kan., signed the petition, too.

"The health care system in the United States may be the best in the world, but for far too many people it's inaccessible because they are poor or because they're working for a company that doesn't offer health insurance," Freeman said.

Freeman called the current, wealth-based system "totally immoral."

About 30 Kansas doctors signed the petition.

Doctors' statement

Coordinated by Physicians for a National Health Program, the signers also contend that recent plans for enacting a prescription drug benefit for the elderly and people with disabilities would shift more government money to private companies while offering little value to consumers.

"HMOs, launched as health care's bright hope, have raised Medicare costs by billions and fallen to the basement of public esteem. Investor-owned hospital chains, born of the promise of efficiency, have been wracked by scandal," the petition reads. "And drug firms, which have secured the highest profits and lowest taxes of any industry, price drugs out of reach of those who need them most."

The doctors would put in place a single-payer system -- essentially an upgraded and expanded version of Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly and people with disabilities.

The 7,782 signers are led by Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and former Surgeons General Julius Richmond and David Satcher.

"The system cannot continue much longer the way it is," said Angell, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. "It is clearly imploding. It isn't that single-payer is the best choice. It's the only choice."

The American Medical Assn. remains opposed to a single-payer health care system.

"By implementing a single-payer system, the U.S. would be trading one problem for a whole set of others," Dr. Donald Palmisano, AMA's president, said in a statement.

Single-payer system

A single-payer system, he said, would lead to long lines, an even thicker health-care bureaucracy and a slowness to adopt new technologies and maintain facilities.

Freeman disputed Palmisano's assessment, noting that it's not unusual for Canadian hospitals to run their billing departments with three to six workers. For the same task, he said, their American counterparts employ hundreds of people.

Canada has a single-payer health care system.

"It works," Freeman said, adding "And let's look at the administrative costs -- for Medicare, a single-payer system, it's 3 percent; for the average HMO, it's 25 percent."

The American Association of Health Plans, the lobbying arm of the managed care industry, said it opposed the doctors, proposal, which would eliminate for-profit hospitals and health maintenance organizations.

Hale disputed the association's claim.

"We're not saying the government ought to take over health care. We're saying there ought to be a single payer, which, most likely, would be government," Hale said. "There are many, many different models to look at; Canada is just one."

The doctors said they hoped to spark a debate about national health insurance that essentially ended with the death of the health plan proposed by former President Bill Clinton.

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