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Mad As Hell Doctors press case for single-payer health care at Minnesota Capitol

Dr. Paul Hochfeld, one of the organizers of the Mad As Hell Doctors tour, addresses the crowd in the Capitol rotunda.
MinnPost photo by Casey Selix
Dr. Paul Hochfeld, one of the organizers of the Mad As Hell Doctors tour, addresses the crowd in the Capitol rotunda.

Could Minnesota be the next Saskatchewan in the single-payer health care movement?

The possibility was raised Wednesday during the two-hour Mad As Hell Doctors rally in the state Capitol rotunda.

In 1947, sparsely populated Saskatchewan became the first Canadian province to offer a universal hospitalization insurance program in North America. In 1962, it created the first universal Medicare program in North America, blazing the trail for the rest of Canada to eventually approve a national health service.

"This is about movement-building," said U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who spoke to the rally via telephone. "The day will arrive when health care is a civil right, and if there's one place in the nation that can make this happen, it's Minnesota."

Not if state Rep. Tom Emmers, R-Delano, has any say in the matter. On Monday, the gubernatorial candidate and two other lawmakers said they would introduce a state constitutional amendment to "protect the freedom of personal choice in health care.''

Effort to protect single-payer option for states
Kucinich is sponsor of an amendment to federal health care-reform legislation that would protect states' rights if they want to pursue their own single-payer plans. State Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a candidate for governor, and Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, are co-authors of the Minnesota Health Plan, a single-payer health care program that would cover necessary services for Minnesotans from cradle to grave. The legislation has 71 co-sponsors.

The Mad As Hell Doctors left Oregon Sept. 8 on a 26-city road trip en route to Washington, D.C., where they hope to meet with President Barack Obama to lobby for a single-payer, or Medicare for All, plan. Obama hasn't said yes yet, but the White House has started blocking emails of the group's form letters. About 5,000 emails urging Obama to meet with the doctors had been sent at last check, said Dr. Paul Hochfeld, of Corvallis, Ore., who urged rally attendees to send emails from their own addresses.

Hochfeld, producer of the "Health, Money and Fear" documentary featured on MinnPost in July, said the White House called to find out when the form letter would be removed from the site because they were being inundated.

"We replied we would be delighted to do that as soon as President Obama agrees to meet with the Mad As Hell Doctors and have a discussion about single-payer," Hochfeld told the crowd.

That brought a round of applause and cheers from 100 or so folks in the rotunda.

The rally came four days after Obama visited Minnesota to push his health-care reform package, which includes a public option or insurance exchange but not a government-run single-payer plan.

Visits to Mankato and the Capitol
The Mad As Hell Doctors stopped at a Mankato church on Wednesday before arriving in St. Paul and parking their Winnebago in front of the Capitol, within the sight line of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office. Pawlenty, considered a 2012 presidential contender, has been critical of Obama's and Democrats' health-care reform proposals.

In an interview before the rally, Hochfeld acknowledged that single-payer is a long shot in this Congress. The group would like to see a presidential commission look at health care "objectively — with the insurance companies and stakeholders out of the room."

"When you look at the facts, the only reason single payer is not being considered is because of our political process," he said. "I'm not mad about health care — I'm mad about our political process."

If nothing else, he told MinnPost, the national debate will be an opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. "If we don't get single-payer out of this Congress, and I don't think we're going to get single-payer out of this Congress, we'll be making lemonade. … We'll use health care as the poster child for why we need campaign finance reform and why we need to not give corporations any more rights over people."

'37th in health outcomes'
The doctors believe that a single-payer system is the best route to universal health care and that it would allow their profession to focus more on patients instead of the varying claim requirements of 1,300 health insurance companies in the nation.

One by one, doctors explained to the crowd why they're mad as hell about the state of our health-care system. Here are a few:

"I'm mad as hell when we're ranked by the World Health Organization as 37th in health outcomes and our nation spends twice as much on health care," said Dr. Marc Sapir of Alameda, Calif.

Minnesota Health Plan advocate Bernice Vetsch asks Tom Kelly, right, of the Minnesota Nurses Association to sign a petition Wednesday in the Capitol rotunda before the Mad As Hell Doctors rally begins.
MinnPost photo by Casey Selix
Minnesota Health Plan advocate Bernice Vetsch asks Tom Kelly, right, of the Minnesota Nurses Association to sign a petition Wednesday in the Capitol rotunda before the Mad As Hell Doctors rally begins.

Retired internist Robert Seward of Oregon, who once worked for the VA Hospital in St. Cloud, Minn.: "I'm mad because Americans are going bankrupt from health-care bills."

Dr. Joe Eusterman of Portland, who went to the University of Minnesota's medical school: "I'm mad as hell because of the lies and fear-mongering being used by the status-quo folks."

Not just doctors are mad. Mad As Hell Nurses from Minnesota spoke, too.

'Discharge instructions'
Emergency room nurse Eileen Weber gave some "discharge instructions": Support the Kucinich amendment. Attend the town hall of Republican Rep. John Kline on Friday night in Lakeville. Support "the champions" of single-payer legislation in Minnesota, including Marty, Bly and other lawmakers attending the rally.

Rally attendees also got to express their anger in a cheer led by Mad As Hell Doctors' creative director Adam Klugman. The group's name, he explained, comes from the 1976 movie "Network," when a fired TV anchor becomes so anguished that he yells out the window: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Klugman got the crowd to raise their voices in the echo chamber-like rotunda: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Single-payer advocate and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minneapolis, also spoke to the group by telephone. "Sixty-three percent of doctors support the public option. … I want to let you know we are rock-solid — we won't vote for anything that doesn't include a public option."

As for state Republican lawmakers' plan to protect personal choices in health care?

"They're thinking health insurance equals health care, and they're two different things," Marty told MinnPost. "Under health insurance, a lot of people don't get health care" because of the expenses and restrictions.

As for Minnesota becoming the next Saskatchewan? "We hope Minnesota can play a lead role in that," Marty said.
 
Wednesday's rally was sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Plan, which has more than 400 members in Minnesota.

Next stop for the Mad As Hell Doctors: Madison, Wis.

Casey Selix, a news editor and staff writer for MinnPost.com, can be reached at cselix[at]minnpost.com.

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Comments (8)

"Sixty-three percent of doctors support the public option..."

YOU LI...Er, I believe you may be mistaken Keith.

http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE58F3VJ20090916

Most U.S. doctors want public-private mix: poll

"When given a three-way choice among private plans that use tax credits or subsidies to help the poor buy private insurance; a new public health insurance plan such as Medicare; or a mix of the two; 63 percent of doctors supported a mix, 27 percent said they only wanted private options, and just 10 percent said they exclusively wanted public options."

A public-private mix gives a doctor the best of all worlds. A steady stream of income from publicly subsidized plebes and as much high brow, private trade as they can accommodate.

Look around the rest of the developed world and look around in the peer-reviewed research. Single-payer or very highly regulated and supervised multiple-payer health care are the only viable options to extend health care to 100% of Minnesotans while controlling costs.

We have a chance to succeed in Minnesota with the Minnesota Health Plan, legislation that would extend care to all while costing less than we now pay for our broken non-system. Senator Marty said it well at the rally. See http://mnhealthplan.org.

Pssst. Mr. Swift.

When Ellison refers to "the public option", he is of course referring to what is contained in HR 3200, which he voted for. "The public option" in HR 3200 is exactly what 63 percent of doctors favor; that is, a mix of private insurance and public insurance "options".

But feel free to use the L word anyway. After all, Ellison is one of "those people", just as Obama is.

"But feel free to use the L word anyway. After all, Ellison is one of "those people", just as Obama is."

And you too John; Leftists. I know.

Curious. Can all leftists dance around the truth at birth? Is it taught or is it a nature *and* nurture kind of thing?

I'm puzzled as to why Tom Emmers of Delano thinks that single payer would take away "choice."

Canadians can go to any doctor or medical facility they want. There is no such thing as in-network or out-of-network. There are no deductibles or co-pays. There is no such thing as rescission. There is no such thing as being denied treatment for a pre-existing condition. The doctor doesn't have to phone some bureaucrat for permission to initiate treatment.

Yes, Canadians may have to wait for a knee replacement or other non-critical surgery, but I've known several people who've had knee replacements here (it seems to be an epidemic at the gym I belong to), and not one of them was able to schedule surgery immediately. Besides, in this country, if you're uninsured or under-insured, your wait for non-critical surgery is FOREVER.

First, our system is so expensive and inefficient that we can't afford it anymore. It's a big competitive disadvantage for U.S. industry. Second, Americans are too decent and too generous to accept a system that leaves tens of millions of our fellow citizens without access to health care. That's morally unacceptable.

All over the world, health insurance is nonprofit except the U.S.... And as a matter of fact, when health insurance started in the U.S., the original Blue Cross and Blue Shields in every state were nonprofit, and they operated fine. The concept is more like the taxes you pay to operate the fire department in your town. Most people will never have a fire at their house, and therefore, the fire department makes enough money from everybody to put out the ones that do happen.

Single payer systems have one goal in life, and that is to keep people healthy. That's what they're for, and the reason for that is those countries with single payer have all decided that there's a basic conflict between making a profit for investors and covering people's health.

Our multi-tiered health care system, it's really an expensive system to maintain because there's so many different systems within it. There's so many different forms of billing. There's so many different prices. It's just vastly simpler if there's one set of rules and one set of forms and one price or one regional price for the whole country.

You go to the doctor in France and that doctor, by law, is required to post on the wall the price she's going to charge you for the hundred most common procedures that she does. And then the next column says how much insurance is going to pay you back. And the next column says how many days before the insurance pays you. No doctor in America could do that because they don't know what they're getting paid. They get 30 different fees for the same procedure in the same week because of all the different plans.

The result is enormous administrative complexity. The American health insurance industry - you know, it's free enterprise, it's competitive, those guys, as we said, make huge salaries - it's the least efficient payment system in the world. They spend 18 to 20 percent of every premium dollar on administration costs.

Americans pay more for pills than people in any other country. The pharmaceutical industry spends billions on research. Drug companies say they would have to reduce R&D if Americans paid less for their drugs, but the companies spend more on marketing than they do on research. In Switzerland, when the government started negotiating lower prices for drugs, the companies cut their marketing budgets and maintained the level of R&D.

On the notion that appointment wait times are unacceptable in Canada, the doctors pointed out that here in the U.S. we don't collect wait time statistics and therefore are in no position to make arrogant assumptions about the superiority of our system.

But what if we were to collect wait time statistics here? There are two possibilities: We could choose the ethically indefensible method of simply ignoring wait time stats for the 47 million Americans who don't have insurance. In this case, we would get a result that is both meaningless and morally bankrupt. Or we could try to make reasonable guesstimates about wait times for all 300 million of us, in which case the result would be so absurd and so shameful we'd never want to publish it.