Single-payer push: Congress ignores the right health care system


When polls continuously showed two-thirds of Americans wanted out of George W. Bush’s disastrous Iraq War, Congress didn’t get it and continued to pour hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain. Nor did they get it when the public came unglued at the trillion-dollar bailout of the very financial institutions that caused the on-going economic collapse. And now, with a rising tide of citizens demanding a single-payer health care system, Congress still doesn’t get it. But make no mistake, a single-payer revolt is underway across this nation and this time around, if Congress ignores vox populi, it will be doing so at its own peril.

Just last week, at a health care hearing chaired by Montana’s own U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, single-payer protesters stood up, denounced the fact they were excluded from a place at the table, and were summarily escorted out of the hearing room by police at Baucus’ order. The incident is available for viewing online at YouTube and, quite frankly, Baucus should be ashamed of both his performance and that of his committee members. As the protesters stood, one by one, they shouted out that America’s health care options were being dominated by big insurance and pharmaceutical industries and their cronies. One by one, Baucus told the police to remove them from the hearing room until, due to the persistence of the protesters, he joked, “We need more police.”  To the embarrassment of the American public and our supposed democracy, Baucus and his committee members laughed while their fellow citizens were being hauled out of the hearing room.

Granted, it is impossible to hold a hearing when people are interrupting and speaking or heckling from the audience. But this protest was organized by a large coalition of single-payer advocates, including Physicians for a National Health Program. One of those physicians was Dr. Margaret Flowers, who co-chairs the Maryland chapter of the national group. “Health insurance administrators are practicing medicine without a medical license,” she told the committee. “The result is the suffering and death of thousands of patients for the sake of private profit. The private health insurance industry has a solid grip on patients, providers and legislators. It’s time to stand up and declare that health care is a human right.”

Indeed, with 50 million Americans uninsured and the highest cost for the lowest benefits among developed nations, there can be little doubt that the current system, if you can legitimately call it that, is broken beyond repair. Yet, of the 15 witnesses at the Senate panel, not one was there to make the case for a Medicare-for-all single-payer option. Baucus, who has repeatedly said all options are on the table, apparently doesn’t think single-payer, such as that used by most of the developed nations, deserves a voice. Instead, as he has also said many times, Baucus thinks we should come up with some new, unique, “American” health care plan that keeps the insurance industry ensconced between citizens and their medical, dental, mental and physical health needs.

As many have pointed out already, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries have not been lax in doling out millions in campaign contributions to Congress—and Baucus has been the top Democrat recipient of that largesse. That kind of money buys big mojo in D.C., which is apparent in the actions of the senators while the protesters were being arrested. Not a single senator stood up, took the microphone, and asked Chairman Baucus to amend the panel—or convene another panel—to allow the physicians to address their vision of what a single-payer system would look like or how it would work. 

But while we have numerous examples of working single-payer systems worldwide, we have very little idea of what kind of a Rube Goldberg, “uniquely American” contraption Baucus and his Senate pals will finally embrace. All the big questions remain hanging—from how it will work to how we will pay for it to who will call the shots on who gets what kind of health care.

Obviously it’s a lot easier for people to look at functioning single-payer systems in other countries and get some idea of what an American single-payer system would look like. It’s also possible to estimate what it might cost and compare them to the overwhelming costs of our current non-functioning system.

Just this week, perhaps sensing the single-payer sea-change that no amount of campaign contributions can turn back, the insurance, pharmaceutical and associated health care cadres met with President Obama to pledge that they would “save” the American public $2 trillion in health care costs over the next decade if only he would keep them in the game and preserve the status quo.

But here’s the hitch: Health care costs have been rising an average of 7 percent a year and the great deal that big insurance and big pharma held out to the president is to simply reduce that growth by 1.5 percent annually. Get it? The bills continue to climb into the stratosphere, health care continues to be unaffordable for 50 million Americans (or more, counting the under-insured) and the industry offers only to slightly reduce the rate by which those costs will continue to mount into the foreseeable future. No, they’re not going to bring them under control, no they’re not going to reduce them, and no, they offered not a single specific commitment about how they would even meet their measly 1.5 percent cutback.

Is it any wonder Americans are increasingly up in arms over what appears to be a serious hearing deficiency from Congress? Is it any wonder that support for a sensible single-payer plan continues to grow?

The debate is red hot and getting hotter by the minute.  Those seeking to join the rising tide of citizens demanding single-payer can contact the newly formed Montanans for Single Payer at and embrace their motto: “Everybody in, nobody out.”

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at


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