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Health Care Fri Mar 19 2010

Health Care Forum Highlights Debate Within the Left

On March 9, the same day that activists rallied in Washington DC to demand health care reform by making 'citizens arrests' of insurance company CEO's, a forum at the University of Illinois in Chicago School of Medicine showed the debates in the Left about whether or not the bills being proposed and voted on by Congress are worth being called reform.

Organized by the Chicago Single Payer Action Network, the featured speaker was Dr David Scheiner, who was President Obama's family doctor for 22 years.

While it was not billed as a debate, opinions about the bill came out. The big issue seems to be whether or not the health care bills in Congress would be an incremental step towards a universal single payer system (medicare for all), or simply a bailout for insurance companies.

Dr. Scheiner is one of the few doctors in the Chicago area who still does house visits and is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program. Scheiner simply stated, "I last saw [Obama] last 2 ½ years ago. Since that time, over a hundred thousand Americans have died due to lack of health insurance."

Dr. Schiener was deeply critical of the right wing and the present health care system, "one of the things you hear Republicans saying, 'you don't want government between you and your patient.' Medicare has never interfered with me... you can't get around the insurance companies. They're sitting in my room, the insurance representative is there telling me what tests I can get, what doctors I can send them to, what prescriptions I can give."

The large number of uninsured was also a pertinent topic. Chi-SPAN representative Vanesa Beck pointed out that 3200 Black Chicagoans die a year due to lack of health care.

All of the speakers, and the crowd members who spoke wanted a single payer health care system that takes the profit out of health care. Linda Riccio from the National Nurses Organizing Committee described some "horror stories"of the present for-profit health care system. As a nurse she is mandated to report elder abuse however, "if I call the cops, I'll get fired. I called the cops 3 times in a 2 month period.... I was told by the medical director 'don't you realize that we get over a 180 thousand dollars a month from these nursing homes. If you keep calling the dept of public health, they're not going to send their patients here anymore." Now Riccio's hospital has a new policy on reporting elder abuse, the nurse tells a social worker, who tells an administrator, who calls the nursing home, potentially tipping a nursing home off of a pending investigation.

Dr. Scheiner criticized Obama for giving up the fight for single payer. He reminded the audience of Obama's former support for single payer, when Obama would tell crowds that if Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House that they would get single payer. Yet today as President, with both houses of Congress and the White House under Democratic control, single payer "has been off the table from the beginning."

Scheiner understood that there would be some give and take with the final bill but expressed his frustration, "you don't concede at the beginning, you concede later on, when your struggling."

Scheiner pointed out some of the good of the bill, that it extends dependency coverage up to 26-year-olds, eliminates prior conditions and reduces denials of care, "those are good."

The bill does not do enough for Scheiner to cover the uninsured or eliminate the high cost of health care. However Scheiner urged support for it, "the medical industrial complex is bitterly opposed to it and they own congress... we got to have this bill. It's a terrible bill, it has got a lot of fault, it has go some good though. If it doesn't go through Obama will be almost wiped out. He's put to much of his prestige into this thing. If it does go through we've got to work change this thing."

Chi-SPAN activist Vanessa Beck became involved in health reform the hard way, she had a medical crises and has been on and off different medical plans, private insurance, medicare and medicaid, for several years. "Everyone on the panel, we agree that single payer is definitely what we need to create health care justice and an equitable health care system. I strongly disagree with supporting the senate bill. The senate bill transfers half a billion dollars to the insurance industry. The insurance industry kills people. We can not support this bill."

The Senate bill makes it easier for Americans to obtain private health insurance but Beck pointed out the deficiencies of that insurance and said, "We think we're buying health care but we're actually helping people we don't know buy yachts."

On the Senate health care bill Beck said that the "minor positives are far outweighed by the negatives." According to Beck, it will help insurance companies get richer, it will require people to buy insurance that does not provide care, and it still leaves millions uninsured. Beck was also highly critical of the Stupak amendment which would make it harder for women to obtain abortions. Beck also despised the health care bills lack of coverage for undocumented immigrants. "Twenty million of our friends, partners, neighbors, who don't have the correct paperwork... will be left out." Beck pointed out the immigrants already receive sub-standard medical care and are often deported out of hospitals while still sick.

Beck cited a study by Steffie Woolhandler that out that 69 percent of doctors support single payer and that it would create more 26 million new jobs because of building hospitals and clinics, more jobs than those lost at insurance companies.

"Our actions are so much better spent fighting for national single payer health care that would cover all of us."

A UIC student and member of the American Medical Student Association pointed out that it has been over a decade since health care was seriously debated in Congress and that if the bill does not pass it might be just as long or longer until another opportunity presents itself. "There is nothing stopping anyone from fighting even if the bill passes"

Others in the crowd countered that the number of bankruptcies happening the US as a result of the high cost of medical care will force the issue to come back anyway. Al Nowakowski said that it was a bad bill because of a lack of political will. While a social worker at Cook County hospital said "There isn't a day we don't see undocumented immigrants." She has had to explain to undocumented immigrants why they get things such as a kidney transplant or medicaid. She complained that it was racist and the crises is not going away whether the bill passes or not.

Martice Chissum, another nurse with the National Nurses Organizing Committee also had a problem supporting the bill in Congress, stating that, "it will throw our patients under the bus." In 1966, Chissum's great grandmother was murdered in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan, in retaliation for registering black people to vote. Chissum swore at the funeral that, "your dream will not die." She pointed out that the civil rights movement did not settle after their initial victories but continued forward and encouraged the crowd to not be satisfied with electing a Black president but to keep fighting for social justice.

Retired doctor Hooshi Daragahi complained that supporters of the health care bill were threatening people with Obama losing. "So what?" he asked.

Dr. Scheiner said, "I'm not happy with this bill, but I can see what's coming... we have to look at reality. It's nice to be purist but if your purist and defeated, your getting nowhere." Scheiner pointed out that if health care reform reduces the number of unnecessary deaths from 45,000 to 20,000, "that's some progress."

Doug Rosenberg, an activist with Chi-SPAN, looked on the positive side. "How often do you get doctors nurses and students together in the same room?" Rosenberg encouraged the crowd not to be a "circular firing squad," and that they "should reorientate ourselves to take advantage of a more powerful coalition that exists right here."

Dr. Scheiner had one suggestion, "Doctors and nurses could change this thing if they got together and worked on it... all we need is nurses and primary care physicians, and we could bring the system to it's knees... we could have stop work actions. If we stopped seeing anything except for emergencies... we could bring the system to it's knees."

Beck urged the crowd to redefine the possible and called for civil disobedience in the style of the Bacchus 13 who interrupted a senate finance hearing to call for single payer and the Cigna 7 who were arrested blocking the entrance of the health insurance giant.

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