Doctors Rally For Single-Payer Health Care System
On May 5, 2009, Maryland psychiatrist Dr. Carol Paris and seven other physicians disrupted a Senate finance committee meeting on the health care overhaul.
One by one, the doctors stood up and called for the lawmakers to consider a single-payer solution that would eliminate private health insurance and replace it with a government-run system.
Paris shouted, “Put single payer on the table. I’m Dr. Carol Paris, and I approve this message!”
She and the other protesters were quickly arrested.
Speaking to a crowd of about 50 on Saturday at Memorial Park in Pasadena, she recalled her experience at the Senate meeting.
“I got a good laugh, even out of [committee chair Sen.] Max Baucus, and then he arrested me,” she said. "But I'm not mad about that."
Paris’s position has not changed. Nearly seven months after the signing of President Obama’s health care reform law, Paris and many other doctors are still demanding a single-payer system.
That kind of activism for this particular cause has died down, but it has not died out.
Paris and many other medical professionals came to Pasadena as members of Mad as Hell Doctors, a group that supports radical changes to the health care system.
Their tour of California came on the heels of an Associated Press poll released Sept. 25 that said that although most American do not support Obama’s health care law, four in ten people think it doesn’t do enough to change the system. That’s twice the number of people who think the government should be completely uninvolved in medical care, according to the poll.
Paul Hochfeld, an emergency physician from Oregon, helped form Mad as Hell Doctors in July 2009.
In a speech, Hochfeld railed against President Obama’s health care legislation, arguing that it does not fix what he considers the fundamental problem of the country’s health care system: too much money is lost in dealing with health insurance companies.
“The basic problem is we’re wasting too much money on a non-system,” he said.
But are their goals realistic? A bill, SB 810, that would create a single-payer system in California was passed by the state assembly in August, but has been suspended. Two versions of the bill have been vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in the past.
Hochfeld hesitated when asked if there would be any hope for the bill’s passage if it were to be reintroduced.
“If not in the short run, then definitely in the long run,” he said. “Because it’s the only way we’re going to afford to take care of everybody.”
Republicans have said that people who support this legislation, which is estimated to cost $200 billion, are out of touch with the public.
One of the doctors who spoke at the rally told the story of a USC med student, Joshua Lilienstein, who last year maxed out and lost his student medical insurance while battling testicular cancer. Lilienstein was the subject of a recent L.A. Times feature.
Michelle Farmer, an occupational therapy PhD student at USC, attended the rally to represent the California Health Professional Student Alliance, a student organization that champions the creation of a single-payer system.
As an aspiring medical professional, she’s worried, especially for her patients, who range from zero to three years old. She and her organization try to get fellow students involved in their cause, but that’s not easy now that that the debate over health care has faded somewhat from the political spotlight.
“A lot of students have said, ‘Well, it’s great in theory, but it won’t work. It’s too political of a system.’ And we’ve had a hard time getting through to them,” she said.
She, like anyone who supports this version of health care reform, faces an uphill battle.
Reach reporter Ryan Faughnder here.
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