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Single-Payer Now!

By       Message George Erickson     Permalink
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opednews.com Headlined to H3 8/27/09

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Senator Paul Wellstone, who was widely known as the "The Conscience of the Senate," wrote that he spent 85 percent of his time fighting Republican attacks on working families. Were Paul still alive, he'd be fighting for the thousands who die or are driven into bankruptcy every year due to a lack of health coverage -- and he'd be fighting insurance and pharmaceutical companies that sponsor deceitful ads like the Harry and Louise videos of the 90's that torpedoed the Clinton health program.

Harry and Louise have lost their charm, so the health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and the Republican Party have hired Rick Scott, a part owner of the Texas Rangers with G. W. Bush, to design and lead a disinformation campaign that is costing $1 million per day.

Rick Scott has an "interesting" past. He's the guy who started and headed the lucrative Columbia/HCA chain of for-profit hospitals that paid kickbacks to "cooperative" physicians and overbilled Medicare so egregiously that Columbia was forced to pay a record $1.7 billion in fines. Mr. Scott was given the boot, but he also received $10 million in severance pay and stock options worth $300 million. In a show of sympathy for the unemployed, the GOP gave him a job: oversee an anti-Obama health plan campaign developed by the very same company that "swiftboated" Senator Kerry.

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So why are these people so afraid of a Canada/European single-payer program, a plan that is far superior to our for-profit system that leaves 47 million Americans with no insurance and millions more with inadequate coverage via policies that let the insurance company which procedures will be allowed and which will be denied?

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Here's why: Health is a lucrative business. Medicare, a single payer system that lets you choose your MD, has low overhead costs that run around 3%. In comparison, our much-vaunted private health care system admits to spending an average of 20% of your premium dollar on what they call "operating costs."

Those who run Medicare receive modest salaries, but in 2002, Norman Payson, the CEO of Oxford Health Plans took home $76 million, Leonard Schaeffer, the CEO of WellPoint received $21 million and D. Mark Weinberg, the executive VP of WellPoint: was forced to make do with a mere $14 million. That's per year!

In fact, the twenty highest-paid health insurance executives in 2002 received $237 million. Add another $1.1 BILLION in stock options (for a total $1.75 billion for TWENTY people) and it becomes obvious why these "for-profiteers" have no interest in change.

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They don't care that the US ranks 33rd in health care -- just behind Castro's Cuba. They don't care that we have a higher infant mortality rate than single-payer countries like Canada, the UK, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and Sweden, and they don't care that we spend twice as much per person on health care (but live shorter lives) than citizens of those countries.

In contrast to the for-profit system, where insurance company employees are rewarded for finding loopholes in company policies that permit the denial of coverage, single payer systems exist to deliver health care, not deny it. Instead, we Americans are saddled with a system that works very well if you are a member of Congress or if you are wealthy enough to pay for deluxe coverage, but for most of us, that's just a dream, as evidenced by the fact that more than 60% of all personal bankruptcy filings involve unaffordable health care costs.

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George Erickson is the former Director of the American Humanist Association and an author.

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