Health & Wellness

Mad as hell over health care

Last Wednesday afternoon at the Emporium, a crowd of about 50 villagers stood up and yelled on cue, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Then they raised their right hands and took an oath to support a single payer health insurance system.

“On my honor as a health care advocate,” they began in unison, “I will do everything I can to help us develop a system of payment that redirects all current health care monies, both public and private, into a single public fund that covers everyone.”

The small local rally convened as a stop on the Mad As Hell Doctors cross country tour to fight for single payer health care. The local event featured testimonies from radiation oncologist Michael Huntington and internist Joseph Eusterman, who, along with six other doctors, are burning a 28-stop trail from Corvallis, Ore., to Washington, D.C., to present their case to Congress. As the health care debate roils in Washington, many local residents find themselves looking for alternatives to the solutions that have been offered, which some find insufficient.

Local resident Marsha Bush went to Wednesday’s event favoring the single payer system, and she left convinced that it was indeed the right choice.

“I was leaning that way before, but now it’s really clear that’s what’s needed,” she said. Bush feels that consumers need greater control of both their medical care and insurance options, and after hearing the Mad Doctors talk about greater support for primary care physicians and coverage for small business owners, she started looking for the bus that would take her all the way to D.C. to rally right beside them.

“I’m really whooped about it,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to get involved in the social movements this country has faced, and I would love to take a charter bus to D.C. — that would really light me up.”

At the Emporium the doctors talked about the shame they and others feel as members of one of the richest countries in the world that allows 46 million people to go without health care coverage. Though the U.S. spends twice as much on health care as other industrialized nations, according to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP.org), currently over 30 percent of every health care dollar goes toward overhead and paperwork for private insurance companies. And the Mad as Hell Doctors don’t believe that any of the current proposals before Congress will suffice.

“We are in a war against the powerful and the rich to restore the integrity and the soul of our nation” with health coverage for all, said Eusterman, who later asked why “President Obama doesn’t get ’er done!”

Huntington spoke about a cancer clinic he worked with in Portland, Ore., which based its budgeting on the number of high-tech tests and computerized surgical procedures estimated each year rather than on the wellness outcome of its patients. By these measures, most hospitals are achieving great success, even though none shows proof of improved care, and the incidence of illnesses, such as prostate cancer which tripled between 1996 and 2006, continues to increase, he said.

“Our hospitals profit on our being sick enough to go to the ER and get a CT scan, lab tests, MRI scans and radiation therapy treatments,” Huntington said. “Our health care system thrives on our illness rather than our health.”

He compared these services to the fire departments, who don’t check to see if you’ve paid your last insurance premium before putting out your fire, “or exclude you because of a preexisting barbecue in your backyard,” he said.

With the single payer plan, according to PNHP.org, health care would be available to everyone through a government-financed (tax) plan administered largely through the private sector, the physicians’ Web site explained. The plan would be financed through the $350 billion annual savings resulting from greater efficiency, global budgeting of care facilities and negotiated fees for equipment purchases.

Comparing the single payer plan to President Obama’s HR 3200 bill, which includes a public option, Eusterman stated that the public option is good. But when forced to compete against a private insurance system financed by businesses and those who can afford to pay, the public option for the poorest and sickest patients will fail for lack of funds. And that failure will be used by insurance lobbyists as proof that a fully public system (single payer) would never work, he said.

“Good programs, when underfunded, don’t do well,” Huntington said.

Villager Pam Davis, who works for the Veterans Hospital Administration in Dayton, suggested that that government-run system of socialized medicine functions fairly well and could be a model for the whole country. That kind of system works well in many other countries, Huntington said, and it funds care from primary doctors, where preventative medicine starts.

“In France, for instance, there are no barriers to taking care of health problems at the initial stages, and you pay for a system that has good outcomes,” Huntington said. “We need to devise a system that helps people take care of themselves.”

And so with that goal in mind, the Mad as Hell Doctors hopped back onto Mad Winnie, Eusterman’s 1986 27-foot Winnebago, and headed to Xenia to host a free health clinic and a second rally of the day. They were to spend the next week on the final leg, meeting up with a care-a-van of citizens on Monday, Sept. 30, to take the Metro into D.C. for a White Ribbon Rally in Lafayette Park in Washington. For those who could not attend, the doctors ask supporters to write the President and their congressmen, and donate on their Web site madashelldoctorstour.com to the cause of health care for all.

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