Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Spoiler in the Health Care Debate

by Matthew Murray. Published in Roll Call March 16

By inviting a vast spectrum of stakeholders to collaborate with the White House on its health care reform push, President Barack Obama is trying to pre-empt opponents of his plan from blocking his campaign promise to insure 46 million Americans.

To date, labor unions, seniors advocates, business interests, pharmaceutical companies and insurers are all assured a seat at the table during the ongoing debate - that is, provided they stick to the script and forgo attempts to sabotage the eventual proposal.

With billions of dollars at stake, not everyone is expected to be on board when the legislation is unveiled. But one group will undoubtedly be disappointed: the single-payer lobby, an allegedly 20 million-strong coalition that is pledging no compromise in the upcoming debate and is rallying around a bill recently introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.).

"Single payer is the only means that we know to get the ends we seek," said Joe Jurczak, a lobbyist for the California Nurses Association. "We want to see guaranteed health care for everyone."

Jurczak's group is part of the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, which is pushing the administration to adopt a universal health care system similar to Medicare, a program for seniors paid for by taxpayers that would use the country's existing private infrastructure of facilities and health care providers.

The California Nurses Association also runs, which states that "only a single-payer system would assure that everyone is covered with one high standard of benefits and care ... establish effective cost controls, curb administrative waste, and end insurance industry interference with care."

"We don't want doctors to work for the federal government and hospitals to be run by the federal government. We want health care to be a right," Jurczak said. "No co-pays, no deductibles."

The Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care also has written to the White House, explaining its reach. The group wrote to Obama that the coalition includes "thirty organizations representing doctors, nurses, the homeless, faith based organizations, community activists, students, consumers, seniors, women's interests, and organized labor ... organizations [that] represent over 20,000,000 members, many of whom are community and political leaders at the grass roots level."

According to the group's Web site, its membership includes anti-war activists CODEPINK, watchdog Public Citizen and the Ruckus Society, an Oakland, Calif.-based group that recently protested coal use at the Congressional power plant.

Jurczak said single-payer advocates host a monthly call-in for supporters and is planning a lobbying blitz on the Hill in May.
He also said supporters of a single-payer plan - whose biggest celebrity advocate undoubtedly is documentary filmmaker Michael Moore - will be "very visible" at an April 6 White House Forum on Health Reform in Los Angeles.

The California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee are distributing polling that the organizations claim shows public opinion on their side. In one March 2008 survey conducted by Indiana University, 59 percent of those polled supported a single-payer system.

Despite the their apparent support, it appears unlikely their proposals will win out. A White House spokesman said any ultimate health care fix is unlikely to resemble Medicare or any other federally implemented system.

Still, along with major insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, insurers and other major stakeholders, the White House invited single-payer advocates like Conyers and the Physicians for a National Health Program to the recent White House summit, according to the spokesman.

"We don't expect that the plans they produce will be single-payer plans," the spokesman said. "We are working with partners on the Hill from both parties and they're the ones that ultimately will craft legislation.

"The plan the president laid down during the campaign was not a single-payer proposal," he said.

No comments: