First Person: On The Road With Mad as Hell Docs for Single-Payer: Part II

By Marc Sapir, Special to the Planet
Thursday September 24, 2009 - 09:25:00 AM



MADISON, WIS.—What a day. The intensity grows on this tour of the Mad as Hell doctors Care-a-Van for Single Payer Health Care. Local media is covering the tour beyond expectations—radio, print, and TV, including local, regional and national outlets.  

Early this morning we left our overnight home at another Super 8 motel, this one in northern Wisconsin and headed south to Madison, where we’ve just had three separate events, the most impressive being a rousing rally of 400 people on the steps of the state capitol.  

We were preceded and supported by John Nichols of the Nation Magazine, as well as the leaders of Wisconsin’s single payer organizations. There was good corporate media attendance, though I don’t know yet what was put on the air. Earlier in the day, I was interviewed by the Pacifica affiliate WORT and by the Capitol Times newspaper. Each of the docs have had similar opportunities with other media.  

The leader in today’s event was Dr. Gene Uphof, a native of Wisconsin and one of the Oregon Mad as Hell Docs. He was interviewed extensively by Chanel 27 (I think that’s an ABC affiliate) and another major TV station. Yesterday, Dr. Barbara Blaylock of Maryland and I were interviewed by a CBS affiliate in Minnesota.  

Paul Hochfeld, one of the lead physicians in the group who has numerous interviews, stayed behind in Minnesota today and taped three 30-minute interviews for radio.  

Our reception in Madison was the most exuberant yet, but from what we hear the chances of getting a state single payer through the legislature may be greater next door in Minnesota where we held two events yesterday.  

The second Minnesota event was staged inside the Capitol building’s Rotunda in Minneapolis/St. Paul, a beautiful structure. Comparing it with California’s Capitol building was interesting for me. No security barriers, no cops, no X-ray machines and the public is allowed to hold meetings inside the building’s rotunda, by making a reservation. 

If you’ve been through the screening in Sacramento, you may be as surprised as I was. Minnesota may have a Republican governor but the state seems to realize that all the fear mongering about terrorists is mainly a way to frighten the public into accepting government intrusions into our privacy and other rights. 

That St. Paul rally was attended by no less than seven state legislators who are strong backers of single payer, one of whom is running for governor and gave a rousing brief talk.  

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich called in to the rally which gave us an opportunity to highlight his vital amendment to the HR 3200 health reform bill. The Kucinich amendment, which will knock down current legal obstacles to states implementing single payer all-inclusive health programs if they choose to do so, needs to be kept in any bill that may pass and the public needs to keep the pressure on this at the same time as we oppose the unworkable bills that are currently in Congress and push for Single Payer (HR 676—John Conyers bill). Of course, most readers will be aware that Senator Max Baucus has now unveiled a Senate bill that doesn’t even include a “public option.”  

Mad as Hell Docs, like our parent organization, Physicians for a National Health Program, is unanimous in believing that even a bill with a public option can not achieve fair and equal universal medical access for the uninsured. In contrast to HR 676, HR 3200 will leave out at least 10 million people, perhaps more.  

Moreover, by stating that he wants a public option that will only be for people who do not have and are not eligible for private insurance, President Obama has doomed any public option because the insurance industry will continue to use its power to screen and cream the healthier patients leaving the sickest and most difficult patients and their problems to the public program, which will go bankrupt in a very short time.  

This is especially true because continuing price inflation in the private sector will allow the health insurance industry to increase payments to providers (actually a form of bribe as with the politicians) while the Public Option will not have the resources to do that. 

Possibly as soon as the next presidential election, should this type of a bill pass, the right will be able to point to its failure, suggesting it as another example of government’s inability to do anything good. So Mad as Hell docs is adamant in saying that only HR 676 or another single payer bill should be supported.  

We haven’t heard again from the White House since they called to ask us to stop having people send e-mails telling the president to meet with us. Don’t forget to keep on sending those e-mails (which White House staff earlier tried to block) and please keep up with the tour at www.madashelldoctors.com. Videos of each days events are posted onto the website within a day or three.  

Lastly, despite the heavy discussion of legislative activities in this update on the Care-a-Van, the Mad as Hell docs mantra at events is that we need to, are advocating for, and hope to participate with you all in a revitalization of the civil rights movement. As Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently stated: “of all the injustices we face, inequality in health care is the most shocking.” 

Health is a basic human right, as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Almost every capitalist “democracy” on earth has one or another form of public government single payer health care that meets the demand for that right—with a glaring exception, the United States of America. As a result the U.S. ranks 37th in the World Health Organization’s composite of health care outcomes.  

We get to pay more in public tax dollars than any other nation and twice as much in overall per capita health costs ($7,000) as any nation on earth in order to rank 37th in our health. What a disgrace that this non-system operates solely on the basis of providing outrageous profits for Wall street (16 percent) at the enforced cost of the people’s health and well being.  

But rebuilding a civil rights movement can not be achieved through a primarily legislative agenda, nor by relying upon the political class—regardless of party—to respond to limited public pressure such as calls, e-mails and letters. An independent political movement, a civil rights movement based in the working class—which means the African American, Latino, White, Asian and Native American/Indian workers, employed and unemployed—can be reconstructed if we set our minds, hearts, time and bodies to addressing this need.  

Just a day or two ago the AFL-CIO acting in convention signaled its willingness to participate in this process by unanimously passing support for single payer.  

Stay tuned in, spread the word, and invite the East Coast to join our Caravan from Gettysburg into DC and at Lafayette Park on Sept. 30.  

On the road.