Single-Payer Health Care Debated at Senate Hearing

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Amid threats of doctors walking out on patients and protesters being hauled off by security, the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday was the setting for heated arguments both for and against the creation of a government-run health care system for all Americans. The discussion dealt with providing universal health care through a single-payer system, similar to those used in Europe. In the United States, those over the age of 65 do have a single-payer system—Medicare—but those under 65 do not. Committee chair Max Baucus, Democratic senator from Montana, hauled out plenty of numbers to argue why the United States needs to finally resolve the problem of the uninsured.

Claiming the U.S. is the only developed nation without health coverage for all of its citizens, Baucus drew attention to a report by the Urban Institute that found that 22,000 uninsured adults die every year because they lack access to care. And in light of the current recession, the situation only grows worse by the day. “For every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, the number of uninsured Americans increases by 1.1 million,” said Baucus, who added that 87 million people—approximately one-third of the population—went without health insurance at some point between 2007 and 2008. “Fourteen thousand people lose their health insurance every day,” the chairman insisted.
Others testified that the growing number of uninsured Americans creates an ever-expanding financial burden on everyone else. Hospitals and doctor groups left to cover unpaid health services end up passing on those costs to those with insurance—to the tune of $410 a year per person.
But these problems would be eliminated by a single-payer system, advocates say, if the federal government took over handling all medical bills. Supporters claim single-payer systems have lower administration costs and considerable leverage in negotiating prescription prices and doctors’ fees.
During the hearing, six protesters, including a doctor, called out from the committee audience, demanding that the lawmakers seriously consider adopting a single-payer health care system. The protesters, who were removed from the committee room by security guards, failed to convince those opposed to adopting the European model of healthcare delivery.
Single-payer opponents include many Republicans, health insurance companies, and doctors’ organizations. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), echoed a common criticism of such a plan, by asking who was going to pay for it. “In Sweden and the United Kingdom, where we’ve got single payer, we have a tax rate of 60 percent or higher,” Roberts said.
Roberts also said a government-run system would scare away doctors. This argument was backed by a representative of Blue Cross, one of the nation’s largest health insurance companies, who argued that access to doctors would suffer under single-payer if it ends up paying physicians similar rates to what Medicaid and Medicare does.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Senator Baucus Presses for Healthcare Reform (by Nick Wilson, Courthouse News Service)
The Battle for Healthcare Begins (by Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation)


johnmayer 15 years ago
If you are uninsured and does not have insurance, you should check out the website - John Mayer, California
garyro 15 years ago
Hard to debate when the cops drag you off. Hard to debate when one is excluded from the meeting (single payer folks excluded from the majority of Obama's summits and not welcome in Senate Baucus's banana republic) I am supporter of HR676 as is Soar (retired steelworkers) and many others
C. Rosemark 15 years ago
"Debate" generally implies different sides of an argument--excluding single-payer advocates from the hearing seems to reveal a predetermined mindset by Sen. Baucus. When I married and lived in Canada for a couple of years, I did participate in the Canadian system and appreciated very much
Evan Price 15 years ago
Does your petition specifically call for single payer health care? Please make a link for people to choose between privately mandated and single payer. It seems glaringly absent. From the sponsors on the bottom of the page, it would seem there may be a conflict of interest.
Jonathan Link 15 years ago
Call a Canadian Want to know what universal single-payer health care is really like? Call your own phone number but with a Canadian area code and ask.

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