Letter to the Albany Times Union

April 23, 2009

Dear Times Union:

America’s pundits used to deride the old Soviet Union for propping up obsolete factories and industries in the name of jobs.

We don’t hear such criticisms about President Obama and the Democrats’ decision to prop up health insurance companies in the debate over universal health care. Yet our system of health insurance provides nothing of value, while costing us hundreds of billions of dollars annually, tying up the health care system in paperwork, and contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans annually.

Your April 20th article (Health Reform Tough Call) focuses on whether or not Congress will agree to the Democrats’ call for a public option, allowing Americans the choice of obtaining insurance through a government-sponsored plan. The other major change, with more bipartisan support, is to mandate that everyone has to obtain or purchase health insurance.

No where does the analysis mention single payer, the universal health care system that most of the industrial world already has. A single payer system merely means that one program pays all bills (e.g., like Medicare), eliminating the need for hundreds of private health insurance companies. Virtually every serious health policy expert, starting with President Obama, admits that single payer would be the best system, in terms of covering everyone, controlling costs, and ensuring both quality of care and freedom of choice in choosing your doctor / health care provider. The politicians just don’t believe they can stand up to the insurance companies, so they want to hide this solution from the public debate.

Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Clinton all tried but failed to enact universal health care. President Obama’s demand that private health insurance continue to play a major role will kill universal health care once again.

In recent decades, many states have proudly announced that they have enacted “universal health care” systems. The media dutifully reports that these reforms are groundbreaking, a model for the rest of the country. In a short period of time, each of these proposals – Vermont, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Oregon, Minnesota, Florida – collapsed because costs escalated much faster than anticipated while the number of uninsured shrunk much slower than expected. They failed to control costs out of a desire to avoid taking on the insurance and drug companies as well as other special interests. And the “subsidized” insurance plans they created offered inferior coverage at prices still too high for the many Americans living from paycheck to paycheck.

Obama and the rest of the Democrats seem committed to repeating these mistakes. Once again they have pulled up chairs at the table for the insurance and drug companies to make sure they are happy with the final solution. Meanwhile, Obama has sought to exclude single payer advocates – who have the most support in Congress and among doctors, nurses and the general public – because we naively want to put the needs of patients and taxpayers ahead of the special interests.

About one in five dollars in the America economy are spent on health care – much more than the rest of the industrial countries, all of which have significantly better performing health care systems. Reforming one-fifth of the economy means that money has to be moved around. No special interest will willingly agree to a smaller share of the pie. There is where political leadership is needed.

We have witnessed a similar fight in NY in recent years as both Governors Paterson and Spitzer pushed to put patients first in Medicaid, by far the largest part of the state budget. The special interests have largely prevailed due to their campaign contributions and media ads.

Failure to confront (i.e., eliminate) the cancer of for-profit health insurance would doom us once again to lose the struggle for universal health care.

We need to define universal health care as meaning that everyone has a right to health care services, period, no discussions about creating “affordable policies.” We should also eliminate the role of profit in determining access to health care services.
President Obama needs to start listening to the American people and have the courage to stand up for real change.


Mark A. Dunlea, Esq.

Co-Chair, Single Payer New York

Executive Director, Hunger Action Network of NYS

275 State St. Albany NY 12210


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