“If you don’t think the system is broken, ask your doctor. We see the gaps and inequities every day in a system that all too often puts every other interest ahead of patient care,” said Dr. Alex Blum, a pediatrician and field director for Doctors for Americas, an organization of 15,500 physicians who support universal health care. “We can do better than allow profit-driven bureaucrats to decide what medicines patients receive.”
Dr. Renaisa Anthony, whose dream was to treat the underprivileged in her home city of Detroit, said she hung up her coat after losing an aunt and grandfather to cancer and heart disease because they lacked health insurance.
“I boycotted our current health care system because I was disgusted and disheartened by the reality that 90 percent of the patients I choose to serve as a doctor — my family and community — could not get an appointment with me if their life depended on it,” said Anthony, who teaches at George Washington University.
Vilified as a socialist agenda by Republicans, deemed too expensive by conservative Democrats and undermined by the faltering support of the White House, the public option had been declared dead by Senate committee leaders a few months ago. That is, until lawmakers — perhaps goaded by public polls showing overwhelming support for a public option — two weeks ago reintroduced the provision to the measure that has now come out of committee.
The fact that the provision made it back into the bill is “significant,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “It’s indicative that the public is having an influence on this debate.”
But there are concerns, he added. “How do you define the public option? The definition is critical.”
Chairman Conyers — who supports a public option paying providers a rate at Medicare plus 5 percent — said he questioned the legitimacy of the public option as currently written as it allows insurance companies to negotiate insurance rates, allows states to “opt out” of the plan — which he said undermines its efficacy — and would only allow the public option to be put in place when activated by a “trigger,” i.e., if insurance failed to offer affordable coverage in that place.
Citing newspaper headlines touting the public option, the veteran lawmaker said, “Look, please, don’t bring me that crap. I’ve been here too long. I don’t buy it. I suspect the (insurance corporations) are going to try still to take it away.”
Given the inordinate influence of insurance lobbyists on the legislation, he added, he suspects the bill would come out of conference with even weaker language.
“I know what happens in conference between the House and the Senate….This (conference) room has a shortage of electricity and when those lights are out, stuff goes out (of legislation) and others get in and when the lights are back on there are things in there and nobody knows how they got in.”
That lobbyists for the health insurance industry — about 3.5 per member of Congress — have been so successful in undermining health reform points to a deeper, constitutional issue, lawmakers said.
‘’The only legitimate public option —s ingle-payer — was taken off the table, so who was at the table? Health insurance corporations,” said outspoken Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich. “There is a deeper discussion here; this isn’t only about health care. We’re talking about whether we are truly a democracy or whether we have a plutocracy run by corporations.”
People have to “become revolutionary” to “overcome this over privatization of the American government,” Conyers said. And the revolution could start with just the people gathered for the hearing. “It doesn’t take a lot of people to make change in this nation, thank God. Martin King proved that.”
Fauntroy said they are considering a march on Capitol Hill among other measures to influence lawmakers to include a robust public option in the legislation. He admonished advocates to continue fighting and said he believes that like civil rights and voting rights, universal health care will become a reality in the end.
“I want to assure you that if we don’t give up and don’t give out and don’t give in, we shall overcome,” he said.
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