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"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
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Posted March 28, 2012
Interview with Dr. Margaret Flowers, Maryland pediatrician and member of Physicians for a National Health Program, conducted by Scott Harris
The fate of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act hangs in the balance as the Supreme Court Justices set aside three days, ending on March 28, to hear arguments from opponents of the controversial health insurance reform law. The justices will hear arguments centered on four issues filed in multiple lawsuits by 26 states and other opponents. The first issue was whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the case, given that as no one will pay the new law’s tax penalty until 2015. The second and most important issue deals with the constitutionality of the law's requirement that all U.S. residents either buy insurance or pay a tax penalty. The third issue focuses on whether the law’s expansion of Medicaid unlawfully forces states to participate. And the fourth issue will examine if any part of the health reform law can survive if the individual mandate is struck down.
Groups across the U.S., both supporting and opposing the law, have filed a record number of “friend of the court” briefs in the case. While most of the law’s opponents offer no alternative policy to cover the estimated 50 million Americans currently without health insurance, one group challenging the law does. A group of 50 physicians and two non-profit groups filed a brief urging the court to strike down the individual mandate as unconstitutional. As an alternative, the group advocates instituting a single-payer system to achieve universal health care coverage as exists in most other industrialized nations in the world.
Between the Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with one of the physicians filing the brief, Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician who is a congressional fellow with the group Physicians for a National Health Program, and an occupier with Occupy Washington D.C. She explains why she’s opposed to the Affordable Care Act, and how a decision by the Supreme Court overturning the law could pave the way for a vastly improved universal health care policy that would exclude for-profit private health insurance companies.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: The 50 physicians are all physicians who advocate for a national single-payer health program as well as the two nonprofit groups, Single-Payer Action and It's Our Economy, which deals with issues of economic justice, and support a single-payer approach. In the United States, we're already spending enough to provide lifelong quality, comprehensive health care to every person living in our country. And we think that anything short of that is just not acceptable because the situation that we're in right right now leaves out tens of millions of people. We have tens of thousands of people that die every year unnecessarily because they can't get health care. Families that are going bankrupt. Business that are going out of business, employees that lose their jobs, and it doesn't have to be this way. And the Affordable Care Act is based on flawed policy that will not achieve the goals of universal, affordable, guaranteed health care. And so, we wanted to make the point that the individual mandate from a policy standpoint is not good policy and that we can achieve our goals in this country in a much simpler way.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Supporters of President Obama's Affordable Care Act say that we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It's a phrase I know you hear a lot. And they talk about the good elements of this law, in stopping insurance company discrimination against people, particularly for pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parents' health insurance policies longer; some good elements there that Americans like. While not perfect, this law may be worth putting in place, and it could be built upon to get to a universal single-payer system someday down the round.
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: But it's just a myth to believe that we can take this law, which is very complicated, which further entrenches the insurance companies – gives them millions, hundreds of millions of public dollars to these for-profit corporations and think that we can turn that into a health system. We've been given these excuses, and I've heard these for the whole time I've been advocating for health care reform. You know, we hear these arguments, "Oh, but this bill has, does this one good thing, or these few good things, and we shouldn't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and meanwhile, we're moving backwards when it comes to health care. Our health care costs continue to rise out of control and the number of uninsured people is growing. People are dying from preventable causes. So what we're actually doing is we're being sold this idea that "oh, well, we can't oppose this bill because it has a few good things in it, it does a few good things for some people."
But meanwhile, we're leaving all the rest of the people out complete. And we have an evidence-based solution right here in this country, and an improved Medicare for all would control our health care cost and cover every person in this nation. It's favored by the majority of Americans, it's favored by the majority of physicians, but it's opposed by the industries that are profiting off our current situation. And so we really at some point you have to say, "We're not going to get anywhere if we keep accepting these arguments. And we have to say enough is enough. It's time to join the rest of the industrialized world and create a health care system that works for every person."
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think the political fallout would be if the Supreme Court overturns the individual mandate and the rest of the law kind of falls apart, in terms of the elements that people like? Do you think people would give up on the idea that government should get involved in health care and someday support the idea of single-payer? Or do you think that people would redouble their efforts to get something different than this very complicated Affordable Care Act?
DR. MARGARET FLOWERS: I think what we were hearing right after the Affordable Care Act passed was that this was kind of a concession, it was not a bill that really addressed our underlying problems and most people who are honest about health policy recognize that. And what we were hearing from people like Ezra Klein in the Washington Post and Robert Kuttner were, well if this doesn't work, then we're going to have to seriously look at creating an improved Medicare for all in this country. And they actually started using that term, Medicare for all which is something that the single-payer movement uses.
So, you know, this bill is already falling apart. There had to be over a thousand waivers given to unions, businesses, and insurance companies by the Department of Health and Human Services giving waivers so that these entities doesn't have to comply with certain provisions in the law.
We just had a Congressional Budget Office report a few weeks ago, saying that as a result of this law, 20 million people are estimated to lose their employer-sponsored insurance and be put into the individual market where insurance is more expensive and has skimpier coverage.
There are some children who are allowed to stay on their parent's policies until they're 26, but not all of them. We also know that insurance companies are able to skirt around these issues of pre-existing conditions. They do that by restricting which doctors within their network, by restricting which services are covered. So it's something that's not going to be a solution. And the longer that we wait, for a real solution, the more suffering and death there is in this country and the more health care costs rise. It makes it very difficult for businesses, especially small businesses to survive with these high health care costs. It has an effect on families who have to choose between paying for their medication or their treatments and paying for other necessities in life. It's a no-brainer, really. It's time to just go for a single-payer system.
Learn more about groups advocating for a single-payer health care system by visiting Physicians for a National Health Care Program at www.PNHP.org Single-Payer Action at www.singlepayeraction.org or Healthcare-Now at www.Healthcare-Now.org.