Himmelstein: Match Needs to Be Lit for Single Payer

Increasingly, doctors, even conservative doctors, are moving to support a single payer national health insurance system.

That’s the take of Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

“I think it’s clear from the world I live in that most doctors are ready for single payer national health insurance,” Dr. Himmelstein told Single Payer Action last week.  “I speak to physician audiences all over this country of all kinds.  I speak to surgeons, generally a more conservative element of our profession — they had a very sympathetic hearing for single payer.  I got a call yesterday form an orthopedic surgeon who’s retired from a very conservative part of the country and he says he’s ready for single payer. And that’s an everyday occurrence now.  The medical profession is disgusted with the health care system we’re forced to work in and we’re ready for change.”

Are we going to see single payer in the United States, and if so, when?

“I think we will,” Himmelstein says. “It’s hard to predict exactly when.
What we know is — the more people fight for it, the harder they fight for it, the sooner it will be.  In the civil rights movement, who would have predicted that it was refusing to move the back of the bus that triggered things.  So we know there were hundreds, probably thousands of civil rights workers doing things back then and one of them took and action that triggered, really, an output of sentiment.  Our job for single payer at this point is trying to mobilize as many people to be doing as much as we can. At some point, one or more of those actions is going to have a galvanizing effect.  We’re already beginning to see it. There’s more activity now than ever in my professional lifetime.  Folks being prepared to be arrested in the Senate Finance Committee kicked off a lot of attention.  It’s hard to say when, but we know there’s sentiment and the match needs to be lit.”

Himmelstein says that single payer is imperative for both doctors and patients.

“It’s the only thing that can actually make our health care system work, and give my patients what they need and make my working life reasonable viable,” Himmelstein said.  “We’re facing enormous bureaucracy that inflicts ridiculous costs and crazy rules on us. Unless we take the insurance companies out of the middle of health care, the health care system can’t work.”

Himmelstein says it’s health insurance money and drug industry money that is blocking single payer on Capitol Hill.

“The insurance companies — we’re going to put them out of business,” Himmelstein said.  “And they make 30 billion dollars in profit a year – somewhere around there.  And they’re prepared to use as much of that as is necessary.  It’s not just them.  It’s the drug industry — they’d have to give reasonable prices on drugs to the American people if they faced a single payer system.  It’s the medical device makers and the for-profit hospitals and nursing homes and dialysis makers — they’re ripping us off.  We’re paying high prices for substandard care to those institutions and they’re in trouble if we had national health insurance.”

But don’t look for President Obama to lead on single payer health, Himmelstein says.

“The President is opportunist in the positive since of the word,” Himmelstein said. “He’s prepared to bend to our will if we make it an overwhelming show of political might — and at this point the political might is against us and that’s what he’s bent to.  I think we can bend the president the other way.  But he’s not going to lead he’s going to follow.”

(For the complete Interview of Dr. David Himmelstein, see video here.)