Baucus Tells Single-Payer Advocates No

By David Swanson

Senator Max Baucus met Wednesday with advocates for single-payer healthcare, including Senator Bernie Sanders, and told them that he might drop criminal charges against 13 people arrested for speaking up in his hearings, but that he would not include any supporters of single-payer health coverage in any future hearings. According to one report, Baucus suggested that he’d been mistaken to exclude single-payer but asserted that the process of creating healthcare reform legislation was too far along now to correct that omission.

Senator Sanders said after the meeting that if healthcare reform did not create a single-payer system it shouldn’t be done at all, and that within three or four years we would realize we’d solved nothing. He said that it would be better to increase funding for community health centers and take steps to make it easier for medical students to go into primary care, than to enact major reforms that didn’t go to the root of the problem.

Sanders has a bill (S 486) that makes some of the changes he advocates, as well as a bill (S 703) to facilitate the creation by states of single-payer healthcare systems. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin has introduced resolutions on the same topic in the House. Dr. Margaret Flowers, co-chair of the Maryland chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), attended a press conference following the meeting on Wednesday and filled me in. She said that while states are pursuing single-payer legislation, it would be much easier for them to succeed if they had waivers allowing federal healthcare dollars to go to the states, and if needed changes were made to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Advocates of single-payer emerged from the meeting with Baucus declaring their determination to push ahead with what they see as a fundamental struggle for human rights. Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and national vice president of the AFL-CIO, said the fight for single-payer is a civil rights movement, and that people “have to turn up the heat.” When someone questions the political viability of single payer, she said, we should question “allowing people to die and suffer for lack of political will.”

The press conference, in which Baucus did not participate, was attended by the New York Times, Politico, the Associated Press, Pacifica Radio, Congressional Quarterly, and a camera that Flowers believed belonged to CNN. Sanders opened the press conference with a statement on the domination of the private for-profit health insurance companies wasting $350 billion per year in billing, profiteering, and complexity. If we were serious about healthcare reform, he said, we would be having a serious discussion of single-payer.

Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and senior lecturer at Harvard, said that in her diagnosis the disease was market-driven healthcare in which access is based on the ability to pay.

Dr. David Himmelstein, co-founder of PNHP and associate professor medicine at Harvard Medical School, reported that Baucus had said he might be willing to drop charges of unlawful conduct and disruption of Congress against 13 people but had no intention of opening up any hearings to include single-payer. Himmelstein also announced the release of two new studies. The first, being released Wednesday, reportedly finds that some of the largest investors in tobacco stock are private health insurance companies. The second, to be released Thursday, reportedly shows that not only are personal bankruptcies increasing, but 62 percent of them are now due to medical debt.

Geri Jenkins, RN, co-president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee and a practicing registered nurse, reported that Baucus had implied he’d made a mistake in not including single-payer but that it was too late now.

And, finally, Dr. Oliver Fein, president of PNHP and associate dean at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, said that he and his colleagues had asked Baucus for a full hearing on the merits of single payer and asked for the Congressional Budget Office to create a comparison of single payer with whatever plan Congress produces that is not single payer. Senator Sanders said that he would continue to push Baucus to hold a hearing.

Dr. Flowers said that in her analysis the single-payer movement is largely inclined to go in the direction that Sanders stated on Wednesday: support for a single-payer bill or nothing. I asked her whether she believed that those pushing for single payer would ever support a public option as doing more good than harm and whether she thought those pushing for a public option would ever advocate allowing states to enact single payer. Flowers acknowledged that there are many (perhaps even most) people in the public option movement who prefer single payer. In fact, it is difficult to find a supporter of the public option who does not claim to “personally” want single payer but to find it “politically unfeasible.” But Flowers said that PNHP does not support a public option and backs only single payer. And she said she was unaware of any advocates of a public option also advocating for allowing states to create single payer.

More articles by David Swanson.


  1. MOCKBADOC on June 3, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Don’t worry guys. You’ll get your way soon enough. This is only the first step in implementing the Cloward-Piven strategy (as you probably already know).

    Step 1: Create a “public option”.
    Step 2: As a competitor as well as the regulator, the “public plan” will have an unfair advantage, and will soon be the only viable player in the “market”
    Step 3: Watch as the “private options” die an unnatural death.
    Step 4: Realize, as all the other industrialized countries with socialized health care have, that there is never enough money to truly provide this entitlement successfully.
    Step 5: Foment revolution on the part of the masses, leading the way to a Marxist take-over of the government.

    This is so 1960s. I can’t believe you guys haven’t already heard about it.

    You’ll soon get the Marxist Totalitarian Utopia of your dreams. Just be patient. You’re almost there. You’ve already created entire swaths of the country that are dependent on the government for their very day-to-day survival. Well done. You should be so proud.


    • Jeri on June 5, 2009 at 2:58 pm

      Mockbadoc, at first I thought you were being ironic. But you are one scary person. No one is asking for or working for a Marxist utopia, just basic human rights. Look at Cuba, blockaded and starved for decades, yet able to offer free, world-class healthcare, along with free education. This is because they practice what they preach- educate people to THINK and offer basic human rights.

      I’m sorry you have lost the ability to think for yourself.

      • MOCKBADOC on June 9, 2009 at 11:07 pm

        It’s almost too easy to argue these points with you guys. You actually make my case for me. With the same breath, you both deny that you are seeking a Marxist utopia, with safety and limitless services for everyone (at the muzzle of a gun), then you use Cuba as your example of the kind of society you’re advocating. Absolutely priceless.

        As for me, I think I’ll take my chances with liberty. Security like the kind Castro offers is hardly something I’d want for my family. I’ll go ahead and ignore the snide comment about not being able to think for myself. I’ve long ago stopped basing my self-esteem on the opinions of others. You might try using valid arguments instead of attacking me though. It’s a bit more becoming.

  2. Reggiewhitefish on June 5, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Tommy Johnson is the most reviered person in Canada, in a recent pole. He is the man credited with establishing their national socialized health care system. They evolved to this system from a profit based patchwork mess, much like ours. It is much more fair and humane to have people making the “tough decisions” who do not have a financial interest in the outcome. As it is now, the insurance companies decide who gets to live or die, based entirely on thier lust for profit. I don’t understand why “for profit” business is alowed in ANY life necessary endevor. This includes food, energy, and of cource, medicine. It can’t be free market if the consumer cannot refuse to buy. The profiteers in these industries are just leaches on the public that we can no longer afford,… real business men don’t need a captive market. The only reason the U.S. trails other nations on the health care issue is corruption of our elected officials, more interested in legalized bribes than their constituants lives and health!

  3. Bob Heafner on June 9, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    My wife and I are both disabled. She is 63 and I am 62. She has survived 5 strokes, three of which were major. She is legally blind and almost totally deaf. I am her primary caregiver and she is mine. I have Stage 3, Diastolic Heart Failure and COPD.

    We are currently on Medicare Parts A, B and D. She will be in the Part D “doughnut hole” in June and I will be in the doughnut hole in mid-August. This means that we will not have coverage for our medications by the end of this summer. At that time our medications will cost us almost $1,200.00 per month; that’s in addition to doctor visit co-pays, hospital co-pays and expensive over the counter drugs that our doctors have said we must take.

    We are on a fixed income and, quite frankly, not all of our medications will be within our reach financially. I have long term disability insurance which supplements our Social Security Disability but just our current co-pays of almost $600.00 per month really takes a chunk out of our budget. My plan at this point is to buy my wife’s medications and eliminate all but the most necessary of mine. We’ve talked with our doctors and have been told that all of our medications are necessary but that doesn’t mean we can afford them.

    I am an ardent supporter of single-payer national health care but if all we can get is a public plan than give us the public plan! The public plan would have to be less expensive than the plan we have now, which we cannot afford.

  4. Alexander Hamilton on June 10, 2009 at 9:15 am

    In a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution today, a physician challenged his colleagues on the bland way they were bantering about so-called comparative effectiveness research, the method of ruling out and denying medical care to the chronically ill, pioneered by Britain’s National Institute for Healthcare and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Brookings was hosting four panels on the subject, introduced by fascist care-cutter Peter Orszag, head of Obama’s Office of Management and Budget.

    “Comparative effectiveness research is not a bloodless sport,” said Dr. Sean Ellis of Mountainview Medical Institute. “You’re discussing it all in terms of ‘better information for doctor and patient,’ but let’s face it, you’re going to deny payment for a treatment that a national body says is not proven effective, even if the doctor and the patient want it. That’s the bloody part, and I think that should be addressed.”

    Carol Clancy of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Qualtiy (AHRQ) immediately responded, “That’s a very important point; the burden of proof is going to be shifted.” The founding regulations of Medicare, Clancy noted, say that “‘Payment is to be denied if the treatment has been shown to be ineffective.’ That puts the burden on the payer, to show it’s ineffective. But that burden has already begun to shift. And it’s going to shift to where the burden is on the doctor to show that the treatment is effective, or it won’t be paid for.” AHRQ is the lead Federal Agency for “health care quality measures.”

  5. Steve on June 11, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    If you watched the Senate hearings on healthcare you heard the representative for the Business Roundtable tell the Senate Committee that American companies cannot compete with foreign companies that have national health insurance because American companies must provide that health insurance for their employees at considerable cost to the bottom line. Sure, Single Payer Insurance may be some kind of “commie plot”, but paradoxically, the very survival of the American economy and the American way of life may be dependant upon it. Single payer is GOOD for business. The Business Roundtable thinks so.

  6. Cindi on June 11, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Health care should be delivered in a not-for-profit way. We don’t need insurance co. middle men making profit off of illness. The public option or single payer operates in a not-for-profit way. It makes sense. Our education system in nonprofit, utilities profits are regulated, but health care can make record profits off of death. We are in bondage to them. The system is broken and must be fixed!