Message from Representative John Conyers

President-elect Barack Obama has set up a website to gather ideas from ordinary citizens on the most important issues facing our country. 

Obama wants to hear from you about health care.  Now is our chance to show the president-elect the tremendous support nationwide for single payer health care.
Single payer universal health care is the only solution that will take profit out of health care. We need health care reform that will:
* Create a publicly-financed, privately-delivered universal health care program covering all Americans;
* Cover all medically-necessary services without charging co-pays or deductibles;
* Eliminate corporate greed from our health care delivery system.
Thank you for your continued support for a better democracy.
Your Friend, 

John Conyers, Jr.


  1. Cheryl Emmons on December 28, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Below is my message to President-elect Obama.

    In an Associated Press poll, 65 percent of the respondents indicated a preference for a “universal health insurance program in which everyone is covered under a program like Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxes.” Many more people would be likely to support such a system if they had not been so often lied to by vested interests and if there had been a reasonable chance for them to hear how a single-payer plan would work. However, the idea seems always to be excluded from public discussion, a most recent example being the exclusion of Dennis Kucinich from the AARP Health Care Debate because of his support for the single-payer option. How can it be healthy for a democratic society to forcefully exclude particular ideas and alternatives from public discussion? The Senate Finance Committee should give the single-payer option a full and fair hearing, and advocates of the single-payer option should not be excluded from the policy debate.

    Many surveys have indicated that a majority of Americans support the single-payer option. Please be aware that when a survey indicates results that vary greatly from similar surveys, there could have been a problem with the way the questions were framed. When Americans are asked whether they would be willing to pay higher taxes for universal insurance, some people who are living paycheck to paycheck but are already paying for all or part of their insurance may be afraid of higher taxes for fear that they will no longer be able to pay all their bills. They don’t always realize that these taxes would replace the premiums, deductibles, and most other out of pocket costs that they are currently paying. They may also mistakenly think that they have “good insurance” because they have never had a serious illness and have never really had to use it.

    Please wield your influence to put single-payer, not-for-profit health insurance back on the table. The economy is in serious trouble, and the only way we are going to be able to cover everyone is to retrieve the dollars that are currently being wasted on the paperwork, corporate profits, and executive compensation that are associated with the private insurance system.

    The private insurance system is like a cancer. It is analogous to a malignant tumor, composed of cells that use up all the body’s nutrients, while performing no useful function. In the same way, private insurance is eating up the health care dollars that should be spent for direct delivery of patient care. In an effort to cure cancer, do we open up the patient, do some artful carving on the tumor to rearrange its shape, and then sew the patient back up, leaving the tumor intact? No. We do everything in our power to remove the tumor completely.

    Private insurance, with their rejections, exclusions, and denials, has resulted in the deaths of huge numbers of Americans. If a foreign country engaged in activity that caused the deaths of this many of our citizens, we would be at war with that country.

    The most tragic aspect of continuing with a profit-motivated insurance system is that thousands and thousands of people will continue to die or become disabled every year when it could have been prevented.

    However, the for-profit, private system is also damaging our country in many other ways.

    People are making major life choices such as marriage, divorce, and abortion on the basis of health care concerns. I know many committed couples who are living together out- of- wedlock because one of the partners has medical issues and is afraid of financially ruining the other partner. I also know couples who have divorced, although they still loved each other, for the same reason. Religious young couples who intended to abstain are often are faced with unplanned pregnancies because they have had to delay marriage for unreasonable periods of time (so that they could stay on their parents’ health insurance plans). Women frequently get fired when they become pregnant, and losing insurance at such a critical time can drive women to choose abortion even when this is a decision that is not right for them and may cause them long term emotional distress. Worse yet, many women with health problems that would make a pregnancy extremely high risk have no access to highly effective contraceptive methods such as tubal ligation. Many of the “family plans” offered by insurance companies do not cover either tubal ligation or vasectomies.

    The job situation in the United States is becoming intolerable for families. It is either feast or famine. If you want a job that pays a living wage, you must be willing to work extreme overtime hours. The alternative is part-time, minimum wage jobs with no benefits. Neither work situation creates a healthy environment for the rearing of children. The reason it is like this is that employers are doing everything they can to save insurance costs. It is less expensive to compensate for overtime than to hire and insure additional employees. However, this alternative is costly to the nation. For every two employees that are forced to work 12 hour days, there is one potential employee that can’t find a job. We even have one local employer that sometimes forces employees to work 12 hour shifts with only 4 hour breaks between. Such ridiculous schedules are a risk to the health of the employees, and they increase the risk of car accidents when these employees are commuting. A single-payer system, funded through payroll taxes, properly designed, could eliminate this incentive to force workers to accept strenuous overtime schedules.

    Our current system also discriminates against small businesses because they are too small to get the better group rates (unless they cherry pick their employees). In fact, small businesses that try to do the right thing and keep their employees after they develop serious illnesses are often faced with devastating increases in their insurance rates. Do we want an America where only large, monopolistic corporations can survive? Also, is it fair for companies that offer insurance to their employees to have to compete with those that don’t? Forcing companies to purchase expensive, private insurance will only drive more of them out of the country at a time when jobs are desperately needed here. A reasonable employer payroll tax for health care is the best way to achieve genuine fairness.

    One of the worst problems with our private insurance system is that it frequently leads to discrimination by employers against older workers or those with poor medical histories. Several years ago, my husband worked for a factory that was sold. The purchasing company terminated everyone, and rehired only those that they wanted. Several months later, at an insurance meeting, my husband overheard one of the health insurance company representatives telling another that the reason they had been able to offer this factory such a good group rate was because they had “gotten rid” of all the older employees and those with medical problems. Some of those workers had health problems that were related to the chemicals they had worked with, and some of them were never able to find replacement jobs and lost everything. Employers look at potential employees with poor medical histories as if they were lepers, and yet, some of these people are technically able to work and are ineligible for disability. What are they supposed to do?

    To add insult to injury, in order to purchase insurance, we have to fill out detailed medical history forms and release all our medical records. I once received a form in which it was requested that even psychologists notes must be released. Why do insurance companies have the right to pore over the most intimate and painful details of people’s lives? If they don’t share this information with employers, why did my husband’s former employer know exactly whom to “get rid of”.

    Private health insurance has also transformed the medical-industrial complex into a hostile environment. When we are most vulnerable and need comfort, we are often chastised to the point of abuse. Five years ago, my husband was hospitalized due to a massive pulmonary embolism situation. This occurred several weeks after I had first expressed concern that he might have blood clots. The hospital staff docter seemed more concerned about the fact that my husband needed to be out of the hospital in 4 days (according to our insurance company’s rules) than he was concerned about my husband’s medical condition. He was demanding that the respiratory therapist “walk him”, and she was refusing, because of his excruciating pain and her concerns that any residual blood clots in his deep vein might also move up to his lungs. When the hospital was about to send him home, in a state of panic, I called the night shift doctor and begged to have an ultrasound done on his leg. (This had originally been ordered by the emergency room doctor, but the test had never been done.) I wanted the test done because I was frightened that if I took him home, more clots might move up into his lungs to the point that he would suffocate. The next day, the staff doctor angrily stormed into my husband’s room and reamed me thoroughly. He said that I had been teasing doctors into running unnecessary tests that were not in my husband’s best interest and that our insurance might not pay for. I cried for a long time after he left because I was afraid that I had turned this doctor against us, and I didn’t think we would be allowed to have another doctor. Luckily, we had a relative who worked at this hospital, and I was able to acquire the phone number of a patient advocate to whom I could express my concerns about my husband’s condition. Once specialists were placed on his case, it was revealed to us that he had one huge blood clot from his ankle to his hip. One of his lungs was so full of clots that there was only a nickel sized area free. The other lung also had a large amount of clots, and there was a large clot in his pulmonary artery. A procedure was done to drip blood thinner into the worst affected lung. Because of that, he is still alive, but due to the delay in proper treatment, he now has scar tissue in his lungs and a permanent heart rhythm problem.

    My husband’s cousin works for a bankruptcy attorney. The most shocking thing she has told me is that people are sometimes threatened with arrest through the use of something called a “body warrant” when they are unable to pay their medical bills. Is this what we are also going to do if people are mandated to purchase private insurance and they simply don’t have the money? If they don’t have the money to buy insurance, how are they going to be able to pay the fines? This is not like mandating that people purchase car insurance, although it is often compared to that. People have a choice about driving a car. If they are poor, they can walk, or they can take a bus. People don’t have a choice about having a body; the only alternative to having a body is suicide. Wouldn’t it just be simpler and more humane to fund health care with a payroll tax into one pool (7% or 8% on employers and 3% on employees) so that people would be paying based on their ability to pay and would still be covered when they lose jobs due to layoffs or illness? (For people whose incomes are too low to manage 3%, earned income tax credits could be increased to offset the cost.)

    Forcing people to purchase private insurance, when the deductibles and co-pays are so high that they can’t use it, and when the insurance companies are likely to deny needed care through any means possible, is like chaining helpless victims to a coffin to make them accessible to a bloodsucking vampire while trying to convince them that this is all being done in their best interest. No matter how many laws are put in place to rein in the health insurance industry, they will find a way around them. If we want a humane system, it cannot be set up as a for-profit system because industries that are set up for the sole purpose of making a profit are always going to care more about profits than about people.

    My husband’s cousin sees that about 95% of the bankruptcies she deals with are due to medical expenses, but even sadder is the fact that many people had insurance when they first became ill. She recently told me of a tragic incident concerning her friend. (This was not a case she had dealt with in her work.) Her friend’s husband had a good job with good medical insurance. He began to have back pain and was diagnosed with a back injury. After a period of time, his physicians released him to go back to work, but he was still in so much pain, he was dysfunctional. He was fired as a consequence, and he lost his insurance. They eventually lost everything, including their house. Now, two years later, he has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which was actually the original cause of the back pain. He has only a few years to live, and his wife and children will be left with nothing. They are living with his 80 year old mother, and they will eventually have no place to go if his mother should become ill and have to go to a nursing home.

    Most of our elected officials just don’t get it. The time that people really need their health insurance is when they have a major illness, but when they have a major illness, they usually lose their jobs. Private health insurance insures the financial health of people who are profiting from the industry. It does not insure the health of people who are unfortunate enough to become seriously ill, and the institution should be swept into the dust bin of history.

    President-elect Obama, you are better than this. You have looked at the single-payer option, and you know that it is actually the best. I saw you talking about this to a group of constituents when you were in the Illinois Senate. You are probably the best statesman we have had in our lifetime, and if there is ever a point in our history when we could genuinely reform our health care system, it is now.

    I beg you to remember that, once, a long time ago, a group of children wrote to Abraham Lincoln and begged him to end the institution of slavery. He replied that he wished that he could do so but that it was not within his power. If that pragmatic president could summon the courage to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, then you can summon the courage to sign HR 676.

    Winston Churchill said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Please, for once, concerning an issue that is central to who we are as a nation, let us do the right thing now – not after we have tried and exhausted more flawed possibilities. History will judge our nation by the way we treated the weakest and most vulnerable among us, not by how much we enriched the privileged.

    Remember your mother. Please, in her memory, do what you can to make sure that no terminally ill person ever has to spend time worrying about bills and arguing with insurance companies on the telephone ever again.

    We cannot successfully remake our health care system by clasping the bloody hands of an industry that has been responsible for crushing financial devastations, heartbreaking disabilities, and the untimely deaths of so many innocent Americans.

    We can’t successfully remake our health care system by reusing the same ragged materials, patched together with worn out thread. The system would come apart at the seams. We need a brand new, tightly woven safety net that is strong enough to hold all of us.

    Cheryl Emmons
    628 E. Division St.
    Boonville, IN 47601

  2. Lisa on December 31, 2008 at 4:00 am

    Wow, that was great and pretty much says it all.
    Good job!!