Nurse’s insurance nightmare makes her a single-payer advocate

By Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Marilyn Cawthon has been a nurse for 30 years. “All my life I provided health care to people,” she said recently. “I thought when I needed it, it would be there and wouldn’t drive me broke or crazy.”

It nearly did both.

Cawthon got the heart care she needed, but insurance refused to pay – and she was billed $24,000.

Now an intensive care nurse at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol Township, Cawthon, 57, ultimately got her insurer to pay – four years later.

Her experience turned her into a foot soldier in the fight to bring single-payer universal health care to the United States.

She will be handing out literature today when U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), sponsor of H.R. 676, a bill to create a single-payer system, holds a town-hall meeting at 10:30 a.m. at Thomas Jefferson University, 11th and Locust Streets (3/7/09).

Conyers will be at the University of Pennsylvania Newman Center, 3720 Chestnut St., at 1 p.m. for a second town meeting (3/7/09).

“Trying to talk to insurance companies, sending certified letters, calling on the phone, talking to people who said they’d take care of this only to have them never take care of this,” Cawthon explained, “I felt like I was in a maze.”

“When people are sick,” she added, “the last thing they should be worrying about is money. They should be worrying about getting better. The way it is now . . . people are worried about how they are going to pay for it. And that shouldn’t be.”

Single payer is a dramatic change favored by millions of Americans and thousands of health-care professionals, but not supported by President Obama. He is determined to bring about health-care reform this year, but says the United States isn’t ready for that option.

Under a single-payer plan, Americans would contribute to a health-care trust fund through a variety of means, such as a payroll tax, and this fund would pay doctors, hospitals and nursing homes for care. Patients could still choose doctors. There would be no need for insurers.

“The president said, if we were starting from scratch, that would be an excellent way to go,” said Melody Barnes, head of Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, “but at this point, we have to build on our current employment-based system to move forward.”

Obama said Thursday, “I think most of us would agree that if we want to cover all Americans, we can’t make the mistake of trying to fix what isn’t broken. So if somebody has insurance they like, they should be able to keep that insurance.”

Opponents of the single-payer plan say it will result in longer waits to get into hospitals and to see specialists. Since health care will appear to be free, they say, demand will rise, and the government will ration care to control costs, leading to a chronic shortage of physicians.

Cawthon is undaunted. Understanding what she went through might explain why.

Continue reading the full article.


  1. Kathy Mullins on March 10, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I strongly favor single payer and look forward to hearing Rep. Conyers on the 20th of March at the health care forum.

    I had a very bad experience with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and have become very anti private insurance.

    One good way to kill the private industry is to give people the option of buying into Medicare. Perhaps the president will consider this, and then in due time the private industry will die off as people opt into government coverage.