AMERICA'S health-care system is the costliest in the world, gobbling up about 16% of the country’s economic output. Comparisons with other rich countries and within the United States show that its system is not only growing at an unsustainable pace, but also provides questionable value for money and dubious medical care.
-- The Economist June 26, 2009
(hat tip to Marty Hart-Landsberg at Lewis & Clark College.)
Last week was a busy one for single payer advocacy with Oregon ties. Significant events took place in Congress, in Multnomah County, and in Oregon performances of a West Coast musical fundraising tour:
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Senator Jeff Merkley in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted to support an amendment by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont that would have allowed two states per year to adopt state-level single payer plans. Unfortunately Sanders' amendment was defeated. But Jeff Merkley was one of four committee members who voted in favor of it, along with Sanders, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Senator Merkley has repeatedly promised, both during the election campaign and since taking his Senate seat, that if a single payer bill makes it to the floor of the Senate, he will vote in favor of it.
His vote for the Sanders amendment represents his first step beyond support in principle to actually taking legislative action to open the door to single payer reform. It is a small step, but a real one, taken even while he continues to focus his main efforts on supporting a public plan option in health reform legislation.
Kudos to Senator Merkley. I encourage single payer advocates to contact him and thank him for supporting the Sanders amendment. (The front page of his website has local and D.C. office phone #s and there is a link to a web e-mail comment form).
At the same time, we should encourage Jeff to take the next step and co-sponsor Senator Sanders' bill S 703, which would provide a framework making it easier for states to adopt state-level single payer systems.
Meanwhile, over on the House side, Rep. David Wu was AWOL on a similar amendment proposed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the Committee Education and Labor. Voting neither yes nor no, Wu "passed" twice on casting a vote on the amendment. Unlike Sanders' effort, the Kucinich amendment passed, with both support and opposition being truly bi-partisan and mixed.
Again, I would encourage single payer advocates to contact Congressman Wu and express disappointment with his failure to support the amendment.
Meanwhile, over on the House side, Rep. David Wu supported a similar amendment proposed by Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the Committee Education and Labor. Unlike Sanders' effort, the Kucinich amendment passed, with both support and opposition being truly bi-partisan and mixed.
Again, I would encourage single payer advocates to contact Congressman Wu and express thanks to him for supporting the amendment.
[See apology for major error at end of post. CL]
On the metro Portland scene, last Thursday the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners endorsed a single payer health care system.
The endorsement came as part of a broader resolution calling on Congress to make comprehensive health reform. In supporting single payer, the Multnomah County Commission joined those of Coos and Curry counties.
The Commission vote was the result of quiet persistent persuasion motivated by Dr. Herman Frankel, a Portland pediatrician and member of the Portland Jobs with Justice Healthcare Committee and Physicians for a National Health Plan. Dr. Frankel drew the attention of single payer advocates associated with those groups and the networks of Single Payer Action to the fact that the general resolution calling for comprehensive health care reform was on the Commission's agenda. Numbers of persons evidently wrote to the Commissioners, according to a comment by Commissioner Jeff Cogen, and five persons testified asking the Commission to support single payer health care reform: Eliana Machuca, representing Jobs with Justice who spoke about rapidly growing support for single payer in the labor movement, myself speaking as a public health graduate student and representing Progressive Democrats of America/Oregon, and three PNHP doctors, Dr. Frankel, Dr. Nancy Crumpacker, a Portland oncologist, who spoke about effects of the current system on her patients, and Dr. Gene Uphoff, who gave a succinct and cogent summary of the arguments for single payer.
The resolution offered was one crafted by the National Association of Counties that adduces a number of excellent principles about how federal health reform should interact with county governance, a matter of importance since counties typically are responsible for providing many public health services, educational efforts and regulations.
Without otherwise changing the resolution, Commissioner Jeff Cogen, citing written correspondence and the testimony presented, offered an amendment inserting a new clause stating simply "The Board believes that a single payer system would provide the best access to affordable health care for all Americans." Commissioner Judy Shiprack seconded the motion, Commissioner Deborah Kafoury indicated that she would support it, while Commissioner Diane McKeel said that she would not. County Chair Ted Wheeler made some thoughtful remarks, especially about the importance of ensuring that whatever form health reform takes, it should protect the most vulnerable among us, for whom the county has particular responsibility. When the vote came, Wheeler joined in voting yes, so the amendment passed 4-1, then the overall resolution carried unanimously.
Again, thanks to commissioners from single payer backers are in order.
(BTW the JwJ page links to video of a recent single payer demonstration outside of Ron Wyden's office, with remarks from Dana Welty, an OHSU neonatal critical care nurse and co-chair of the JwJ Healthcare Committee, Dr. Paul Gorman of PNHP, and a PSU public health grad student who was became a health care refugee from the U.S. non-system in Japan.)
Sing Out for Single Payer!
Finally for last week, on Saturday night labor and folk singer Anne Feeney brought her lively and rousing Sing Out for Single Payer! chautauqua style road show to the SEIU 49 hall on SE 26th Avenue in Portland, a tour of more than a dozen musicians including several from Oregon that began in southern California on July 2 and has been barnstorming up the coast. In Oregon the tour so far has stopped in Ashland, Bend, Florence, the Oregon Country Fair, Corvallis, Coos Bay, Yachats, Newport, Eugene, Portland and Salem, with more performances tonight in Astoria and tomorrow night in Vancouver, WA, moving thence further north into Washington to finish in Bellingham.
In Portland, over 100 and perhaps as many as 150 people attended the event organized by Jobs with Justice, hearing and participating in a mix of folk, bluegrass and eclectic acoustic style songs. Many songs addressed the topic of the evening, the need for single payer reform of the health system, sometimes using new lyrics to familiar tunes. Others took on aspects of the economic crisis or labor and social solidarity and uplift themes, including a couple of brilliant original songs by SEIU 49 staffer Al Bradbury; some readers may know her from her work as a activist with the Transit Riders Union and the Jobs with Justice Economic Crisis Committee. Feeney had gained financial backing for the tour prior to starting it, and the event was a great success in raising funds for local single payer organizing and outreach.
Update and apology In my post as originally published, I erroneously asserted that Congressman David Wu had "passed" on the final vote on Dennis Kucinich's amendment to HR 3200 in the Education and Labor Committee's mark-up. In fact Congressman Wu voted for the amendment. (Thanks to Congressman Wu's office for that link.)
When I wrote in error, I was relying on sources that I thought authoritative. Clearly I was wrong about that. It is my guess that what seemed to be multiple sources go back to one common error. I will be following up with those sources to make sure they are aware of the error and fix it, and will not rely upon them without checking by other means in the future.
In the meantime, I offer sincere and heartfelt apologies to Congressman Wu, who did not deserve to be blamed for what he did not do, but to be praised for what he did do, as the emended text above now reflects. Albeit belatedly and in embarrassing circumstances, I also thank him for his vote on the amendment.