February 5, 2010
While many in Congress, the press and the public have given up on the idea of even a limited public option in health care reform, Flowers and her group, Physicians for a National Health Program, are standing firm for a single-payer plan. Specifically, they want to extend the Medicare program, which they see as a functioning single-player plan, to the nation as a whole. Flowers has testified before Congress and penned Op-Eds and she has been arrested three times in her attempts to get Congress and the White House to pay attention to single-payer.
>Read Dr. Flowers' open letter to President Obama
The term "single-payer" generally means a system in which rather than having private, for-profit insurance companies, the government runs one large non-profit insurance organization. That organization pays all the doctor, drug and hospital bills — it is the "single-payer" of all medical bills. In most single-payer plans, every American would be enrolled and would pay into the fund through taxes.
Advocates argue that a single-payer system would pay for itself, saving huge amounts of money in administrative costs. The U.S. currently pays a higher percentage of health dollars for administration than any other nation.
Critics of single-payer plans like the American Enterprise Institute say that other nation's single-payer plans are less than perfect in part because they aren't forced to compete in the marketplace. "Single-payer systems do not guarantee universal access and do not necessarily result in high-quality health care. State-run systems have trouble keeping up with changes in consumer demands and new medical technology." Other critics contend that a government-controled health care system constitutes too much government in private matters.
The U.S. also ranks highest in total cost of care, but according to a recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, ranks last among industrialized countries "in preventing deaths through use of timely and effective medical care." In a recent FRONTLINE report comparing the health care systems of five other capitalist democracies, "Sick Around the World," WASHINGTON POST reporter T.R. Reid notes that, "The World Health Organization says the U.S. health care system rates 37th in the world in terms of quality and fairness. All the other rich countries do better than we do, and yet they spend a heck of a lot less."
>>Watch "Sick Around the World" to see how five other countries provide health care.
Dr. Margaret Flowers is a Maryland pediatrician with experience as a hospitalist at a rural hospital and in private practice. She is currently the Congressional Fellow of Physicians for a National Health Program, working on single-payer health care reform full time. In addition to her activity with PNHP, an organization of 17,000 doctors who support single-payer national health insurance, she is a member of Healthcare-Now! of Maryland and a co-founder of the Conversation Coalition for Health Care Reform. Dr. Flowers obtained her medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine and did her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
Photo by Robin Holland.