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Targeting Single-Payer Advocates


President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act sucks.  It isn’t change in the dysfunctional American health care system that any one should believe in or defend. And yet that is exactly what liberals and  progressives are doing. Led by spin doctors at The Nation, they’re spinning ObamaRomneyCare (ORC), and that’s what it should be called, as if it were a step in the right direction. As if it were the only outcome of the national health care reform debate in 2009.

The individual mandate that compels millions of people to purchase unaffordable underinsurance and then punishes them with a fine if they don’t, and the transfer of $447 billion in tax payer money to the health insurers were deal breakers for advocates of a single-payer, national health care system. It doesn’t make sense to give the corporations that cause the health care crisis more profits and power in exchange for a modest expansion of Medicaid and a series of mostly rhetorical reforms that the insurance industry and employers are already undermining. It’s no different than giving the bankers responsible for crashing the world financial system billions of dollars in bail out money. How’s that working for Americans?

Single-payer (SP) supporters opposed the passage of ORC and the Supreme Court decision forcing people to buy expensive, malfunctioning products from corporations that bankrupt, deny care or kill them. Many expressed “relief” at the decision to uphold ORC. That feeling was ephemeral as the implications of the Medicaid decision rippled across the country. The Supreme Court ruled that threatening to withdraw Medicaid funding from states that failed to expand their programs was coercive “economic dragooning.” But why isn’t the individual mandate “economic dragooning?”

Seven Republican governors already said they would opt out and dozens are taking a wait and see approach. The liberals told us we had to support ORC if only because 17 million people would get coverage through Medicaid. Now that reform is being scaled back. The Medicaid debacle illustrates why health care reform has to be federally funded and national in scope.

It’s useful to quote Obama on health care before he was president. He actually got it. Candidate Obama said that forcing the uninsured to buy insurance was like forcing the homeless to buy homes and he added, “I don’t have such a mandate because I don’t think the problem is that people don’t want health insurance, it’s that they can’t afford it.”

Senator Obama in 2005: “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care program. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody.”

Any reform that leaves 23 million people uninsured, that proudly excludes undocumented immigrants, and doesn’t cover abortion (watch Obama’s speech on health care to Congress in 2009, it’s sickening) doesn’t deserve one shred of support.

SP activists consistently called out Obama’s hypocrisy and challenged him to do the right thing. Liberal, Democratic astroturf organizations like Health Care for America Now (HCAN) worked overtime to convince people that there was no “political will” in Washington for SP. Groups like HCAN always surface when movements for fundamental reform rise. Their job is to dumb down expectations and channel activist’s energy into incremental reforms that help the fewest people and don’t threaten the power or the profits of the status quo. HCAN wasn’t an ally in the struggle for single-payer, they were a deliberate obstacle to it.

The Nation has published a bevy of articles that blindly and breathlessly spin ORC, gloss over its fatal flaws, and bully those who criticize it. The election fear factor has ramped up their dishonest defense of ORC. Now it’s all about reelecting Obama and who gives a damn that his “signature” legislation is unraveling.

David Cole who calls the uninsured “free-riders,” tied himself into a Gordian knot explaining why it was constitutional to force people to buy private health insurance. Is it a tax or is it a penalty? Who cares? It’s wrong either way. If a Republican president wanted the Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate (say Bush or Romney) he would’ve argued the opposite. Apoplectic, Cole would have thundered: “How dare those Republicans mandate us to buy health insurance!” Cole constantly derides SP advocates with the nonsensical and irksome phrase, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.” But a single-payer system is not perfect. It’s simply good because it solves the health care crisis.

Katha Pollitt’s article, “Obamacare (s) for Women” is positively gushing about ORC. She thinks that “Progressive women should be more enthusiastic about Obama.” Pollitt admits upfront, though, that Obama “compromised abortion right out of health care reform.” But somehow that’s okay for one of the nation’s leading feminists. She lists seven ways that ORC will help women but every single one of them is under sustained attack and could be reversed. And gender rating hasn’t ended. In the new insurance exchanges, large group plans with more than 100 employees will be allowed to continue this sexist practice.

Wendell Potter is leading the attack on SP activists. In his article, Health Care Advocates: Time to Bury the Hatchet, he pejoratively calls members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and Health Care NOW! “die-hards.” He writes “…we are still furious at the president and the Democrats for their baffling decision not to give single-payer legislation a decent hearing and for compromising too early and too often, in their view, with the special interests.” Damn right single-payer supporters are angry! And so are millions of Americans who don’t support ORC and not because they’re Republicans or Tea Party nut jobs. No doubt many are Democrats. They want a government funded health care system that eliminates the role of private, for-profit insurers.

Potter, whose book Deadly Spin chronicles the chicanery of his former employer Cigna brilliantly, ought to be a leading voice against ORC because as he writes, “It’s a windfall for the insurers.” As an ex-insider who spun PR daily, including the denial of a liver transplant to 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan who died, Potter has written some of the most powerful exposes and made compelling arguments for why the insurance industry must be put out of business. Period. He explains how there isn’t one reform these killers can’t gut or get around. And yet there he was on the steps of the Supreme Court providing commentary for Democracy Now! on why ORC had to be upheld. His former bosses at Humana and Cigna must have relished the delicious irony: Potter denounces the insurers and then Potter defends the Supreme Court decision giving the insurers constitutional rights, billions in subsidies and a mandate to rip off millions of new, coerced customers.

Potter charges SP advocates with failing to create a strategy, but that’s not true. For two decades PNHP has been organizing physicians and educating them about single-payer – no easy job given doctor’s vociferous opposition. Because of PNHP’s tireless work and the uncompromising leadership of Dr. Quentin Young, a majority of physicians now support a government financed health care system. That is a huge triumph! PNHP has over 18,000 members and is growing.

Health Care NOW! has a strategy of grassroots, community organizing. Throughout 2009, dozens of chapters across the country organized meetings, marches, demonstrations and “bird dogged” politicians. Hundreds of activists were arrested in a series of sit-ins at insurance company headquarters. Our movement took a quantum leap forward but unfortunately it wasn’t large enough to win single-payer.

This is our die-hard strategy: build a large civil rights movement for health care justice that forces whatever party is in power to enact a single-payer, national health care system.  There is no short cut. And there is no compromising on the necessity to abolish the health insurance industry.

And where was Wendell Potter during all this activism? He was working with HCAN for the public option and then for passage of ORC. Potter made our job harder – not only did SP advocates have to fight Obama administration promises and lies, we had to wage a fight against the well funded, toxic influence of HCAN that consistently told people single-payer was off the table, so give it up.

Like President Obama, the health insurance industry has a “kill list.” Nataline Sarkisyan was on it. Currently, 84,000 people die every year because they lack access to health care. They’re on the kill list. We need to sharpen the blade of the hatchet and cut the head off the corporations that kill for profit.

Helen Redmond writes about health care and the war on drugs. She can be reached at:

Her new documentary about health care is called: The Vampires of Daylight: Driving a Stake Through the Heart of the Health Insurance corporations. Website:




Helen Redmond is an independent journalist and writes about the war on drugs and health care. She can be reached at

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