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Single-Payer Health Care Group Speaks Out
05/11/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Reforming the U.S. health care system is an ongoing challenge. But a group in Maine said there is a solution. Maine AllCare wants a single-payer system, where everyone gets health insurance under a government-run program. To draw attention to the issue, the group held a rally in Portland last night with members of Occupy Maine. They also brought in a renowned health care activist to speak at several events.

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Despite the drizzly weather, about three dozen people came to Monument Square in Portland last night to call for an end to what they call U.S. "Wealth" care.

"Our health! Our voice! Our nation! Our choice!" the attendees chanted.

"Um, I'm pretty disgusted I guess with the slow pace of change in this country," said Nancy O'Hagan. She was among the rally-goers. She's a medical anthropologist, and has been studying health care for thirty years. O'Hagan said she's been to other countries that use single payer, and has even used it herself while living in northern Ireland.

"I understand how it works, how extremely well it works, how stress-free it is, how money-free it is," O'Hagan said. "I didn't have to pay anything for major surgery. I was treated well. I didn't have to wait. It's just so superior, it's amazing."

The idea for a single-payer health system isn't new. While it's gained traction in other countries like Canada, Australia, and the U.K., it hasn't in the U.S. Dr. Margaret Flowers wants to change that. She's a former pediatrician from Maryland who is now a full-time activist. She came to Maine to speak to various public and professional groups.

"Really I got into this after my frustration trying to practice pediatrics within this current health environment which is more and more becoming owned by corporations that profit off of health care," said Flowers.

Lost in the bureaucracy she said, is a on people's health. Flowers said some of her more frustrating experiences as a pediatrician were when she admitted patients to a hospital. She said insurance companies would tell her how long her patients could stay, not the other way around.

"They not only don't add any value to our current health care system, but they provide obstacles to getting health care in this country because their job is to make profits by not paying for care," she said.

Flowers saw it as her professional responsibility to become an activist. She spent a few years researching health care and said in the U.S., she saw a pattern of patchwork fixes that haven't worked. According to the World Health Care Organization, health care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, and ranks 37th in quality. Flowers said when you look at countries with better rankings, many use a single-payer system. She said there's even evidence in the U.S that single payer works. It's similar to Medicare, Flowers said, and studies show that once people are covered by Medicare, health disparities go down.

"Our publicly financed health systems, which are the VA, Medicare, and Medicaid actually have administrative costs that are around 5 percent or less. Our private insurance part of our health care, their administrative costs are around 15 to 20 percent," said Flowers.

She said with the amount the US already spends, IT WOULD NOT BE DIFFICULT TO PROVIDE health insurance for every person. And it would actually cost us half as much. But not everyone agrees that single payer will create a better health system.

"Simply put, I don't think one size fits all," said Flowers.

Dr. Richard Flowerdew is an anesthesiologist in Portland. He was trained in England and came to the U.S. in 1997. Flowerdew thinks a better solution is to allow employers to tailor health insurance policies to the specific needs of their employees. If you don't have to cover what people don't need, he said, there will be significant cost savings. Single-payer, he said, is worse than what is currently in place.

"If you just have a system solely driven by the government, then unfortunately the decisions often will be as much political as they will medical. Then, you're stuck with it," said Flowerdew.

But Margaret Flowers said many Americans are already stuck with it.

She said about 50 million Americans can't even afford health insurance, and tens of millions are under-insured with deductibles so high they're forced to put off medical treatment because they can't afford it.

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