Members of Mad as Hell Doctors, including (left to right) Gregg Densmore, Bob Seward, Michael Huntington, Rick Staggenborg, Frank Erickson and Chris Goeser sing a humorous song about health care during a gathering last week at Grande Ronde Hospital. Bill Whitaker, executive director of Oregon Rural Action, stands at the far right. The Oregon Rural Action-sponsored event drew about 50 people, most of them supportive of a single-payer health care system. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Group decries state of health care delivery, stumps for an ‘improved Medicare for all’ systemUsing a cartoon, a video, a song and plenty of fiery speech, the physicians group known as Mad as Hell Doctors made their case for a single-payer health insurance system in a rally at Grande Ronde Hospital.
A crowd of about 50 people packed the Mount Emily Conference Room April 26 as the group of Oregon physicians and health care workers — a sub-group of Physicians for a National Health Program — decried the current state of health care delivery and stumped for an “improved Medicare for all” system.
“I see some people getting all the care they need, and other people with identical problems not getting care,” said Dr. Chris Goeser, a radiologist from Salem. “I also see a cure. It’s where Americans look out for each other. We pool our resources and everybody has an equal stake. It’s not happening yet and that’s why I’m mad as hell.”
Founded in 1987, PNHP opposes for-profit control, and especially corporate control, of the health system. PNHP favors democratic control, public administration and single-payer financing.
Mad as Hell Doctors travels the country as a group, speaking in support of those things. They envision a health care system in which “everybody is in and nobody is out.”
A main point during the meeting was that a vast amount of money collected by insurance companies and health providers is spent on other things besides care.
Dr. Frank Erickson, a radiologist from Pendleton, cited a number of problems inherent in the for-profit system.
He said armies of billing clerks are employed to deal with hundreds of insurance carriers. What’s worse, some 30 percent of insurance claims are rejected the first time around.
“It’s unsustainable,” Erickson said. “Most of the doctors I’ve talked to would love to have one office, one payer to deal with.”
Dr. Robert Seward, a retired internist from Forest Grove, said Medicare and the Department of Veterans Affairs health care systems are two examples of well-run, government-sponsored programs.
“They are not for profit and the results are in. They deliver quality care for half as much,” Seward said.
Local physician Gregg Densmore, also a member of Mad as Hell Doctors, agreed Medicare is a program worth emulating.
“My senior patients love their Medicare. I can’t wait till I have it. I’m jealous,” Densmore said.
Beyond a single-payer system, Densmore said tort reform is needed. He said that in the current system, doctors practice “defensive medicine” by ordering batteries of tests that may not be necessary.
He added that medical costs can be reduced if people take more responsibility for their health. He said they should pay more attention to things like diet and exercise.
“They’re overweight, they have high blood pressure, they have diabetes and they say ‘Hey, you gotta fix me.’ ” he said.
Dr. Michael Huntington, a retired radiation oncologist from Corvallis, moderated Tuesday’s discussions. He showed a video and a cartoon supporting the idea of single-payer heath care, and urged the audience to join with the doctors in singing a humorous song called “My Pharmacy’s Over the Border.”
As the evening wound down, Huntington threw the meeting open to comments and questions. Nearly everyone who spoke during the comment period said they feel the health care system must change.
One woman recently diagnosed with cancer said her medical bills have tallied over $150,000. Fortunately, she had insurance. If not, she said, she would have been ruined.
Another woman said she has twice gone bankrupt because of health care costs.
“I’m mad about it. It’s got to change, it’s bad,” the woman said.
Most but not all people attending were so receptive of the Mad as Hells Doctors message. Some expressed doubts.
Richard McKim, a Reserved Officer Training Corps instructor at Eastern Oregon University, said he has worked in health care finance and doesn’t believe the answers to the health care quandary are so simple.
“This is kind of a pre-selected audience here tonight and there’s nothing wrong with that, but where’s the other side of the argument?” McKim said.
Still another man in the crowd said he would like an “objective” answer to the question as to whether there is a downside to a single-payer system.
“Would there be longer waiting lines for health care?” he asked.
Erickson conceded there are issues to be worked out. He insisted, though, that single-payer health care will fix a world of problems.
“It’s no utopia, but the evidence says we’re not doing very well compared with other systems,” he said.
Tuesday’s gathering was sponsored by Oregon Rural Action. Bill Whitaker, executive director of the Blue Mountain Chapter, offered one answer to the question about negative outcomes in a single-payer system.
He said many thousands of people working in health care administration likely would have to change jobs if the state or country switched to single-payer.
But that, he said, could be mitigated with employment retraining.
“It’s a significant challenge we can overcome,” he said.
Whitaker said in closing remarks that he feels encouraged that two single-payer health care bills, House Bill 3510 and Senate Bill 972, were introduced in the state Legislature this year.
Neither will become law, but Whitaker said people should contact their elected representatives and urge future passage.
“The bills will be re-introduced until they pass. Send postcards to your legislators,” Whitaker said.