U.S. Rep. John Conyers. Jr. (D., Mich.) said today that President Obama won't support single-payer universal health insurance now because he's got too much on his plate - two wars and an economic crisis - and he's got to settle for the health care reform he can get.
Conyers, speaking at Thomas Jefferson University, said the president will push through a public-private system of health reform - keeping private insurance through employers, and expanding a Medicare-like system for the uninsured - "if he's lucky."
Obama has pledged repeatedly to pass health reform this year that will provide coverage to all Americans, including the 46 million uninsured.
Conyers came to Philadelphia to rally support for his bill which would create a single-payer system -- essentially Medicare for all.
According to the bill, Americans would pay into a health care trust fund, most likely through payroll taxes, and that fund would pay all hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers for their services. Everything from opthamology to long term care would be included. Private insurance companies would no longer be needed.
Conyers attended the health care summit at the White House Thursday, although he was a last-minute invitee. "It was very heavy with corporate health care interests - Big Pharma, insurance companies - the people who don't want single payer," he said.
He joked that "I really wowed the president. I didn't say anything," although at least five other times in break-out sessions others sang the praises and called for a single payer system, he said.
"Why can't we start from the point of view that health care is an inherent constitutional right," he said today. "If it is a right, it shouldn't be based on employment, whether you have a job. So many people in American don't have jobs now, I don't need to tell you."
Conyers said a single-payer system is used in all the other major industrialized nations of the world, and is the only way to guarantee that right.
According to supporters, a single payer system would remove all barriers to care, cover all medically necessary services, allow Americans to choose their own doctors, save enough money through a reduction in bureaucracy and administration to cover all the uninsured and pay for itself.
Physicians for a National Health Program, whose members handed out literature, claims that 14,000 American doctors support single-payer system, including two former surgeon generals.
Ted Christopher, director of emergency medicine at Jefferson, and a supporter of single payer, said he believed "there is tons of waste" in the current system, and underscored the urgency of reform. "We see more and more uninsured every day," he said.
Critics of a single payer system say it will lead to rationing of health care, delays getting into hospitals and specialists, and shortages of doctors. They call it socialized medicine.
Chuck Pennacchio, executive director of HealthCare4ALLPA, a state group pushing bills in the state house and senate for a universal, single-payer system, also responded to the criticisms of a single payer system by saying, "We've already got all that already -- a rationing of care and a shortage of doctors. Everyone knows we don't have enough family practice physicians."
He said polls have shown Pennsylvania to have more support for a single-payer system than any other state. And he said Gov. Rendell has promised to sign Senate Bill 300 and House Bill 1660 -- The Family & Business Healthcare Security Act -- if the state legislature passes them.
Conyers told the group at Jefferson that only three Pennsylvania congressmen have co-sponsored his bill - Democrats Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady of Philadelphia, and Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh. "How many Congressman do you have in Pennsylvania?" he asked the group.
One retired physician told Conyers that "single payer will never happen in my lifetime."
Conyers, 79, drew a huge laugh when he replied, "You may not get it in your lifetime, but I'll get it in mine."