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Universal health care advocated

March 24, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Special to The Herald-Mail

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- One of the best ways to provide health care for all Americans is just "expand Medicare to everybody," according to a speaker at a forum on the subject Tuesday night, Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland pediatrician who left her practice to promote a nationwide single-payer health insurance system, said a national Medicare-like program could reform a system that currently leaves more than 47 million Americans without health insurance.

Sharing the program with Flowers was Richard McVay of Erie, Pa., another advocate who works full time on health-care reform.

About 80 people attended the forum at Shepherd University. It was sponsored by the Shepherd University Health Center, the local Amnesty International chapter and the Eastern Panhandle Single-Payer Network. The moderator was Hannah Geffert of Shepherd's political science department.

The problem, according to McVay, is how to move the country from a system of private insurers to one with a single payer. Polls show that Americans want reform, he said.

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Flowers said employer-provided health insurance began during World War II when companies were banned from giving employee raises. The 1980s brought Wall Street investors into the health-care system, she said.

"It changed the whole face of health care and turned patients into consumers," Flowers said.

Canada, which has universal health care for all of its citizens, spends half of what the U.S. spends.

McVay said one of the best paths to reform is to do it on a state-by-state basis. Eventually, as more and more states provided health care for their citizens, the federal government would have to step in and take over. Several states are already working toward reform, he said.

Flowers said physicians are frustrated by the paperwork required by insurance companies. They often can't treat their patients the way they want to because of insurance company rules.

The number of uninsured Americans also is growing because of the economic crisis, Flowers said.

"A 1 percent hike in the jobless rate means another million Americans lose their health insurance. Half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical debt," Flowers said.

The best way to get to a single-payer system is through a grass-roots effort by the people, or something akin to the civil rights movement, she said. The country can afford such a system now and it would end up being cheaper than what is in place now.

"There won't be any real reform unless we all come together," Flowers said. "Now is the time."

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