Lou's List

Somewhat informed observations on politics and life from a wayward journalist.

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Single-payer fight comes to Pittsburgh

Activists and legislators pushing bills to institute universal, single-payer health care (aka Medicare for all), gathered for a news conference Saturday morning at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center before pressing their case to the Democratic National Committee's Platform Committee, meeting in the building to finalize the party's statement of principles in advance of the Democratic National Convention August 25-28 in Denver.

Apparently, though, folks like Congressman John Conyers of Michigan--author of H.R. 676, the federal single-payer bill, who headlined the press conference--and state Sen. Jim Ferlo of Highland Park--primary sponsor of S.B. 300 in Harrisburg, a similar state bill, who hosted the event--are still a bit out in front of the party leaders who approved a platform calling for "...every American... [to] be guaranteed to have affordable, comprehensive health care," but eschewed an explicit call for a single-payer system.

Speakers at the press conference were adamant that anything short of Medicare for all would be only a partial fix for today's health care problems.

"This system is so badly broken it cannot be repaired," said Steve O'Donnell, Democratic nominee in the 18th Congressional District, who pledged to work for passage of Conyers' bill if elected.

"We can't fix the health care problem by selling more insurance," echoed Donna Smith of Progressive Democrats of America, whose personal health care horror story appeared in Michael Moore's "Sicko."

"Each one of us could make a documentary, we have so many tragic stories," Conyers said.

Ferlo outlined the proposed solution: "We know what works. Social Security works. Medicare works. We want to extend it to all Americans."

Conyers acknowledged that passage of his bill is not likely imminent, but said a "teachable moment" is upon us that can help build support, even in conservative parts of the country and among Republican legislators.

"There's not Democratic health care discrimination and Republican health care discrimination--They're all catching hell," he said. "We're trying to put our position against anyone else's."

He said that even reliably progressive colleagues have told him that "the forces are just too big" to advance single-payer, but that he'll fight on.

"I feel sorry for any legislator who legislates like that. You should go into something else," Conyers said.

More optimism was expressed for the state bill. Currently, thirty-seven state House members and six Senators are sponsors and Governor Ed Rendell has said he would sign it into law. Chuck Pennacchio, director of Health Care for All PA--a statewide coalition pushing the bill--said opinion surveys have shown strong public support for a single-payer plan.