A doctor’s advice to his patient

July 29, 2009

Helen Redmond reports on a Chicago doctor who had an invitation to the White House to talk about health care--until someone found out his views on the subject.

DR. DAVID Scheiner was Barack Obama's personal physician for 22 years, until 2007.

Scheiner is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) and an advocate of a single-payer health care system that gives coverage to everyone through a government program.

Back in those days, Barack Obama was in favor of a single-payer system too. At an AFL-CIO conference in 2003, he declared:

I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care system. And I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, is spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care, and not providing basic health insurance to everybody.

Everybody in, nobody out. A single-payer health care plan. That's what I would like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first, we have to take back the White house, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.

Fast forward. Obama gave up his support for single payer as he began to prepare his run for the presidency. Fast forward again. The Democrats now control the Senate and the House, and Obama himself controls the White House. But now, Obama wants to see something other than single-payer.

Dr. David Scheiner appears on Democracy Now!
Dr. David Scheiner appears on Democracy Now!

When ABC news producers were organizing a health care forum at the White House for June, they invited Scheiner to attend. The staff at ABC thought it would be a good television moment--Obama would be surprised by his former doctor, who would be allowed to ask a question or two. Scheiner got the invitation to the forum on June 19, and had several conversations with producers at ABC, who assured him everything was on track.

Then, on June 22, two days before the event, Scheiner received a call telling him his appearance was being nixed. "We have too many people, we have to cancel you," he was told. "Maybe someday, you'll be on Nightline."

That wasn't the whole story, of course. Someone forgot to do a thorough background check: Scheiner is still a supporter of single-payer, and now a public opponent of the Democrats' plans for health care "reform" that keeps private insurance in the mix. If he were to ask a question about that, it wouldn't be a warm, fuzzy, everyone-in-total-agreement television moment. Scheiner was disinvited.

"I don't know who did it," Scheiner told the Single Payer Action Web site. "It could have been the White House. I could see [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel doing something like that. That's his style."

THE OBAMA administration has gone to great lengths to keep any proposals for single-payer--or even a discussion of it--out of the debate about health care reform in Washington. Obama claims that he might support single-payer if he was "starting from scratch," but it's unrealistic to consider now.

Obama did say that that all voices would be heard at Sen. Max Baucus' "roundtable" discussions on health care in the committee he chairs, but proponents of single-payer--PNHP, the California Nurses Association and others--were shut out, despite repeated requests to be included. Thirteen advocates of single-payer, among them doctors and nurses, disrupted those hearings, and were dragged out and arrested--and single-payer finally got mainstream press coverage.

A study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) found that in hundreds of stories about health care in major media outlets earlier this year, during the lead-up to a White House summit in March, only five included the views of advocates of single-payer.

But support for a single-payer, government-financed health care system is at an all-time high. A recent New York Times poll found that 72 percent of those questioned supported a government-administered insurance plan--something like Medicare for those under 65. Fifty-nine percent of physicians support single-payer.

As for Dr. Scheiner, he won't be silenced about single-payer. He's speaking at a rally on July 30 in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 44th anniversary of Medicare--and in favor of HR 676, Rep. John Conyers' legislation to establish a single-payer system.

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