Mad As Hell Doctors head out

Paul Dean and Steve Leigh report from Portland and Seattle on the kickoff of the Mad As Hell Doctors cross-country tour to demand genuine health care reform.

Mad as Hell Doctors are on tour across the county, making their way to Washington, D.C.Mad as Hell Doctors are on tour across the county, making their way to Washington, D.C.

THE MAD As Hell Doctors began their tour across the country to call for a single-payer health care system on September 8, with a kickoff rally in Portland, Ore., and a stop in Seattle.

The group is traveling to Washington, D.C., in their "Care-A-Van" with a simple but loud message: We need a single-payer health system in which the government covers everyone and the private insurance industry is cut out. The doctors will make stops in 26 cities to campaign around the issue, and they want to meet with Barack Obama in Washington to make their case for real reform.

-- In Portland, around 200 people gathered downtown for the demonstration. Several of the Mad As Hell doctors addressed the crowd, and they were joined by nurses who are just as mad.

Dr. Paul Hochfeld, a Corvallis, Ore., emergency room doctor for 24 years and founder of the group, told the crowd: "[T]his industry has hijacked health care--they are all about profits, and not the public good." The doctors say that the only way people in America will be guaranteed quality health care is through a single-payer system.

Dr. Joseph Eusterman, a doctor who deals with injured workers and workers' comp claims, said he's seen people lose their jobs, and then the fear mounts. So he's mad about the lies being told by the fear-mongers and fanatics, whom he dubbed "fearnatics."

As Coos Bay, Ore., doctor Rick Staggenborg said in an interview, "Health care reform is being stymied by the same corporate interests who are the chief contributors to senatorial campaigns. With this clear conflict of interest, you can't expect real reform." In fact, Staggenborg, wearing a 'Jail Max Baucus' t-shirt, said he is so serious about corruption in Congress he is considering running against Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who wants to tax the health insurance workers already get.

Another doctor pointed out that last year, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 22,000 people died because they had no health insurance, up from 18,000 10 years ago.

The doctors are very clear that a single-payer system is what's needed, and they won't compromise on that. They point out that the 'public option' is doomed. As the group says on its Web site:

First: We will still have a dysfunctional health care system designed around insurance companies. Second: The Obama administration is already saying it is acceptable to leave out 15 million people. Which 15 million? Will you be one of them? Who gets to decide? Third: In a "post-option" environment, you can bet that the health insurance industry will manipulate the rules so that the sickest, most expensive patients will gravitate toward the public plan, which will cause it to fail. When it does, the opponents of real reform will point to the "public option" and scream: "See! Single Payer won't work!"

-- In Seattle, the doctors and their supporters on the tour received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception from a crowd of about 300 that included other doctors, nurses, health workers and the general public.

Organizers showed Health, Money and Fear, a video explaining the problems with the current system and the benefits of single-payer, and then held a panel discussion with the doctors. The audience was invited to ask questions and make one-minute statements on why they were "mad as hell." The event started with a clip from the movie Network, in which a fictional newscaster urges everyone to shout at once, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

The problems with the current health care mess came through loud and clear. As one of the doctors summarized:

We're the only Western industrial nation that doesn't provide universal health care. People go bankrupt because of medical bills. This is the only industrial country where this is true. People are not getting the basic preventive care they need. Forty-six million have no insurance, so they aren't getting blood pressure and cholesterol treatment. We have to get back to caring about our neighbors.

Hochfeld pointed out how the insurance industry: "manipulates the government for profit and not the public good. We need to convince our legislators that they have the responsibility to make sure we get the most health for the tremendous amount of money we spend. Health care now serves the insurance industry. Of their premiums, 20 percent goes to profits and 30 percent goes to waste."

Among those attending the rally, there were many horror stories about the current non-system. One doctor at a clinic for low-income people said he had only 12-and-a-half minutes with each patient. A nurse pointed out that she spends "25 percent of my time filling out insurance forms and arguing with insurance companies over paying for my patients' care."

Dr. Sarah Weinberg, a retired pediatrician recounted a story in which a hospital was ordered by an insurance company to take a patient off a respirator--because its guidelines only approved of the use of a respirator for eight days. In the end, the hospital kept the patient alive, but it had to eat the cost since the company wouldn't pay.

This tour has the potential to bolster the movement for single-payer. Everyone who wants health care based on human need and not profit should support it when it comes to your town.