Medicare for All: How to Get There

excerpts from a speech by Dr. Paul Song

We know what to expect from Republicans when they vote against the things we stand for, but frankly we have a problem in congress and here in CA, where each year more progressive legislation is held hostage by a group of corporate democrats who do the bidding of big oil, insurance companies, Big Pharma, and other powerful interests. That’s why we need to work hard to support progressives (Henry Stern, Nannette Barrigan, Eloise Reyes) and the work of Trent Lange and his group to expose and rid our democracy of dark money.

We’ve seen insurance rates skyrocket, big insurers drop out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA – “Obamacare”), and outrageous drug prices like that for an Epi-Pen come to the forefront. Why?

In the run up to the ACA, there were 3300 registered healthcare lobbyists for the 535 members of congress. Six lobbyists for every member of congress. They spent $1.2 million a day, more than what was spent on the entire Bush-Kerry election. And while the ACA did some good things, there was no insurance rate regulation or ability to prevent obscene drug prices.

As you know, the issue I care most deeply about is our broken immoral healthcare system. Back in ’66, Martin Luther King said “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” As an oncologist I think this injustice is greater now than it was then.

In 1991, then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop asked me and my fellow medical school classmates to recite the Hippocratic oath. The part I remember is “I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.” Sadly, in the past 25 years, I have seen and practiced in a system which is too deleterious and mischievous.

Lisa and I recently welcomed our second baby girl into this world and our nurse shared that she’d been retired but had to go back to work after her husband passed away from his battle with lymphoma, because his illness exhausted their savings and left her in debt.

It would be easy for me as a specialist to enjoy my pay check and protect the status quo, but I cannot. I’ve seen too many of my patients go bankrupt due to their bouts with cancer and most were insured. Sadly, we have a system where nearly 1.2 million people WITH insurance go bankrupt each year due to a major illness and over 15 million deplete their savings to cover their medical bills; – a system where 40,000 die each year in the US simply because they are uninsured; – a system that doesn’t cover our undocumented brothers and sisters and where 70% of all our uninsured in CA are from communities of color.

We have a for-profit insurance industry that’s raised premiums 160+% in the past 8 years while wages remained stagnant, all the while maintaining a system that makes money by denying care. And while the number of UNinsured has decreased due to the ACA, the number of UNDERinsured, those with insurance who can’t afford their medical bills and/or delay seeking care because they can’t afford co-pays and deductibles, has increased.

That’s why I continue to fight for a better healthcare system.

A system that does not continuously put profits before patients; – that covers everyone including our undocumented brothers and sisters; – where no one ever goes bankrupt just for getting sick; – a Medicare-for-all system.

Until we get there, I fight for insurance rate regulation and to expand Medicaid coverage for the undocumented. I’ll fight alongside President Hillary Clinton for a robust public option. Collectively we continue to fight for a more fair and just society. Many of us have become a bit. We sometimes feel the system is rigged and corporations are in control. I’d encourage us to never give up and remember MLK’s words:

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”


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