Dr. Margaret Flowers – Grassroots Response to Health Care Reform

cross-posted from Sum of Change


(This segment was recorded live on Ustream on 3/24/2001 at 12:00pm EST)

I was privileged to have the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Margaret Flowers of Physicians for a National Health Program today. We talked about the health care bill that passed, the general movement for health care reform, and the lessons we learned during this struggle.

This is part of a concerted effort we at Sum of Change have undertaken to reach out to grassroots folks who devoted a lot of energy to fighting for health care reform. We want to use the microphone we have to get the feedback of voices from the grassroots. Part of this involves reaching out to a wide array of activists so as to hear different views from the fight for reform. Feel free to contact us if you would like to suggest someone for us to interview.

Dr. Flowers said that she was "disappointed" with the reforms passed and criticized the bill for not including some type of national "health system that guarantees that every person in our country can get health care."

With this legislation we’re forcing people to purchase private insurance, and that moves us to further privatizing the financing of our health care which is kind of the opposite direction of where we were hoping to go…

What we saw over the past year or so is a very powerful influence from the industries that profit off of the current health care situation, the health insurance companies and pharmaceuticals companies. And this legislation is going to further enrich them. So our concern is that that power that they’ve had is going to grow and that will make it more difficult to push for the types of reforms we need to have…

This was a very tightly scripted kind of process… The administration and the leadership knew before going into this what they wanted to see and they drove the whole process in that direction. And what we had wanted to happen was a real kind of open honest debate about what’s best for our country and will improve our health outcomes. And we found that we ran into a lot of roadblocks with that. But we were successful in some ways of getting our message out. And now I think many people have heard the term single-payer.

When asked whether or not she thinks it was a good decision to rule out single-payer before negotiations began, she had this to say:

I think part of the problem with the public option movement is that the public option was a very vague concept and people didn’t really understand what that was all about or how that was supposed to work. But our experience of talking to people of all different bakcrounds is that when you describe what a national improved medicare for all system is, not only do they get it, but they really, they like it…because it saves money, it makes sure that you can get health care that you need, you know, if you need to change jobs or go back to school you don’t have to worry about not being able to get health care if you need it. So, it’s a very appealing concept, it’s a simple concept to explain.

Q: What lessons did you learn from this process?

The biggest lesson that we learned from this process is that we can’t leave it up to our leadership right now to do what we consider to be good evidence-based health reform, there’s too much influence from the industry. And so, tying ourselves to particular political parties or legislators leads us to always compromise in the end, you know, to save their political career. What we need to do as a people is to say that this situation is not acceptable to us, that we want a national health system that provides real health security and build an independent movement, an independent social movement that will push our legislators in that direction…

It was an interesting year, this was a really new experience for the American people and at this point we’re just saying don’t stop, don’t give up… It was, I think, new in that there was so much energy around this issue. There’s so many more people, you know, if you look at compared to the 90’s, the effort that went on in the 90’s, I think so many more people now get it or are feeling the situation that we have and so many more peole did get involved from both sides, there was a real heated and involved discussion.

On progressive groups supporting the President and not the policy:

As it came down to the wire they were throwing out kind of all their constituents. Women’s reproductive rights and the labor unions who didn’t want to have the excise tax and, and the people that wanted the public option that all got compromised away.

Q: Do you feel like the compromises were one-sided?

Yeah, yeah, I think they were all really done, at the end of this deal what it came down to was that the President had staked his future reelection on this reform and that whatever was passed, they needed to have something passed just to say that they did it. And so the content was no longer important the closer it got down to the line. And we’re a different movement. Physicians for a National Health Program has been around for 22 years. We do the research, we look at other systems, we look at what works here and so we’re very, very strong on, you know, what our beliefs are because we want evidence-based reform and so we don’t compromise away from that. I think that attracts people to our cause because they know that if they’re gonna fight with us that we’re gonna fight for something real.

Q: What is the one big lesson we learned?

The biggest thing, I think, is to kep in mind that the people are the ones that push the politicians to do what we want them to do and that this has gotta be about the issues. We need to be really clear on what we want and educate ourselves on, on why that’s important and stand up, you know, for what we need…If you look at us compared to people in other industrialized nations, we, we settle for so little and, and we don’t have a strong social infrastructure that supports us as a people because of that and I think that really needs to change.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Physicians for a National Health Program, and several other progressive groups are looking forward and continuing to push for single-payer systems at the State level. The doctor urges non-physicians to join Healthcare-Now!

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