Single-payer coverage sought by doctors

These are gloomy days for those who believe President Barack Obama’s health care plan did not go far enough. The prevailing political wisdom is that he overreached, and there is talk of repealing the bill that he did sign should Republicans recapture Congress.

Nonetheless, some local doctors have joined with others nationwide to continue to push for single-payer health care coverage, even though they know they won’t get it anytime soon. Under such a system — like the one in Canada — the government becomes the sole provider of health coverage, with no private or other insurance plans.

“It’s really an uphill battle,” said Dr. Ron Lapp of Paso Robles. “All the health insurance companies have to do is say ‘government takeover’ or ‘socialized medicine,’ ” and fear takes control of the conversation.

Lapp belongs to a national group called Physicians for a National Health Care Program. He says a dozen other doctors in the county belong.

Lapp also helped organize a visit in San Luis Obispo last month for another universal health care group, the Mad As Hell Doctors, who also are working for single-payer health coverage. Lapp described single payer, in general terms, as Medicare for all.

Mad As Hell Doctors, based in Oregon and formed in 2009, spoke to 120 people at the San Luis Obispo City/County Library recently as part of a nationwide tour to promote the idea. They visited 22 cities in California.

“I get up every day and am discouraged that I’m providing care in a system that (ranks) 37th in the world, even though we’re spending twice as much,” Dr. Mark Sapir of Mad As Hell Doctors said. The rating comes from the World Health Organization.

Sapir claims that 70 percent of Americans and 55 percent of their doctors want single payer.

Single payer has had traction. A bill creating such a system in California twice passed the Legislature in recent years, only to be vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger. A new bill is expected to be introduced during the next legislative session, Lapp said.

The San Luis Obispo County Health Commission also has endorsed a single-payer system.

However, the political climate is not favorable now, Lapp said. Further complicating matters is a provision in the national health care bill that took away a state’s right to create its own single-payer system until 2017, he said.

“You just have to keep pushing for it,” Lapp said.

He noted that many other movements took a long time to succeed, against odds that at the time seemed insurmountable — the environmental, civil rights, women’s and farmworkers movements, among others.

The bulk of the people at the Mad as Hell Doctors presentation in San Luis Obispo were older, and some referred to organizing experiences from their youth.

Sapir urged them to keep at it — and expand — despite opposition from the insurance industry, which, Lapp claimed, takes 25 percent of every health care dollar and would be out of business if single payer became the law of the land.

Lapp said that, at a minimum, he and other doctors need to educate the public, because he believes that there is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding.

“It will happen,” Lapp said confidently of universal health coverage. “It’s going to happen because the current system is not sustainable.”