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March 31
, 2009


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

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March 31, 2009

Single Payer Health Comes To Albany

Congressional representative John Conyers and HR 676 pack the Westminster sanctuary on a Sunday afternoon

Anyone with a lick of sense is painfully aware that health care is one of the most critical problems facing America today. The stupid privatized insurance scheme that is currently in place is steadily dragging the middle class into poverty, and the poor into early graves. All this unnecessary misery created so that a handful of parasitic corporate insurance scammers can get richer than they already are.

On Sunday I walked with The Wife over to Westminster Presbyterian Church over on State Street for a public meeting about Single Payer Health Care. I was feeling a bit under the weather so I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. Well, I certainly learned a few things at the meeting, and I got to chat with one of the most powerful politicians in the country, a guy most people in Albany have barely heard of.

I’m talking about John Conyers of Dearborn, Michigan, the second longest serving member of the House of Representatives. He is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a committee which has extraordinary power over a wide variety of federal departments, including federal courts and federal law enforcement. He is also the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which this year has finally come unto its own as an influential body.

Representative John Conyers
Representative John Conyers

Most people don’t know any more about Single Payer Health Care than they know about John Conyers, it’s just words. What it means is that we would have one and only one health insurance provider for every American citizen. Since this one provider is a government agency, the behavior of this agency would be ultimately subject to scrutiny by the voters and taxpayers.

This is in sharp contrast to the current scheme, where a pack of hungry corporate insurance companies supposedly, allegedly, compete with each other for the American citizen’s money. In practice, these insurance corporations have formed virtual cartels that take advantage of sick Americans by driving up the cost of all services, from the hospital to the doctor visits to the pharmaceuticals.

In addition, these corporate insurers pointedly refuse to insure all Americans. They say in their own defense that they can’t afford to provide insurance for people who are ... sick. They only want to insure people who are healthy, because that way they can keep their corporate “bottom line” healthy by not paying out premiums to those who need them.

It’s a savage, stupid and idiotic method of exploitation one might find in a miserable run down third world country. This privatized insurance scheme is a national boondoggle, a parasitic method of extracting wealth from people who work for a living. It should go without saying that America can no longer afford such boondoggles, we taxpayers can no longer nurture thieves and robbers.

Westminster Presbyterian Shortly Before The Event
Westminster Presbyterian Shortly Before The Event

Will Single Payer solve the debilitating societal problems caused by privatized health insurance? Mr. Conyers put it this way:

You have to first of all decide that getting healthcare when you need it is a right and not a privilege. So when people talk about “affordable health care,” you’ve just left a hundred million Americans outside the door because they can’t afford anything. What do you do if you don’t have the money to afford affordable health care?

. . . Do we really need to have profit taking in health care? ...And now they’re all marketing ...everybody’s hustling health care. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we want to put you into a full employment full reaching program, because you need one organization insuring health care, a single payer. One, only one.

We can start to see why the corporate media rarely mentions Single Payer Health Care, and never explains the concept in understandable terms. And we can also see why they don’t often say anything positive about Mr. Conyers.

In fact, the only corporate media content providers present that I observed at the event were two TV stations, Time Warner Capital News 9 and the bottom feeding nasty scumbags at Channel 13. Both of these camera crews packed up their equipment and fled when Mr. Conyers climbed up into the ornate pulpit to speak.

Unless I’m not punching in the right keywords into Google, it appears that neither TV station aired a segment on the event. I guess they couldn’t find a way to give the story a negative spin without outright lying. Which they can’t do too blatantly anymore, not with so many bloggers nosing about these days.

Dr. Andy Coates Of Physicians For A National Health Program Spoke Before The TV Media Fled
Dr. Andy Coates Of Physicians For A National Health Program Spoke Before The TV Media Fled

That careful lack of coverage answers the question why Mr. Conyers was willing to fly from Michigan to Albany NY simply to address a church full of local citizens. It’s a sad shame that at this late date we the people still have to make an end run around the corporate media to hear important relevant information that the corporate media owners consider contrary to the corporate political agenda.

It is precisely because of this media blackout of Single Payer that the majority of our so-called Democratic Congress has not yet found the courage to do what’s best for the American people. Even President Obama has said that Single Payer is “off the table.” Instead, our elected officials continue to waste everyone’s time and patience floating unworkable schemes that involve continuing to funnel cash to the useless health insurance corporations. Again, Mr. Conyers:

This is not complicated. I love these people who always want to talk about legislation. The first thing they say is that “this is a very complex piece of legislation, you probably won’t understand it.” Well, I’ll make it real simple for all those folks in Congress who are resisting. We want a universal single payer health care plan that every industrial country on the planet Earth already has. That’s what we want.

I managed to record Mr. Conyers’ speech, but I placed The Wife’s iPod a little too far away from the speaker’s pulpit. And the man speaks in a fairly soft wavering voice, actually pretty well for an 80 year old, but not loud. So the recording isn’t good enough to post, but here are some interesting quotes, in the order that they were spoken:

It’s too important, it’s a national security matter, it’s in the national interest to keep 320 million people covered.

Representative John Conyers

If everybody who’s been forced into bankruptcy, or had to suffer, or have to cut their prescriptions in half because they didn’t have the money or had to lose their home, or had to make incredible sacrifices or just worry, you’re sick and you’re worried about how you’re gonna pay the bills and what are you doing to your family, that’s a part of sickness that no one should have to bear the burden of.

It doesn’t have to be employer connected... when your employer skips town or moves overseas or decides to call it quits guess what happens to your health insurance? Well, we’re finding out now.

I don’t believe in this “too big to fail” business anymore. You do what everybody else does. You go into some sort of bankruptcy reorganization.

We don’t want to copy Canada’s plan, or France’s plan... we want to do it ourselves. That’s why we’re studying every health plan on Earth. Everywhere, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the strengths and weaknesses.

Our freshman congressional representative Paul Tonko also spoke, he arrived late and left early. He did not have a lot to say, but he made it clear that he enthusiastically supported Mr. Conyer’s initiative, HR 676, “The US National Health Insurance Act, which Mr. Conyers introduced back in 2003.

Paul Tonko Speaks From The Pulpit
Paul Tonko Speaks From The Pulpit

Mr. Tonko is one of 93 current cosponsors of HR 676, it needs 218 to pass. And then there is the Senate, which tends to represent corporations against the voters even more than the House does. And finally there’s the president, who seems to be clinging to some rather bizarre and outmoded ideas that he picked up at Uncle Miltie’s Chicago Clown School of Economics.

And yet, despite the media blackout, despite the blatant corporatism practiced by the majority of our elected officials, poll after poll has found that a majority of Americans favor Single Payer Health. That is, if the poll in question explains what Single Payer is. It really comes down to common sense.

Dr. Andy Coates
Dr. Andy Coates

Dr. Andy Coates of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) was the first speaker. His enthusiasm for the subject and general knowledge was a welcome addition to the event, he stepped up to clarify some important points during the discussions. Indeed, his attitude is typical of medical professionals these days who are fed up with neglecting their practices to please the cruel corporate bureaucracies that are forcing them to short change and even neglect their patients.

It has occurred to me perhaps medical providers are also concerned with the erosion of their self respect. In the not so distant past the medical profession was composed mostly of medical professionals, with doctors at the summit. Administrative jobs were usually held by persons with a working medical background.

Nowadays doctors are turning into corporate cogs, as expendable as fast food workers. It takes a lot of time, work and investment to become a doctor or a nurse, it is only reasonable that health providers expect to be respected by the community. I wonder if this erosion of respect for doctors imposed from above has already begun to degrade the overall quality and effectiveness of health care in this country.

The event was sponsored by a variety of interested groups, but was mainly the work of Single Payer New York and Westminster Presbyterian Church. Mr. Conyers thanked the church by saying, “We’re sitting in a church that put its money where its prayers are.”

There was a panel discussion on the role of the faith community in the adoption of Single Payer Health Care, all three major sky-god religions were represented. We heard from Dr. Richard Propp of B’Nai Sholom Reform Congregation in Albany, Yussouf Mir of the Islamic Center of the Capital District, and from Elder Chandlee Gill of the Albany Presbytery. Each spoke of the obligation of their respective faiths to care for the sick and provide for healing.

Mr. Conyers, Mr. Tonko And Dr. Coates Listen To The Faithful
Mr. Conyers, Mr. Tonko And Dr. Coates Listen To The Faithful

Single Payer New York is headed by Mark Dunlea, who is a long time knowledgeable advocate of single payer as the only solution. This week he is supposed to go down to Washington DC at the request of Mr. Conyers to make a presentation. Looks like Mark is hitting the big time.

Present in the audience were Albany mayoral candidates Corey Ellis and Shawn Morris. Mr. Ellis was fresh from an incident on Friday where he personally stopped a mugging in front of Trinity Institute. Most decidedly not present was the current mayor of Albany, or for that matter any of his obedient minions. No surprise there.

There was a reception down in the basement hall afterwards, where Mr. Conyers was very much in attendance. I had a chance to ask the congressman about something that he’d mentioned, that his first job out of high school was at a Ford assembly line. You see, I too worked at a Ford plant in New Jersey when I was 19. (The plant closed the next year never to reopen.)

To my astonishment (and to my delight, I confess) Mr. Conyers took my query as an opportunity to talk about his early career before he entered Congress. I think he also wanted to take a break from the questioners around him, I noticed them all fidgeting as he talked on. And on.

Very interesting. After working the line at the Lincoln (Ford) plant in Dearborn, he entered “the service” and became an officer during the Korean War, where he served with distinction. After he left the military he went to college, got a law degree and went into practice. He found a job in the office of his predecessor in congress, Dennis Hertel.

He said he had no trouble getting elected the first time because “I walked the district door to door so many times for Hertel. How could I not get elected?” He took his seat in January 1965, during the administration of Lyndon Johnson. (He told me it was 1964.)

A Younger John Conyers With Rosa Parks
A Younger John Conyers With Rosa Parks

Of course you don’t spend 22 terms in congress without making mistakes or getting into trouble. His worst error was the close sponsorship of the obnoxious Help America Vote Act (HAVA) which excreted all these fraudulent electronic machines into our voting booths and has done so much to undermine our right to fair elections. From what I’ve read, he seems to think that HAVA can be modified and saved, at any rate he is one of the few elected officials who has called for the end of proprietary software in the machines.

A few years back he was caught assigning personal duties to his staff on the taxpayer’s dime, this naturally is the only time I can recall that he made national headlines. Much more distressing were his repeated attempts to introduce legislation that would ban public access to the reports of the National Institute of Health, a strange lapse that can only be explained by corporate influence via campaign contributions.

But a politician, any politician should be judged by weighing the bad against the good, and it is clear that John Conyers comes out strongly on the positive side. Compare him to a typical Republican. He had an interesting thing to say about those jabbering nitwits:

I like hearing some of this nutty neo-conservative conversation... The more you let them talk, the more they talk. If you are interested in what they are talking about, the more you realize it is IRRATIONAL. (Much sustained applause.)

After our little conversation, a fellow asked him what could be done to bring George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to justice. I rolled my eyes, expecting Mr. Conyers to blow off the question. To my astonishment, he proceeded to outline exactly how such a thing would be done.

You need two things, the chair of the Judiciary Committee explained. You need a special prosecutor, and you need a blue ribbon panel to gather facts. But it is essential that no congressional representative be allowed to sit on the panel.

And in answer to the next question, yes, he believed that such a thing was likely to happen. I wonder if he knows a few things about the former administration that have not been made public yet.

John Conyers Explaining How To Nail Bush And Cheney
John Conyers Explaining How To Nail Bush And Cheney

In the end, John Conyers told us that he enjoys his job, that it’s very easy for him and that he is still going strong. I noted his odd sense of humor and even a penchant for silliness when the opportunity arrives. He ended his main presentation with this extraordinary statement, “Join me in the sheer enjoyment of making this a better country.”

Now, how do you beat that?

To find out about The US National Health Insurance Act (HR 676) here is a comprehensive faq from the Albany based Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP.)


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Posted by: Andy
Posted on: 04/03/2009
I am opposed to single payer health care.

Having worked in that industry for a number of years, I can tell you that problem is not the insurers, but how we issue insurance. Indeed, the evidence is that health care insurers have actually become more efficient in modern years. The problem is the way insurance law is written. States regulate health insurance, including benefits which vary greatly. The federal government should preempt all state regulation of health care.

Then there needs to be national insurance risk pools, where individuals can join without an evaluation of their risk (bar maybe a few things that are in individual's choices like having a record of violating the law -- like speeding in cars or smoking). As long as the pools are big enough, unhealthy people should have a minimal impact on the cost. I could envision maybe there being three or four insurers like the Big 3 automakers. While many policies would be available and provide different benefits, they'd come out of the same big three or four risk pools.

There has to also be a limit on health care spending, with individuals having control of their health care. We have to have a concept of "totaling" the benefits, much like we do in auto accidents. Human life is valuable, but it's not priceless. A 80 year old should not be getting pacemakers, nor should paralyzed people be kept artificially alive.

How bad our American system: If I go out for a drive this evening, and crash my car, and are paralyzed from neck on down, they would fly me via. Medivac helicopter. I might not be able to breathe, but they'd keep me alive on a ventilator machine for the next 20 years, if it's technically possible. I would never be able to work another day in my life, but the health care system (private insurance until it runs out; then public Medicaid), would take care of me. If I signed a DNR order, I would have to fight the hospital in court, not to keep myself alive, but to stop getting life support.

Half of the cost in our entire health care system is spent on the last six months of life. If we could simply prohibit the administration of non-palentive care in the last six months of individual's lives, we could cut health care costs in half. It's impossible to predict how much longer a procedure will prolong life, however there are many absurd examples out there of people getting care they do not need.

Posted by: Gabe
Posted on: 04/05/2009
Regarding the use of proprietary software in voting machines, I would take that a step further. All software used by federal, state and local agencies and bodies should be open source! If not GPL, then at least MIT, Creative Commons, or some other license specifically tailored for government to be compliant with transparency laws already in place.

Posted by: Gabe
Posted on: 04/06/2009

Surely you jest? You write: "I could envision maybe there being three or four insurers like the Big 3 automakers."
So you would rather have 3 "too big to fail" insurance companies, who, like the automakers, are always a couple decades behind the rest of the world, and shakedown the government whenever they get into serious trouble? Either you've been in a coma since the beginning of last fall, or you are seriously irony-deficient.
And speaking of the auto companies, one of the reasons they're failing is that their competitors overseas don't have to worry about paying employee health benefits.

Posted by: Not Gonna Happen
Posted on: 04/08/2009
Conyers is an imbecile who must be hitting the crack pipe if he thinks that he has any shot at shutting down the health insurance industry. Hundreds of thousands would lose their jobs!

Here's his wife for your entertainment:

Posted by: Gabe
Posted on: 04/09/2009
You may say he's a dreamer...but he's not the only one...

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