On video: Doctors speak out in favor of single payer

January 29, 2011

By Anne Galloway vtdigger

Physicians were in attendance at the Statehouse on Thursday. They came dressed in lab coats and scrubs, and stethoscopes dangling around their necks. The ailment they came to cure was the medical system itself: In a rare “house call” to the Capitol, they issued a prescription for Vermont’s Byzantine system of insurance and government programs – they called for a single payer health care system.

About 40 Vermont medical practitioners lined one wall of Room 11 and about 20 gave short speeches about their patients, their professions and their frustration with insurers that obstruct adequate care for patients. In several cases, patients were denied life-saving treatments because of delays and bureaucratic mazes created by insurers.

They told stories about a farmer with diabetes who didn’t get his eyes checked and ended up temporarily losing the sight in one eye; a teenage girl who needed brain surgery for a tumor whose insurance company delayed approval for the procedure for three months and then reneged on payment at the time the surgery was performed; a woman without insurance who suffered with a variety of symptoms for a year before she went to a doctor and ended up having to endure intensive treatment for neck cancer. Several psychiatrists talked about suicidal patients who were denied treatment.

Dr. Deb Richter, the founder of Vermont Health Care for All, a single-payer advocacy group, said at one point doctors opposed the creation of a single-payer health care system.

Now, contrary to public perception, she said most physicians, who are getting increasingly frustrated with the complexities of the payment system, have become proponents of uniform administration of medical reimbursements.

“You can blame us for not having universal health care, but we’re now here to say that has changed,” Richter said. “The majority of physicians, the majority of nurses and the majority of health professionals are in favor of health care as a right, not a privilege, health care for all. Health care that is affordable for all.”

Dr. Adam Sorscher described the prior authorization “rigmarole” he goes through every time insurance companies question his prescriptions for patients. He’s put on hold for many minutes at a time, given conflicting information and told coverage is denied – for no apparent reason.