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Statement: Have the Courage to Say Health Care is a Right, Not a Privilege

July 30, 2009

Sidney Wolfe, M.D., Acting President, Public Citizen and Director, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group

Today marks the 44th anniversary of President Johnson’s signing the legislation creating Medicare. For those over 65, this meant everybody in, nobody out. Because this has never been extended to everyone in the country – as many of us had hoped – we continue our unique, shameful and dangerous status as the only developed country in which health care is not a right but an unaffordable privilege for tens of millions of people. The result is that an estimated 18,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance.

We should be celebrating the 44th anniversary of Medicare by finally passing legislation that would truly result in everybody in, nobody out, instead of seriously considering legislation that guarantees that millions still will be left out just so the private health insurance industry can stay in. A single-payer system, eliminating the private health insurance industry, with the resultant $400 billion annual savings, is the only realistic way for everybody to be in.

Our 44th president knows this intellectually, but neither he nor Congress has the courage to take on and eliminate the private health insurance industry. Last week, President Obama said, “I want to cover everybody. Now, the truth is that, unless you have a single-payer system, in which everybody is automatically covered, then you’re probably not going to reach every single individual.”

Were it not for the poor performance last year of Sarah Palin and John McCain, our next speaker might not be here today. Instead, he might be in Chicago, where he practices medicine, taking care of patients, including Barack Obama. Dr. David Scheiner is an internist in Hyde Park and a strong supporter of a single-payer health-care system.

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