Winnie, the Mad As Hell Doctors' 1986 Winnebago, rolled into Chicago this weekend for two events promoting single payer health care reform. The Mad As Hell Doctors are a group of physicians primarily from Oregon who are spending their September driving from Portland to Washington, D.C. They seek a meeting with President Obama to discuss the future of health care with the firm belief that our country has a moral, social and fiscal duty to enact a single-payer system.
Friday, the Mad As Hell Doctors met up with the Illinois Chapter of Progressive Democrats of America and our local Physicians For a National Health Plan at Joey's Brickhouse on Belmont for an informal reception. There, I had the opportunity to meet the primary spokes-doctor for the group, Dr. Paul Hochfeld. Dr. Hochfeld is an emergency room physician from Corvallis, Oregon. He is concerned about the health care crisis and fiscal emergency caused by what he calls "our current non-system." Dr. Hochfeld told me that he used to be mad that the insurance industry has manipulated policy. He's revised that. Now, he believes that the industry is just doing what industry does. He's mad that politicians are allowing themselves to be manipulated by the industry.
The main event was on Saturday afternoon at the UIC College of Pharmacy. Chicago's Dr. Quentin Young kicked off the event after an emotional tribute by the Illinois Media Progressives to law student and health care reform advocate, Nick Skala, who recently died at the age of 27.
Dr. Young reminded the group that time is on the single payer side. He said, "The concept is simple and the public understands Medicare."
Dr. Hochfeld told the audience that the name Mad As Hell Doctors came from the part of the 1976 movie, Network when evening news anchor Howard Beale encouraged viewers to shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" out their windows. The core of a Mad As Hell Doctors event is when each doctor tells the audience why he or she is mad as hell. Dr. Seward is mad as hell because of the media disinformation and lack of information. He wants them to "just tell us the truth."
Dr. Gene Uphoff was mad as hell when a patient came in happy that Bush called back Congress to keep Terry Schiavo alive. Dr. Uphoff told the patient to be more interested in calling Congress back to enact health care reform to save the 18,000 lives lost per year for lack of insurance. He reminded us that the number is now up to 45,000 lives lost per year for lack of insurance.
Nurse Bill Aiken was in the Navy for more than 25 years and has been a nurse around the world for over 40 years. He's seen all of the systems in operation and notes that countries that provide universal health care first made the moral decision to do so and argued about the money later. He's mad because we cannot make that decision in this country.
Dr. Joseph Eusterman, a retired internist, is mad about the code words used by the opposition. He translated the code "personal and individual responsibility" as "don't expect me to help you because you are not worthy because you are ill because you were not personally responsible." He's looking for someone to translate "but for the grace of God go I" for these people.
Dr. Mike Huntington is a Vietnam veteran and told us that there were four veterans on the panel. He's mad because our system thrives on illness and not health. "We wait for people to get sick enough so they come in to get expensive tests and procedures," he said. He described work at a cancer center where they have become enamored with expensive high technology, but cannot account for any improvement in care that technology has made.
Dr. Peter Maher described a case of an elderly woman needing in-home care. She was covered for it under her policy, but after weeks of work by himself and his staff, they were unable to find a provider willing to work with her insurer because it had a habit of not paying providers while it's CEO made $34 million in 2006.
Dr. Mark Sapir is mad that the U.S. health care systems is ranked 37th in the world by the World Health Organization. Dr. Sapir sees the movement for single payer as similar to the civil rights movement. "It's just reality."
When the Mad As Hell Doctors were done, they gave members of the audience their "mad as hell minute." One woman told the story of her accident and resulting debilitating illness that left her bedridden. According to her insurer, a treatment that helped her stand and walk was not medically necessary.