Dr. Richard Propp and Alice Brody thought Obamacare might sink their movement.
Instead, based on the interest they say they are getting, the federal Affordable Care Act has buoyed their cause of universal health coverage, or “improved Medicare for all,” they said.
At the heart of the new federal law are government-run online markets that provide one-stop shopping to public and private insurance plans for previously uninsured people. The intent was to improve access to health care.
But confusion over the insurance websites and disappointment with the coverage offered has fueled interest in something the activists say is simpler and better — a national health system supported with tax dollars. On Tuesday, they’re screening a documentary about the issue at the First Unitarian Society in Albany.
Recently joining the ranks of single-payer promoters are young adults and labor unions, they said. Both have been dismayed by the trend toward higher-deductible health plans, whether through the new government-run health exchanges or from private employers.
“We’re really surprised at how much new interest there is in this issue,” said Brody, 69, who is active in Single Payer New York, which has supported a proposed state law that would create universal health coverage for New Yorkers.
Propp, 79, launched the Capital District Alliance for Universal Healthcare in 2005. The group is an affiliate of Healthcare-Now!, a national grass-roots advocate that supports similar federal legislation.
The trouble with the Affordable Care Act, single-payer proponents said, is that lawmakers gave too much weight to the concerns of the industries that profit from an overpriced medical system. The result, they say, was a convoluted law that perhaps no one understands completely.
“The reason Obamacare is so complex is it’s so gerrymandered,” said Dr. David Ray of Albany Medical Center, who is active in CDAUH and heads the local chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, a Chicago-based advocacy group. “The power of the moneyed interests — specifically the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry — was not taken out of the equation.”
By contrast, Medicare is easy to apply for and use, they said.
“You can understand Medicare,” Brody said. “The main problem with Medicare is it only serves the elderly, who are very sick. That’s why costs are high on Medicare.”
Another group whose support of universal health coverage may be surprising is doctors. Close to 60 percent of doctors support a single-payer health system, according to PNHP. Doctors support universal health coverage because it would make their business operations simpler, Ray said. Instead of meeting the requirements of dozens of insurance contracts, they would have to handle just one — with the government.
“Most physicians are dealing with so many masters, in terms of the insurance companies,” Ray said. “Single-payer is the only road to continuation of physician autonomy. And if there’s anything that physicians care about, it’s their autonomy.”
Ray, who has practiced medicine for 35 years at the former Community Health Plan and at the Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center in Albany, said he has long held a philosophy that doctors should be paid for keeping people healthy, not for treating them only when they’re sick. His work at Whitney Young, an Albany-based clinic serving low-income patients, showed him the need for better health coverage for all people, he said.
Propp founded CDAUH when he retired, shortly after reading a Harvard study that showed uninsured people with diabetes had a 50 percent higher death rate than insured patients.
Brody’s impetus to join the movement came with the understanding in recent years that her childhood had been shaped by her family’s struggle to secure adequate health care. Her mother had multiple sclerosis, and her father worked three jobs to pay the household and medical bills. She and her sisters, Brody said, raised themselves.
“Health care should be a human right,” Brody said. “You have a right to be able to, if you’re sick, go see a doctor. It should be with you from birth to death.”