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Happy Canadian Thanksgiving Canadians and Americans

I’m touring Alberta next week and the US Senate Finance committee may vote for a health bill

There is lots of exciting health policy doings on both sides of the border. In Ontario the Ehealth problems have caused health minister David Caplan to resign and left boards and CEOs quivering in anticipation of being the opposition’s next target.

In Alberta, the government has cut public coverage for a variety of services and is claiming the current economic crisis means the end of the single payer system. See my op-ed, “Repair Medicare, don’t privatize” in today’s Edmonton Journal: I will be speaking in several Alberta locations next week. Here’s my schedule or check with the Alberta Friends of Medicare

Tuesday, October 13th — Edmonton

3 p.m.  Media availability with Michael Rachlis @ Polish hall 10960 104th St. NW Edmonton

7 p.m.  Town Hall Meeting @ Polish hall

Wednesday, October 14th — Medicine Hat

7 p.m. Town Hall meeting @ Public Library 414 First Street S.E.

Thursday, October 15th — Lethbridge

11:30 a.m. media availability @ the Ramada hotel, 2375 Mayor Magrath Drive South

2 – 4 p.m.  Speak @ University of Lethbridge

7 p.m. Town Hall meeting @ Southminister United Church, 1011 4th Avenue South

Friday, October 16th — Calgary

12: noon  Speak to Health Services Association of Alberta pubic engagement conference @ Sheraton Cavalier Hotel. 2620 32nd Avenue NE

1 p.m. media availability @ Sheraton Cavalier Hotel Calgary. 

Meanwhile in the Excited States…

The health policy debate continues apace in the United States. The first bill to be voted on will likely be the Senate finance committee bill.  It reflects the right wing of the Democratic Party and doesn’t include a public option. The endgame may well focus on two aspects. First, what public support will be offered for the formation of health care cooperatives which could turn into a public option through the back door if everything went exactly right – or wrong according to your perspective? Cleveland Democratic representative, Dennis Kucinich is hoping the new legislation will incorporate his plan for states to choose a single payer option. But will the health insurance industry let this one pass. A good rule is whatever the insurance industry will tolerate won’t be effective.  

Second, how tough will congress be on insurance regulation? US health insurance companies will have to be regulated tightly if costs are to be controlled and coverage expanded. This mean community rating for premiums, no rejection for so-called pre-existing conditions, limited variability in the type of policies offered to better facilitate meaningful comparisons, etc, etc. That’s how countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland manage single-payer efficiencies and universal coverage. Of course it costs them in the long run. Switzerland’s system is the second most expensive after the US.

My prediction is: The insurance companies have been careful to appear supportive of Obama’s principles for a health bill but this weekend they have started to show their true colours. After watering down the president’s initial intentions pretending they would support the final diluted product, they are now going to war against the compromise. Today the America’s Health Insurance Plans released a PricewaterhouseCoopers report which asserts that the current bills being discussed will massively increase in health insurance premiums.

The companies like Obama’s plans to give them extra customers through a universal mandate for all US citizens to purchase health insurance. But, my guess is that the eventual legislation will have enough loopholes that the less than scrupulous companies (and that seems to be quite a few of the big ones) will use to get around the intent of universal coverage.

Resources for understanding the bewildering US health policy debate include:

Nobel laureate, Princeton Professor, and very occasional debate partner of yours truly (once actually) Dr. Paul Krugman’s prolific blog. I wish I could blog as much as this fellow. And he still has time to write a regular column in the NY Times and teach first year through PhD students and author three books in the past two years.  Search his blog by topic and you will get the best evidenced material on health care economics, policy, and politics. In person, he’s like the kid you knew when you were growing up who was the smartest kid in school except he’s pretty much the smartest person in the whole country.

By the way, you can watch the entire debate which took place in New York on September 16, 2008 on YouTube. Dr. Krugman, Emory University ER doc, Dr. Art Kellerman, and I show that New Yorkers like a single-payer system.

The Commonwealth Fund is a private non profit organization based in New York City. The organization’s mission statement includes the goal, “…to promote a high performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults.”

This website has excellent academic-level analysis of the US health care debate. The Fund also sponsors, in my view, the most useful international comparative research.

Physicians for a National Health Program represents 17,000 doctors, medical students, and other health professionals. PNHP has advocated for a US single payer system since 1987.

Here are some other sites of interest to folks interested in a progressive perspective on the US health care debate


All Unions Committee for Single Payer Healthcare – HR 676

California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee

Progressive Democrats of America (now offline)

Single Payer Action (now offline)

Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Healthcare: The National Single Payer Alliance (now offline, used to be at

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