Physicians for a National Health Program, Cable De-regulation

by Ralph Nader

Dissident Voice

August 19, 2003


August is supposed to be a slow month in Washington, DC but two public reports released by two news conferences on August 12th seem to indicate it is the press that is slow.


Eight thousand doctors called for national health insurance and outlined their detailed single payer plan in an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The signers included two former U.S. Surgeons General, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, hundreds of medical school professors and deans and many practicing physicians throughout the country.


Dr. Marcia Angell of the Harvard Medical School said "In the current economic climate, we can no longer afford to waste the vast resources we do on the administrative costs, executive salaries and profiteering of the private insurance system." A factual predicate for her statement was given by Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, also of Harvard, who stated that "we are already spending enough to provide every American with superb medical care - $5,775 per person this year. That's 42% higher than in Switzerland, which has the world's second most expensive health care system, and 83% higher than in Canada."


In essence an expanded and improved version of traditional medicare, the proposal, they assert, would save at least $200 billion annually on paperwork and administration. This sum alone would cover all the uninsured and upgrade coverage for those who are under-insured.


These thousands of physicians are "taking a stand on the side of patients and repudiating the powerful insurance and drug lobbies that block wholesome reform," said Dr. Quentin Young, former head of the Departmentof Medicine at Chicago's Cook County Hospital.


The physicians' plan would provide universal, comprehensive coverage without increasing overall health spending and give patients their free choice of doctor and hospital (which today's HMOs prohibit). Most hospitals and clinics would remain privately owned and operated.


What is unique about this proposal by the Physicians for a National Health Program is not only its life-saving potential, its increase in efficiency and its restraint on greed and poor quality care. It is also its detailed explanation on how it is to be paid for, how savings will result and how a much more benign reallocation of where the money now goes to where it should go if patients' needs are first. See www.pnhp.org for more details or call 312-782-6006.


The other event was about the failure of cable de-regulation and its skyrocketing cable bills (just another example of the miserable failures of so many deregulation schemes and their broken promises).


Remember the promises of the cable industry. In the Fifties and Sixties, a small cable industry promised no advertisements and vibrant local programming in return for a modest monthly fee. Then, it was composed of many small firms which were indeed locally rooted -- community cable, it was called. Now three giant cable conglomerates control 56% of the entire national marketplace. De-regulation was a set-up for a spate of mergers slouching toward wider monopolization.


Guess what happened after the last full stage de-regulation in 1996 -- voted by many liberal Democrats such as Cong. Ed Markey (D-MA) along with the Gingrich crowd? Consumers were price-gouged more than 50%. This was after Congress and Clinton promised that de-regulation would bring competition and lower prices, according to Ed Mierzwinski of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group -- the prime sponsor of the new report. (see www.uspirg.org for more details).


But according to Jay Halfon, who wrote the Report, the reach of the cable company giants is boundless. They continue "to deny competitors access to critical programming, wireline competition is virtually non-existent, and the industry now dominates the broadband Internet market, giving it enormous and unregulated influence over America's digital future," he writes. Andrew Jay Schwartzman, long-time president of the Media Access Project was direct: "The Internet as we know it is in jeopardy. If the cable television model is extended to the Internet, the open and interactive system which characterizes the dial up Internet will be lost."


What does the Report propose? Return regulation to the states and local governments and away from the pathetic Federal Communications Commission. Require as a condition of franchise renewal that cable operators include billing inserts that invite consumers to join a local Cable Action Group that would operate a local Audience Channel, well funded and equipped by the cable company -- a modest quid-pro-quo for the franchise.


Introduce a la carte programming to expand consumer choices rather than being force-fed the programming bundles the cable operators demand. Empower state public utility commissions to regulate all cable rates and charges for video services until real competition emerges.


Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, summed up the crisis: Cable's threat to democracy and diversity on the Internet, our virtual town square, cannot be over-stated."


Two fresh reports by prominent organizations and civic leaders about important matters on a slow news day and the major media looked the other way. It happens all the time in Washington, DC.


Ralph Nader is Americaís leading consumer advocate. He is the founder of numerous public interest groups including Public Citizen, and has twice run for President as a Green Party candidate. His latest book is Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President (St. Martinís Press, 2002)


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