Interview with Dr. Carol Paris, President of PNHP
By Joan Brunwasser of OpEd News.
My guest today is Dr. Carol Paris, President of PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program).
Joan Brunwasser: Welcome to OpEdNews, Carol. I read an interesting piece recently: Amid GOP Attacks on Health Care, the Movement for Single Payer Is Growing . Before we discuss the claims made in this article, please tell our readers a little bit about PNHP.
Carol Paris: Hi, Joan. Thank you for inviting me to OpEdNews. PNHP is a single issue organization founded in 1987. Our mission is to advocate for universal, comprehensive, single payer national health insurance. Since that time, the membership has grown to 20,000 physicians and other health professionals. Much of the oft-quoted research about medical bankruptcy and unnecessary deaths due to lack of insurance is the work of PNHP co-founders, Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler.
JB: We’ve entered uncharted waters one month into the administration of this president. Various institutions are already under attack, including, and especially, Obama’s Affordable Care Act. How does PNHP look at this?
CP: Our current view is informed by our past experience. In early 2009, with a newly elected Democrat in the White House and a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, we were denied a “seat at the table” to make a case for Single Payer/Improved Medicare for All. I was personally told that single payer “isn’t politically feasible” by my congressman at the time, Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader. This was straight from the Democratic Playbook.
Eight activists, myself included, tried for a “seat at the table” again in May 2009, when Sen. Baucus, then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, invited 41 people to a series of roundtable discussions to discuss reform options but refused to extend an invitation to our single payer spokesperson. We each stood up, asked why single payer wasn’t even being considered, and were arrested. (Charges were eventually reduced, requiring only community service.)
By early 2010, we saw the public option horse-traded for the few provisions that the American people are now holding on to with all their might – the elimination of pre-existing conditions and the provision of income-based premium subsidies. Without these, going forward, my own daughter and her family will join the 20 million people who will no longer be able to afford health insurance.
Now it is 2017 and the Democrats are telling us, defend the ACA now and we’ll get to single payer…later. In my opinion, the Democratic Playbook needs some massive rewriting. PNHP’s Playbook is very clear: we will defend the ACA from any “repairs” or repeal that take us backward AND we will use all the tools available to move forward, now, to the only plan that will actually fulfill the President’s pledge of more coverage, better benefits, and lower costs: HR676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.
JB: I like that strategy. May I ask how you plan to bring it about? Also, how helpful was it that universal healthcare was such an important component of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign?
CP: PNHP will continue to contribute to research supporting both the economic benefits of a national health program and the social/health benefits. We will continue to educate our medical colleagues by providing speakers for grand rounds at medical centers around the country. Dr. Don McCanne’s Quote of the Day is a great way to keep current on the literature and his policy analysis is second to none. Subscription is available for free on our website. Furthermore, our outreach to medical students has gained momentum; we now have SNaHP (Students for a National Health Program) chapters at over 40 medical schools and the number is growing.
Since taking on the role of President of the organization in January, it is clear to me that our members’ enthusiasm for active, local, vocal participation in the health reform debate reflects what is happening all around the country. Our members are attending rallies, speaking out at town hall meetings, writing op-eds and letters in their local papers and lobbying their members of Congress to cosponsor HR676 and to encourage Sen. Sanders to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. And we are learning from our junior colleagues how to use social media to amplify our message. We are working collaboratively with other social justice organizations because the fight for universal health care intersects with the fight for racial justice, LGBTQ rights, immigration rights, and reproductive rights, among others.
Senator Sanders’ campaign lit the fire and the Republicans’ attempts to repeal/replace/repair the ACA is simply adding fuel to this burning desire to join the other developed countries of the world but with a uniquely American solution – expanding our Medicare program to cover everyone in the US and improving the coverage and financing to eliminate any financial barriers to care at the point of service (no co-pays, no deductibles, no co-insurance).
JB: That’s encouraging. Yet it would be foolish to consider this as anything other than an uphill slog. Would you care to make any predictions about this?
CP: I am not a political pundit and I think we have seen how wrong political pundits can be. Did anyone predict that the Berlin Wall would come down when it did?
Again, I turn to history and experience. The researcher Erica Chenoweth teaches that “no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population”. While that is still a big number, it is misleading for readers to think that it will take a majority of Americans to achieve this or any major social change.
JB: Great perspective. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
JB: Thanks so much for talking with me, Carol. What delicious irony it would be if this new president has precipitated the momentum necessary to launch single-payer nationwide!
Dr. Carol Paris’s bio:
Dr. Carol Paris is a recently retired psychiatrist who worked for more than 25 years in private practice, community mental health, prison psychiatry, and academia. In the course of her experience, much of which was in Maryland, she became an outspoken critic of the private-insurance-based U.S. health care system.
In May 2009, she and seven others stood up, one by one, at a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing on health care reform chaired by Sen. Max Baucus to ask why there wasn’t a single advocate for single-payer health care on the 41-member panel. In a dramatic action that received national media attention, Baucus had all eight peaceful protesters, including Dr. Paris, arrested. (Charges were eventually reduced, requiring only community service.)
Dr. Paris subsequently toured the country as part of the “Mad as Hell Doctors” campaign for single payer, and spent a year as a consultant psychiatrist in New Zealand, where she experienced a single-payer system firsthand. She currently resides in Nashville, Tenn., where her primary interests include strategic activism, recruiting and mentoring medical students and early career physicians for leadership positions within PNHP, and building coalitions to strengthen the single-payer movement’s impact on the national health care debate. Dr. Paris obtained her medical degree from West Virginia University School of Medicine.