'Mad doctors' still fighting for single-payer system

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By Melica Johnson, KATU News and KATU.com Staff

PORTLAND, Ore. - A group of Oregon physicians are rallying Tuesday at Pioneer Courthouse Square before hitting the road with their prescription to fix U.S. health care. They'll drive an RV from Oregon to Washington, D.C., to pitch their ideas to people along the way.

They call themselves the "Mad as Hell Doctors" and they're advocating for a single-payer health care system.

"I had a shift the other evening, and when I got home I almost wanted to cry," said Paul Hochfeld, one of the doctors packing for the trip. "It wasn't because people weren't getting the care they need. It was because people were getting too much care."

Doctor's Hochfeld (pronounced hawk-feld) and Mike Huntington said our nation's health care system is bloated with too many unnecessary drugs, specialists and tests - things that don't always make patients any healthier.

"The people that are making decisions on our health care system are making the decision on what makes the most profits," Hochfeld said.

Member of the "Mad as Hell Doctors" Hochfeld is an emergency room doctor from Corvallis, and he's spearheading the trip. After working in medicine for 30 years, Hochfeld believes the only way to lower health care costs is to get rid of private health insurance companies.

For radiation oncologist Mike Huntington, "I started feeling guilty -- feeling upset for being part of this system."

That's why these doctors, joined by a handful of others, will be heading cross-country in their decked-out RV.

"There is a difference between rage and anger," Huntington said, "and we plan to use our anger in a constructive way."

Under a single-payer system every American would have medical coverage. Private health insurance would go away, and the government would handle payments to doctors and hospitals.

Critics, meanwhile, have said the single-payer system could lead to health care rationing. As such, the idea of a single-payer system has all but flat-lined in the United States Congress. 

Emergency Room patient Tom GeisenFor such emergency room patients as Tom Geisen, who only has Medicaid and will pay a lot for this trip to the ER, rationing is already happening. "If you're rich you get it," Geisen said from his hospital bed. "If you're not - if you're out of a job, if you're between jobs - you don't get it."

The doctors said they know they may not see a single-payer plan become reality. They blame health insurance companies and drug companies - and the 20 percent of doctors who are specialists and make two to four times as much as primary care doctors - for pumping money into Washington, D.C., to stop a single-payer system. 

The "Mad as Hell Doctors" WinnebagoThe doctors feel so strongly about this that they are putting up their own money to make this trip across the country. They have, however, been accepting donations. This small group of doctors plans to leave Oregon Tuesday, traveling across the country in this Winnebago, and telling people that single-payer health insurance needs to be revived.

"The reason single-payer isn't on the table is because of our political process," Hochfeld said. "Because the industry has been pouring $1.4 million a day into Washington to keep single-payer off the table."

Supporters of single-payer said it provides "everyone" with basic health care regardless of income, employment status or pre-existing conditions. Critics said it is costly and bureaucratic, and that it will result in waiting lists for some procedures and to see specialists.

The doctors are hitting the road after their rally in Portland Tuesday. Once in the District of Columbia they plan to hold a rally there Oct. 1.

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