by Matt Saldaña
"Live longer; pay less."
That was the mantra offered by 2004 vice-presidential nominee Pat LaMarche during the Green Party's single-payer health care forum, held on Friday at N.C. Central University in Durham.
The former talk-radio host, and Maine gubernatorial candidate, got the crowd of roughly 100 to chant along for single-payer systems throughout the world that provide better health care, at cheaper costs, than the United States. The World Health Organization found the United States spends more per capita on health care than any country in the world, but ranks 37th in quality of care. Universal single-payer systems ranking higher include Canada and Australia, while most developed countries provide some element of single-payer insurance.
To assuage opponents of so-called "socialized medicine, LaMarche said that patients could always "opt-out," like choosing FedEx over the U.S. Postal Service.
"You can still do all the fancy rich-people stuff," she said.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Kotch, a professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said even single-payer health care--currently not on the table in discussions over health-care reform--would not represent truly "socialized" medicine, since the government would control insurance but not the administration of doctors and hospitals. (By contrast, the U.S. Veterans Administration is a form of socialized medicine, Kotch said.)
Kotch said single-payer health care would help eliminate problems such as over-prescription, unnecessary medical procedures, "rationed care" based on income level, and overhead costs that go to medical-insurance CEO's and "so-called customer representatives who are paid to be a barrier between you and your health benefits."
Kamal Artin, a psychiatrist from California, spoke up during a brief question-and-answer session to say the Greens should advocate for single-payer health care but not attempt to derail any reform.
"It can't get any worse," replied George Friday, a N.C. Green Party member and the panel's moderator.
"Although single-payer is nobler, the country is not ready for it because of its fear of socialism," Artin told the Indy.
"If the Republicans advocate for [Obama's] plan to fail, it's bad for everyone. The Greens should advocate to at least have something."