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Documentary Seeks to Unite Employers Fed Up with Escalating Healthcare Insurance Costs

Now Health Care for All Oregon hopes to take the show on the road to build the business case for a single-payer system – particularly with the business community.
February 15, 2016

FIX IT: Healthcare at the Tipping Point, a documentary made by business owner Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries Inc., the nation’s leading supplier of wall and poster frames, describes the 35-year-old company’s challenges staying competitive in a labor-intensive industry with razor-thin margins -- and annual double-digit increases in healthcare costs.

The film describes insurance companies as the “unseen but powerful force” in every hospital room with 33 cents out of every dollar spent on healthcare in the U.S. going to administration rather than patient care – about $700 billion.

With healthcare costs gobbling up another two percent of the nation’s GDP every year, the $3 trillion healthcare and insurance industries have become 18 percent of the U.S. economy, compared with just seven percent in 1971 and about 10 percent for most developed countries that, unlike the U.S., have universal coverage for their citizens.

The film visits doctors in Canada who describe the autonomy to treat patients without interference and without the administrative burden they faced when they practiced in the U.S., estimated in the film to cost $84,000 per year per doctor because of the byzantine system of many insurers with many plans.

Taxes in the U.S. and Canada, according to the film, are about the same but Canadians reap the benefit of healthcare for their tax dollars while Americans don’t. Life expectancy in Canada is longer and Canadians surveyed are happier with their healthcare than Americans surveyed.

The film leans heavily on statistics but breaks out with a few personal stories, including the tale of a self-described conservative Canadian businessman who considered opening operations in the U.S. to be closer to markets and materials but could not make the move pencil due to high U.S. healthcare costs.

The film profiles a doctor who gave up 70 percent of his patients so he could focus his practice and reduce his frustration by treating only patients in the current single-payer systems of Medicare and Medicaid.

The film also takes to task the wide variance in fees for the same services and compares private insurance to another single-payer U.S. system, the Veteran’s Administration. Unlike other providers in the U.S., the VA enjoys a competitive bidding process for drugs, and the film emphasizes that pharmaceutical companies don’t quit

selling drugs to the VA just because they get paid 41 percent less. The pharmaceutical companies still make a profit, just not as much.

Economic Justice Action Group of the First Unitarian Church, Health Care for All Oregon, Alliance for Democracy, Main Street Alliance of Oregon, Oregon Health Equity Alliance and KBOO sponsored the Portland screening and panel discussion of the film. Copies were made available to those seeking to do their own showings before Rotary Clubs and others.

One audience member who described herself as a member of the Freedom Socialist Party found the film’s focus on businesses “distasteful.”

Most of the 30-some Portland audience members -- many describing themselves as doctors, nurses, hospice chaplains or former doctors -- echoed the film’s message of wasteful paperwork and what the medical professionals perceived as unreasonable American insurance company meddling in patient care.

Facilitator Lee Mercer, president of Health Care for All Oregon, said a Main Street Alliance survey indicated that 60 percent of Oregon small business owners favor a single-payer system, even in the more conservative eastern portion of the state.

Mercer said single-payer universal care is the “strongest-growing grassroots movement” and if legislative efforts underway now don’t propel it forward he expects to bring the issue directly to Oregon voters with an initiative on the ballot in 2020.