Dr. Linda Farley, the Wisconsin physician and nationally recognized advocate for health care reform who died this week at age 80, came to a conclusion after decades spent as a family-medicine provider, medical-school instructor, community-clinic volunteer and public-health specialist. She became an ardent campaigner on behalf of replacing the current for-profit health care system with a single-payer plan. Such a plan would guarantee that all Americans have access to quality care while at the same time cutting costs associated with insurance and health care industry profiteering.
Many of us took our counsel with regard to health-care reform from Dr. Farley, and her husband, Dr. Gene Farley, the retired chairman of the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine who was one of the recognized founders of the specialty of Family Medicine and the originator of one of the nation’s first family practice residency programs.
Among those influenced by the Farleys was a young legislator named Tammy Baldwin, who now serves as a key member of the health subcommittee of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee and is one of the chamber’s most outspoken advocates for the single-payer reform.
Says Baldwin of Dr. Linda Farley, who died after a battle with cancer that never stopped her campaigning for economic and social justice: “She was a dedicated physician, a champion of health care for all, a powerful role model, and a beloved friend. I met Linda close to twenty years ago. Of course, the context of our meeting was organizing for health care for the uninsured. Linda has been a partner in the effort to cover the uninsured for most of my political career. That we are about to begin this health care reform debate in Congress at the time of her death is especially poignant. If we succeed in ensuring health care for all, it will be in no small part because of Linda’s life’s work.”
The confidence in the experience and wisdom of the Farleys, who had worked in so many public and private health care settings, informed the view of Baldwin, myself and thousands of others that only a single-payer system will achieve the stated goals of President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. The Obama administration and Democrats and most Republicans in Congress say they want more and better care for all, with real flexibility for patients who want to keep the same doctor and genuine savings.
But we have also been informed over the years by Farley’s reminders that our current broken system does not merely make it harder for ailing Americans to get care and for healthy Americans to maintain their fitness. It also imposes incredible economic hardship on Americans who fall ill.
The extent of that hardship was revealed last week, just days before Dr. Linda Farley’s death, in a study that will be published this summer by the American Journal of Medicine. According to the study, medical problems contributed to almost 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007.