Margaret Flowers, MD, is a pediatrician whose exasperation with the American healthcare system turned her into a single-payer activist. In 2009 she was arrested at the Senate Round Table on Health Insurance for attempting to speak on behalf of a single-payer plan when single-payer had been cut out of the conversation.
“When Obama was elected I was optimistic, like many people, because he knew what single-payer was,” she told me when we talked. “He’d been on record saying that single-payer was the best solution. It was quickly very clear that that this was a predetermined course, that it was more like a marketing campaign.”
As the nation awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), Flowers sounded more upbeat than aghast at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling striking down part or more of the Obama law. For Flowers, a single-payer plan, like Medicare for all (which would fund medical care from a single insurance pool run by the state), was always the ideal way to provide universal, affordable, quality care, and contain soaring costs and waste in the process. As for the individual mandate—forcing the public to buy from a for-profit company—she’s called it “crony capitalism on steroids.”
It would be no small thing to move health reform through the legislature again, she agrees. Three years ago, Democratic leaders in Washington foreclosed on single-payer, and went on to betray their commitments to single-payer lite—the so-called public option. There’s no evidence there’s been a sea change in Washington. Around the country, though, Flowers believes single-payer supporters are in a stronger place now than they have ever been. (And during oral arguments on ACA this year, Justice Sotomayor was good enough to confirm the constitutionality of a public system.)
Regardless of how the court rules, we’ll still have healthcare woes and groups like Physicians for a National Healthcare Program, will continue to fight for single-payer. What follows is a partial transcript of my conversation with Flowers which took place last week, in New York City.
Laura Flanders: Margaret, a lot of media would have you believe that we are on the brink of the Apocalypse: Are we?
Margaret Flowers: Where we stand right now is that there are two things that we need to consider. One, of course is the decision around Medicaid and this is a very important decision, this is much more crucial. If the Supreme Court says that the federal government’s giving states money is tantamount to coercion, that’s a real problem because where does that end? If the federal government says you must meet minimum guidelines for education and we’ll give you money to help your schools, is that coercion? We really rely on government to provide a basic social infrastructure that takes care of people.