Congressman John Conyers came to Squirrel Hill's Temple Sinai synagogue to drum up support for universal health coverage on May 21. But it was Pittsburgh's hometown rep, Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale), who created the most excitement ... and then quickly moved to dissipate it.
Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, was in town to promote HR 676, a bill that would provide health insurance for all Americans. Before explaining the measure to the 300 people in attendance, however, Conyers announced that Doyle would sign on as a co-sponsor. Doyle had previously been a staunch opponent of the concept, and cheers erupted from the fiercely partisan crowd. ("It's about time!" one audience member bellowed.)
The measure, which has nearly 70 cosponsors, would end health insurance as we know it ... a prospect clearly relished by the Temple Sinai crowd. The government would become the insurer, dispensing funds to doctors and hospitals for services rendered. Instead of relying on premiums, the measure would be funded by payroll tax, supplemented by additional taxes on the wealthy, and on stock and bond sales. Proponents say those new taxes would be cheaper than what most Americans currently pay in premiums. They also contend that single-payer would create a more cost-effective system by eliminating corporate overhead and profit-taking.
"I had not planned to sign onto John's bill when I came in today," acknowledged Doyle in a subsequent question-and-answer session. And he soon tried to diminish some of the excitement his support created.
"I'm going to put my name on this bill ... because I know it's never going to be worked out of committee," he told the audience. "We know that as long as Congress exists the way it is today" ... with a Republican majority... "[Conyers' bill] is never getting out of committee."
Among other things, Doyle faults the measure for prohibiting government reimbursements to any for-profit enterprise, and for proposing to wipe out the insurance business. "Anyone who thinks you're going to abolish the insurance industry, you're not thinking straight," Doyle said. "They own this country." As Doyle reminded the crowd, he has a background in the insurance business himself; according to the Center for Responsive Politics, he has received nearly $10,000 from the industry in the run-up to his May 16 primary victory.
Still, Doyle added, "I think we need to make a statement." And while he disagrees with much of Conyers' bill, Doyle says he thinks single-payer is an idea whose time has come. In recent weeks, he says, he has had meetings with three large local employers. "All three of them want to talk about a single-payer plan."