Pediatrician, Activist for Universal Health Care
Previously Aired On: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 – Listen to the Show!
“The phrase that continuously runs through my mind is ‘To be silent is to be complicit.’ I cannot be complicit in the face of a healthcare industry that profits at the cost of human lives and in the face of an administration and a Congress that are too dysfunctional to stop this practice.”
Imagine choosing pediatrics as a profession to “give children a great start, a healthy start…”, then leaving the profession because you were no longer allowed to give children the care they needed because of health insurance restrictions. For healthcare reform activist Dr. Margaret Flowers, that choice became reality several years ago as she felt forced to leave the “art” of medicine, as she calls it, to become a strong advocate for a single-payer insurance system such as Medicare.
Dr. Flowers did her medical training at Johns Hopkins, and began her career in pediatrics as a hospitalist in a rural hospital. A hospitalist, she explained in a podcast on progressive.org, works exclusively in the hospital, seeing patients, admitting them, recommending treatment, and monitoring progress. However, she became increasingly frustrated with the health insurance administrators who, with no medical training, were telling her how long a patient could stay in hospital, regardless of her recommendation. She decided to switch to private practice, but encountered the same issues there. Insurance companies were refusing to pay for certain tests or medicines Dr. Flowers recommended for her young patients. As she explained in an interview with Bill Moyers, “It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t based on what the patients need. It was based on what the insurance companies could get away with”
At last, the moment came when Flowers had had enough, a “eureka” moment. At a meeting with the office manager, she and the others in the practice were informed that in order to stay in business, only one healthy child could be seen a day. Everyone else had to be sick, and there was a certain quota to reach of children seen in an hour by each doctor. If there was more than one issue the parent wanted to discuss about his/her child, another appointment had to be made—no longer could Flowers spend the necessary time with both parent and child to answer all questions in one visit. It was all about money, and “That just wasn’t why I went into medicine.”
And so, Dr. Margaret Flowers got out of medicine and into the fight for a better healthcare system. She joined Physicians for a National Health Program, becoming a Congressional Fellow and opening a chapter in Maryland. She and other physicians in the organization advocate for a single payer insurance system–an expansion of Medicare to cover everyone. In 2009, she was arrested at a Senate Roundtable on Health Insurance for standing and speaking up on behalf of the single payer option, as no representative for that type of insurance was invited to the roundtable discussion. She says in an interview on being arrested, “Our first goal was to have a seat at the table….If we couldn’t get a seat, at least we could expose the insincerity of the current attempt at healthcare reform and show that single payer was actively being excluded.” The next year, Flowers wrote a letter to President Obama, explaining her position on healthcare and offering Medicare as a model for a better insurance system.
She and a colleague stood outside of the White House, trying to get someone to come get the letter. They were told they had to mail the letter. They tried again the next day, and were turned away again. No one was going to come and take Flowers’ letter, but instead of moving away, they stood their ground and were arrested.
Today, Dr. Margaret Flowers remains a powerful voice for single payer insurance, and is involved in the Occupy movement. Although she no longer practices medicine, her commitment to providing better healthcare to improve the lives of all people is total and tireless.