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2009-07-22

President Obama’s Longtime Physician Opposes White House Health Plan, Advocates Single Payer

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Dr. David Scheiner, internist based in the Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park. He was Obama’s doctor for twenty-two years, from 1987 until he entered the White House.

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Dr. David Scheiner was President Obama’s doctor from 1987 until he entered the White House. Today Dr. Scheiner is publicly opposing Obama’s health plan and is calling for a single-payer system. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the healthcare debate reaches a fever pitch, President Obama is holding a primetime news conference tonight in a bid to win wider support for healthcare reform. His remarks are expected to respond to skepticism fueled by the Congressional Budget Office’s scathing assessment of the expenses involved in the House legislation, concerns from conservative Blue Dog Democrats, and broad opposition from Republicans.

But will the President address concerns of single-payer advocates, who think his public plan will not go far enough?

I’m joined now from Chicago by Dr. David Scheiner. He was President Obama’s doctor from 1987 until he entered the White House. He treated Obama for twenty-two years but has publicly opposed Obama’s health plan, calling for single payer. Dr. Scheiner was disinvited from ABC’s recent healthcare forum, where he was planning to ask about single-payer healthcare.

Dr. Scheiner, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s good to have you with us.

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Good morning. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean you were disinvited by ABC? What happened?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Well, on the Friday before the Wednesday, I was notified by ABC that they thought it would be a great idea to have me come to the White House for that forum, that town hall, as a surprise visitor, that President Obama would not be informed, and I would ask a question from the audience. That Sunday, I received an email outlining the trip, and I canceled two days of the office to prepare for this. And then, Monday, another producer called me and said that they had too many people showing up and that they didn’t need me, and my trip was canceled.

AMY GOODMAN: What is it —-

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: The question of who -— yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: The question of who — the question of who was responsible, of course, is hard to know, whether it was ABC or whether it was somebody at the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you have asked?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: I would have asked about single payer, insofar as we already have one that works, and why we just couldn’t have universal Medicare and eliminate the insurance companies, which are causing incredible costs and havoc on the system.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your relationship with President Obama? You were his doctor for more than two decades in Chicago?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Right, exactly. I didn’t talk politics with him, really, because — although I must say, the very first time I saw him, the very first time, he was a community organizer, and he walked into the office. One of the first questions I asked him is if he was going into politics, because he had a presence. He walks into a room, and there’s a presence about him which is extraordinary. And I think about ten or fifteen years ago, a friend of mine from Florida called me, told me I had said I had a patient that I thought could be president of the United States someday. And it was — there was something about him. And there still is. He’s an incredible man. And we had a very good relationship. It wasn’t a close relationship, personal relationship, but we saw each other often, and for minor problems. He’s in superb health.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever discuss the issue of healthcare with him?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: The only thing that I ever discussed with him was the question of malpractice and tort reform. And the response was somewhat negative, as it was when he spoke to the AMA.

AMY GOODMAN: You were the partner of Quentin Young, well-known advocate of single payer. We’ve had him on the program a number of times.

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: He was the former head of the American Public Health Association.

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Oh, yes, a close friend and, I have to say, my mentor, and influenced my life in innumerable ways. I owe a great deal to him.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you look — tell us about the plan that is presented by the House and whether or not you support it?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: The problem, overwhelmingly, is the issue, in my mind, of the private insurance companies being a part of the program. Their record has been so abominable that to have them in the program just doesn’t make sense. The cost — Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm’s brother, made a comment in the Journal of the AMA that just the administration costs of employers’ health is over $300 billion a year. And that money will still be wasted. There will probably be even more advertising. The huge CEO salaries will continue to be made. I think the head of Aetna makes $23 million a year.

Insurance companies repeatedly interfere with the care of patients. The opponents of health reform keep saying that if the government gets into medicine, you won’t have a choice of your doctor, you won’t have a choice of your hospital, your care will be restricted. I don’t know where they got that. Medicare, if anything, is too permissive. Medicare never gets in my way. But insurance companies — I have to use special labs. I have to — I can use certain hospitals for one person; I can’t use them for another. I’m repeatedly getting responses from the insurance company disallowing certain procedures, disallowing certain medications. The insurance company is in the room every time I see a patient. And somehow, the patients think they have free choice. Medicare gives them free choice. They will have their choice of doctor. They will have their choice of treatment. With private insurance, that will not be the case. It’s an extraordinary waste of money.

And the public — if I had a single point to make about what is going wrong with this health reform is that the public is so uniformed. They think somehow that they get the best care in the world. We know by health statistics we’re thirty-seventh. Even people with good health insurance don’t realize that the healthcare they get is often not appropriate. Sometimes they get unnecessary treatment. The whole issue, for example, of prostate cancer, which is an extraordinary industry today, and there’s no proof that doing anything is of any value. But, you know, if I have a patient with prostate cancer, there’s no way I would sit back, because I know the trial lawyer is also in the room watching me. That’s another issue, which — there’s no way you’re going to control costs, if you don’t get that under control also.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Scheiner, who was an internist in Chicago — continues to be — in Hyde Park, the personal doctor of President Obama for, oh, twenty-two years, from ’87 ’til he entered the White House. Your assessment of the Health and Human Services head, Kathleen Sebelius?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Well, my — you know, the greatest problem I had was that prior to becoming governor of Kansas, she was a lobbyist for the trial lawyers. And that, you know, certainly makes me a little bit nervous. I think President Obama, and I think much of the media, discount the significance of defensive medicine. The New York Times had a piece on this, I think two or three weeks ago, and they say it’s just a small part of healthcare. This is a major part of healthcare. We practice incredible amounts of defensive medicine. And I can tell you now that no matter what health program comes through, if they don’t reform that system —-

AMY GOODMAN: “Defensive medicine” means?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: —- I’m going to be ordering tests — pardon me?

AMY GOODMAN: “Defensive medicine” means?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Practicing — doing things in medicine to prevent getting sued. We do this constantly. And we’re going to order more tests and more tests and more tests and do unnecessary care.

AMY GOODMAN: Gallup poll and others show the concern of people. For people who have healthcare, they like their healthcare, which is why those who support a public plan say you’ve got to ensure that people — you’re telling people they can keep the healthcare if they like it. How do you answer that, Dr. Scheiner?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Well, they’ll get more freedom under Medicare. The insurance companies — there’s no question — they restrict care. Under Medicare, people have incredible freedom. I can’t remember in the last forty years that I’ve been taking care of patients under Medicare that they have ever gotten in my way, but the insurance companies are constantly getting in my way.

There was this thing in the New York Times

, the story of a man with a $150,000 health coverage. He had multiple procedures done. It turned out all they paid for was room and board. The insurance companies do incredible things to people, and the public doesn’t know it. They think because they’ve got health insurance, that everything is right with the world. But it isn’t. They don’t even know the quality of care they’re receiving. The public is incredibly naive. Patients go into the hospital. They’re not — most of the time they’re not even adequately examined. The history in physical examination is becoming old hat. It’s becoming like Star Trek with — when Bones would have a machine that he would scan you, so you don’t have to talk to the patient or examine them. And that’s extraordinarily costly. There is so much medicine that — practice that’s wasted.

AMY GOODMAN: And how would that change under a single-payer plan?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: Well, there would be more — there have to be more controls. You know, effective medicine, what works. And some of the incentive for doing unnecessary procedures would be gone. There have to be — there have to be these kinds of controls. And under single payer, there will be much more —-

Pharmaceuticals, we haven’t even addressed pharmaceuticals. The cost of pharmaceuticals is off the wall. Patients can’t afford it. I have a patient now who’s lost his insurance. He’s had coronary bypass. He needs -— he’s a diabetic. I have to scout around for samples on my shelves to keep him going. This is unconscionable. Single payer would — there would be bulk purchasing. There would be negotiation over the price of medications.

But control — there have to be controls. There can’t be untrammeled care. There have to be restrictions. And the public should be informed of this. You can’t just go on willy-nilly. Women who have had hysterectomies get pap smears — no value, total waste of money. Patients who have cataract surgery have to have pre-op checks with lab — total waste of money. Nobody is looking.

Obama — President Obama believes that when we have electronic records, somehow night will change into day. That won’t happen. First of all, it’s extremely costly. It will become even easier to scam the health insurance companies and Medicare when you have a cursor that can go over all the things that you perhaps didn’t do, but look good on paper, and you can code much higher.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. David Scheiner, we have to go. I want to thank you for being with us. President Obama is coming for the weekend to Chicago, big Democratic fundraisers. Any chance you’ll see your former patient?

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: I think it’s unlikely.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, internist based in Chicago, was President Obama’s doctor for more than two decades, until he entered the White House.

DR. DAVID SCHEINER: You’re welcome.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, Stan Brock joins us, formerly of Wild Kingdom, now, well, head of Remote Area Medical, providing healthcare for people in the poorest areas of the world, now focusing on people right here in the United States. Stay with us.

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