These physicians are ticked

The Mad as Hell Doctors make a stop in Chico

A panel of doctors and nurses gets fired up during a recent appearance at Chico State to discuss single-payer heath insurance and the nation’s current health-care debacle.

A panel of doctors and nurses gets fired up during a recent appearance at Chico State to discuss single-payer heath insurance and the nation’s current health-care debacle.

Photo By matt siracusa

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

That cry echoed through Harlen Adams Theatre Tuesday night (Oct. 12) as a capacity crowd, exhorted by a physician from the Pacific Northwest, channeled the movie Network in expressing their frustration with health-care economics in America.

Again and again that phrase came up, which only makes sense considering the occasion was a visit from the Mad as Hell Doctors, who capped their three-week tour of California by rolling their medicine show into Chico State.

They shared video clips and stories of gaps in the health-care system—actually, as one described it, “a sick-care non-system.” Joining their call for single-payer insurance, a Chico physician and two local nurses also had inspirations for change.

“I’m mad as hell,” cardiac-care nurse David Welch said, “because of the memory of the 42-year-old man who endured two days of crushing pain before he came into the E.R. and had a heart attack.”

“I’m mad as hell,” Dr. Faraj Walid said, “because not a day goes by that I don’t see patients suffer from a lack of insurance or are underinsured.”

Same for nurse practitioner Paul O’Rourke-Babb, who has had nine patients die “because they didn’t have access to care and insurance.”

The Chico crowd was the largest on the MAHD tour, but the complaints aren’t unique. They’re all too common across the country, where—as signs in the theater starkly noted—50 million Americans lack health insurance, 14,000 lose their coverage each day, and 120 die daily for lack of care.

Moreover, with an emphasis on treating diseases as opposed to preventing them, the majority of health-care funds go to technology and specialties rather than primary care.

Dr. Paul Hochfeld, one of the four visiting MAHD physicians, joked that coffins have nails “so the oncologists can’t get in to give one more round of chemo.” A morbid joke, for sure, but not too detached from a reality in which treatments and tests get lucratively reimbursed while consultations with doctors don’t.

Another MAHD visitor, Dr. Mike Huntington, asked the audience, “How many of you think we have a broken health-care system?” After hands went up and a voice called out, “Trick question,” Huntington pointed to that person and concurred: “We don’t have a system.”

As Hochfeld later put it, “We have a $2.5 trillion health-care factory and there’s nobody in charge.”

Single-payer health insurance is not a new concept, though it’s one that’s not always understood. It gets lumped into the term “government health care” and branded as “socialized medicine” like the national systems in, for example, Canada and Great Britain. However, as Hochfeld noted, the proposals for the U.S. call for publicly funded, privately delivered care.

The major issue, he explained, is the segregation of “risk pools.” Government plans cover many of the neediest Americans: seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities and those from destitute families.

Private insurance companies, already insulated from these risk pools, further protect their profit margins. “They’re gamblers,” Hochfeld explained. “They gamble that what they collect is more than what they pay out. And they try to fix the odds.” They do so through selective enrollment, contributing to the totals of 50 million uninsured and 75 million underinsured.

Single-payer coverage would put all patients in one risk pool, administered by a public entity instead of myriad private businesses. That insurer would pay the private doctors, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and others delivering care. One system, one set of policies—no more mazes of administration for providers and patients.

If everyone went into the same pool, Dr. Marc Sapir said, Americans collectively would “save $400 billion the first year after the single-payer system” was established.

“I want one system,” Dr. Katherine Ottaway declared. “Health care for all, one set of rules—that’s why I’m a Mad as Hell Doctor.”

MAHD has 11,500 fans on Facebook ( and countless followers of its blog (at The group came to California heartened by how far a single-payer bill got in the Legislature, yet aware it didn’t get far enough to become law.

The effort continues. Locally, for instance, the Butte County Health Care Coalition lobbies for a single-payer system.

Sapir, noting that the organization Physicians for a National Health Program came out of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, called for just that sort of mobilization. “Health care is a human right—don’t believe for a minute anything in the media that says most Americans don’t believe this,” Sapir stated.

“Our plea to you,” Huntington said, “is get mad and stay mad. Call your legislators and talk to your neighbors…. We need to turn this from a welfare system into a health-care system.”