Thom talks to Dr. David Scheiner, Obama's doctor 1987-2009, about health care, 03 August 2009


Thom Hartmann: Well all across the United States, today and for this next month, as Congressmen and women and Senators show up to do town halls, the teabag movement, which developed the mailing list, is also showing up to shout them down. And groups from Freedomworks to other right-wing groups are providing talking points and advice on how to get in and how to get called on and what to say and how to shout them down. It’s a, frankly, a national obscenity, a national embarrassment. Single payer healthcare is really the only way to go.

I was very honored eight years ago, I was invited to be the key-note speaker when, (the Physicians for National Health Program) held their annual convention in San Francisco, the city from which I’m broadcasting today and tomorrow night we’ll be doing a bit of a town hall and a book signing for my new book "Threshold" at uh, here in San Francisco.

And Dr. David Scheiner is with us. Doctor, you are with PNHP now? Or just an advocate of them?

Dr. David Scheiner: No, I’m in PNHP.

Thom Hartmann: That’s great, that’s great. And you, for a number of years, were the personal physician for more than 20 years to Barack Obama, do I have that right?

Dr. David Scheiner: Yes sir.

Thom Hartmann: So, welcome to our show, first of all.

Dr. David Scheiner: Thank you.

Thom Hartmann: Thank you very much for coming on. You’re a Chicago-based physician, you treated Barack Obama for over 20 years, and your thoughts on the program for national healthcare that the Obama Administration is, well I guess the Administration has not put forward a program, they’ve asked Congress to, but even the parameters that they’ve defined, have not been single payer from the get go. Your thoughts on this?

Dr. David Scheiner: Well first of all, giving the direction to Congress, which is controlled by the lobbying groups, I think that was a tactical error. You know what Congress is going to come up with, pharmaceutical houses, physician organizations, and the insurance companies have a rather strong influence on what Congress does. The program that he’s come up with preserves private insurance as the main player in this whole program. And somehow he thinks that they can put rules on that are going to control the private insurance companies. And, you know, their motive is not quality care. Their motive is to pay their stock holders and their CEOs who, you know, make these large amounts of money. The profit motive in medicine is a very tricky one, and the question, and this has been one of the issues I see. And having them in the mix is gonna be, they’ll find another way to scam the system. And we won’t do any better, and we’re going to still have multiple insurance companies that we have to deal with, who are paperwork wont be abated at all.

With a single payer, overhead will probably drop by 30%, because we won’t have to deal with multiple insurance companies. To me, it’s a no-brainer, but he kept that thing in. His cost controls are feeble at best. He’s got this belief in, of course he’s a 21st century person, I’m a 19th century person, that somehow electronic medical records are going to turn day into night. Or night into day, just the reverse. It’s not that simple. There’s no significant tort reform. And while everybody minimizes, somehow that doesn’t seem to be an important thing, we all, every doctor knows how important it is. My malpractice insurance was 25% of my net income. That’s a rather significant amount. Primary care, I don’t think they’ve adequately addressed that. How are we going to deliver care to all these increased number of people if we don’t have any primary care physicians? And nobody is going into primary care.

Thom Hartmann: Okay. Because the money is not to be made there. And people are graduating from college $200,000 in debt, because every since the Reagan Administration they’ve just taken a meat-axe to secondary education. We’re talking with Dr. David Scheiner, he’s an M.D. in internal medicine, a member of the Physicians for National Health Program, is the website. And perhaps, most significantly, for 20 years was the personal physician to Barack Obama before he became a Senator. While he was a Senator as well, doctor?

Dr. David Scheiner: Yes, sir.

Thom Hartmann: And when he became President, he changed doctors?

Dr. David Scheiner: Well they automatically get assigned a full-time physician in the White House who’s career military.

Thom Hartmann: I see, I see.

Dr. David Scheiner: It wouldn’t have been an option, they don’t continue with their private physician.

Thom Hartmann: So over the 20 years, including when President Obama, now President Obama, was Senator Obama, you were his doctor, I’m assuming that you built a relationship of some sort with him over all those years.

Dr. David Scheiner: Purely professional though. Purely professional.

Thom Hartmann: Have you had this conversation with him?

Dr. David Scheiner: Uh, no I haven’t talked with him. Shortly after he was elected, right before Thanksgiving, we exchanged greetings, but that was the last time that I talked with him. That was 2 months before he became President.

Thom Hartmann: Yea. Has PNHP, I have a lot of respect for PNHP, as I mentioned, I was, you know, a keynote speaker at their conference.

Dr. David Scheiner: I was a partner for Quentin Young for 30 years.

Thom Hartmann: Pardon?

Dr. David Scheiner: Quentin Young was my partner for 30 years until he retired, so, I think a little bit of him rubbed off on me.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. And it’s a great organization. And I’m wondering if they, what’s PNHP doing right now?

Dr. David Scheiner: Well, you know, they’re trying to get the message out to the public. What I would hope they could do is, they have 16,000 physicians, I wish they had 200,000 physicians. If all the physicians, for example, just primary care physicians, if they banded together, joined an organization like this, we have a power that the pharmaceutical houses and the insurance companies couldn’t touch. But doctors don’t want to organize. You know, the organizations that we have representing us obviously have not been adequate. PNHP would be able to do it if physicians would join and would fight the good fight.

Thom Hartmann: But even if all the doctors in America joined PNHP, you’re not going to have the trillion dollar collective budget that is the annual budget of the combined insurance and drug companies in America.

Dr. David Scheiner: No, but if they don’t have doctors, they don’t have any budget.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah.

Dr. David Scheiner: If the doctors were more militant, doctors have not been militant enough. They’ve allowed these things to go on, and I think polls have been done that 60% of physicians believe in a single payer. If the physicians stood up for this, I think they could stop it. They’ve got tremendous power, I mean there’s no question. That’s why this thing is being, what they’re trying to put through, that this program is being cut to ribbons by the blue-dog Democrats and even the more, some of the Liberal Democrats have allowed it to happen. It’s a travesty, it’s horrible what they’ve done to it. I don’t think we should’ve expected anything different when it comes out of Congress, because they’re subject to too many pressures.

Thom Hartmann: Well this is why, in my opinion, that we should have been, knowing that President Obama tends to compromise, and knowing that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the democratic leadership, and the Democratic party in general, usually looks for a middle ground in a compromise, we know that the position on the right is the status quo, and so, I think, frankly, the position on the left should have been loudly and aggressive and should continue to be loudly and aggressive, 'single payer, single payer, single payer, single payer'. And maybe they’ll compromise, you know, with a John Edwards kind of plan where basically there’s a single payer type of option that people can buy into and over time it will become so well subscribed that we’ll end up with a single payer system. Your thoughts on that?

Dr. David Scheiner: Yes, I think that’s a very reasonable approach. We’ve gotta do something better than what we, the bill that’s going through now, just isn’t going to accomplish anything. And it’s going to be extraordinarily costly. And the thing that worries me is if health reform bills such as this, if it fails, you know, it could set real health reform back for years. Education is one of the key things, the public just doesn’t, first of all I don’t think they understand the program that’s being put through. I don’t think, I mean very few people understand it. I think also most people don’t understand about healthcare. They somehow think if they’ve got health insurance, everything’s right with the world. The 50 million who are uninsured, we haven't talked about them at all, and that is a moral obligation that we have and we’re ignoring it. Obama, part of the way President Obama’s going to handle the people with less income is he’s going to expand Medicaid. Well, Medicaid, the states can’t afford it now, how can they expand it? And Medicaid doesn’t deliver the best of care. Most physicians won’t take Medicaid because they pay so poorly, if they pay at all. In Illinois, I think it takes six to ten months to get reimbursed. And doctors look down upon Medicaid patients. They say ‘Oh, a Medicaid patient, I don’t wanna touch ‘em!’ And you know, they get treated as third class citizens, and it’s going to continue that way.

Thom Hartmann: We ll if this is, sir, we have about a half a minute left, but if Medicaid is government run healthcare, and you’re essentially dissing it, how could more medical, how could more government, you know, the conservative talking point would be how could more government run healthcare be a solution?

Dr. David Scheiner: Because we do have one. Medicare works. Medicare works because it’s funded. Medicaid doesn’t work, it’s inadequately funded. You know, that’s part of the problem.

Thom Hartmann: That’s what it comes down to.

Dr. David Scheiner: In fact, Medicaid, Medicare has worked. Medicare never gets in my way in terms of healthcare. Private insurance is constantly bothering me and interfering with the kind of care I want to deliver. And why they public doesn’t understand, I don’t know.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Dr. David Scheiner, I hope sir, perhaps you can send a little back channel message to your old patient, and hopefully friend, President Barack Obama, that he should be looking at a single payer system. I know he was in favor of one many years ago. Thank you for being with us today, sir.

Dr. David Scheiner: Thank you so much for having me.

Thom Hartmann: And please, to my listeners, check out It’s a great website, a great organization. They need your support.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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