Dr. Eugene Farley on Health Care Reform
Refuting the Blatherers
By Jonathan Gramling

Part 2 of 2
    Dr. Eugene Farley isn’t swayed by any of the spinning and slanting of information
coming out about health care reform. Farley and his late wife Dr. Linda Farley have
been staunch supporters of health care reform for decades and would prefer to have a
single payer system. Farley’s opinions about the U.S. health care system have been
formed and hewn by growing up in the Great Depression and practicing medicine in
the 1950s, first in a rural setting, then as a family medicine practitioner and finally
as a professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health before he retired. He’s
weighed — and heard — all of the arguments for years and gets exasperated by the
spinning of political pundits against health care reform whom he calls “blatherers.”
   According to Farley, the present system has a lot of administrative overhead that is
driving up the cost. As we sat down for coffee, Farley related a “study” he did as he
was leaving the UW Dept. of Family Medicine. “I had our business manager do a rough
and dirty study of what would have happened if 100 percent of the patients we saw
that year paid 80 percent of the usual and customary charges,” Farley said. “We had
programs in Appleton, Wausau, Eau Clare and Madison. We didn’t have the data on the Milwaukee program. He estimated that we would have
brought in about $400,000 more to the department if we had only 80 percent of our usual and customary charges, but 100 percent of the people
could pay them. Then we figured that we had roughly 40 billing clerks between those four sites. What if we reduced that and left only 10 between
the four? Don’t get rid of them because we freed up 30 people and we could have retrained them to do more outreach and more prevention and
more of the things we preach?”
      During his many decades of practice and teaching medicine, Farley had the occasion to work with and hire doctors from countries that have
single payer systems. “We’re able to kill more Americans every month and every year in this country because of inadequate insurance and
delayed care because of our health care costs,” Farley said.[The NAACP estimates that 880,000 African Americans alone died needlessly in the
1990s alone due to the present structure of the health care system.] “And then you’ll hear the blather about the waits in Briton. Well I hired a
Canadian doctor and hired an English doctor, superb doctors and well-trained, I would hire them anytime and any place and they were so glad to
get back home where they didn’t have insurance companies telling them how they could practice and they knew their patients could get what
was needed. I’ve worked with Canadian doctors in a bi-national research project for some 20 years. When they would come here, they would
shake their heads at us because they would see us working for insurance companies and trying to do things that the insurance companies didn’t
want us to do, whereas they went home and took care of patients and didn’t have the paperwork and overhead and gave care. They practice
medicine while we filled out forms not for the government, but for the insurance companies.”
      In Farley’s view, the fight for a public option in health care is like the civil rights movement. “I consider health care to be like civil rights,”
Farley said. “People say we can’t get it all at once so let’s do it a little piece at a time. Finally in another hundred years, we may get it. Teddy
Roosevelt introduced it 106 years ago. So we might get it in another 100 years. But civil rights used to be incremental. When the people were
beginning to realize that ‘Yes, if I were Black, I had to have some of the same rights. So maybe I could use the public swimming pool on Sunday
morning when other people are in church. But otherwise I can’t use it. And maybe I could use the public library on Thursday evening. See Gene,
you’re getting privileges.’ That’s nonsense. That’s stupid. It wasn’t until people finally got into the streets and said enough is enough and some
people got killed over it and we had marches and we had house bombings that something was done. It’s a fight to get people to recognize that
all people in this country are equal. We’re still having that fight, but at least we’re working on it.”
      The fight for significant health care reform is still ongoing in the U.S. Congress with both houses shaping their final versions of health care
reform before it goes to a House-Senate reconciliation committee. It’s uncertain if the public option will be in the Senate version.
      But it is vital for real health care reform.
Dr. Eugene Farley speaks at a health care reform rally on
the State Capitol steps last July.