Doctors spend more than a decade studying health care, but someone employed by an insurance company will determine whether or not a person receives a medical procedure, state Rep. JoAnne Favors said.
"The insurance companies have too much control," she said Tuesday.
Rep. Favors, D-Chattanooga, a registered nurse, was one of more than two dozen local residents and doctors who faced noontime drivers at Market Street and M.L. King Boulevard on Tuesday to promote a single-payer national health insurance model. It would operate much like Medicare but include more people.
Wade Swicord held a sign that said "We Can't Wait Any Longer. Health Care Now! Reform," and another participant carried a sign stating "22,000 Americans die each year from lack of health care."
Drivers occasionally blew their horns as they passed.
Local physician Dr. Taj Madiwale spoke about the need for better health care.
"A large number of families in our community have no insurance, which means they end up in the emergency room for non-emergency conditions like colds and the flu, which tie up our resources unnecessarily. Many people come to the emergency room because they have nowhere else to go," he said.
Dr. Matt Hine, one of the event's main speakers, said health insurance companies do not exist to produce health.
"Their job is a financial model, and they do it very, very well, serving the needs of their investors and their stockholders," he said.
Scott Wilson, spokesman for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state's largest health insurer, said Dr. Hine's opinion of insurance companies does not reflect business at BlueCross BlueShield.
"We absolutely spend all day thinking about providing high-quality care for members," Mr. Wilson said.
He said the insurance company processes millions of claims a week, so it needs to make a profit to maintain modern technology. However, BlueCross BlueShield is a nonprofit organization and doesn't answer to stockholders, Mr. Wilson said.
UnitedHealth Group, a for-profit health insurance agency, said in a written statement Tuesday that it is also a proponent of sustainable health care reform and that it wants to ensure access to quality health care for all Americans.