From Jim Houle
3/12/09 Ukiah, North California
At last Thursday’s Health Care Forum, President Obama promised that “every voice will be heard, every idea considered and every option must be on the table”. But before the forum could even begin, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs explained, in reference to Single Payer Universal Health Care, that: “The President doesn’t believe that’s the best way to achieve the goal of cutting costs and increasing access”. No supporters of single payer were invited but at the last moment, Congressman John Conyers, single-payer’s leading advocate in Congress, was allowed to attend. Amy Goodman on Democracy Now 3/06/09 reported that single payer advocates had been largely silenced in the media. As media attention focused on the health care issue in early March, no advocates of a single payer health care plan were heard on any mainstream TV network and very few in the print media.
What is ‘Single Payer Universal Health Care’? It provides that all citizens will have their medical expenses paid for by the Federal Government (the single payer). There will be no insurance company involvement whatsoever. It will function much as the Medicare system, which pays all hospital costs for those over 65, has operated for the past 43 years.
What is Obama’s Alternative ‘Universal Heath Program’?: This program, still being fabricated in the White House, requires all who can afford it to purchase private health insurance and has the Federal Government pay for the insurance policies of those who cannot afford to pay themselves. The health care industry would continue to operate under the management of the private insurance industry, much as it does now, as a for-profit business.
How did this happen? Luke Mitchell in the Feb. 2009 issue of Harpers Magazine reports that “A single payer system would take a lot of money out of the private insurance system”. It’s also something that a lot of people in Washington understand as ideologically threatening, that is to say, they equate a single-payer system with what they call socialized medicine.” “There’s clearly a massive resistance to single-payer on the Hill.” Mitchell continues: “Obama himself said he favored a single-payer health plan in 2003 and has repeatedly said this was the best approach but there are a lot of built-in players to be dealt with. The ‘Universal Health Programs’ we are seeing an offer that basically acts to bribe those middlemen, the private health care insurers, into not complaining too much. It requires you to buy private insurance and if you can’t afford it, the government will fund you. So it’s not a market system exactly; its essentially government-funded private insurance. And the reason normal people might find it preferable is that they have a preference for what they think of as ‘market solutions’. They think these market solutions are just more efficient.”
Yet, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that administration consumes 31.0 percent of U.S. health spending under our privatized health care, double the proportion of Canada national health care plan (16.7 %). Average overhead among private U.S. insurers was 11.7 %, compared with 1.3 % for Canada’s single-payer system and 3.6 % for the US Medicare system run by the federal government and which pays hospital costs for all over age 65.
HELL – YOU CAN’T EXPECT FREE MARKET PLANS TO COMPETE WITH THE GOVERNMENT!
Five senior Republican Senators gathered after the Forum to warn Obama that he would face opposition if he pushed the public option: “Forcing free market plans to compete with government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition. Ultimately we would be left with a single government-run program controlling all of the market”. After all, didn’t Ronnie Reagan tell us that free markets were always bound to be less costly and more efficient than government solutions?
Today the US is the only industrialized country without a government-funded health care system and it has the highest costs by far of any of them: $7,126 per capita per year versus half that amount in Western Europe.
Senator Baucus, Chairman of the Finance Committee, explained his opposition to “Single Payer Universal Health Care” on March 10th: “Its not going to get passed. I’m not going to waste any time on it. Maybe some day”. Senator Baucus is talking about its getting approved in Congress, not in the nation, where the vast majority of nurses and health care workers already support single payer health care. A recent survey showed 59% of all medical doctors also supporting single payer. In the minds of many people, however, government involvement in health care is still equated with the invasion of privacy and the loss of free choice.
The health insurance industry gave Obama $19 million during his run for president. It doesn’t sound like much but when added to the hundreds of millions given over many years to practically every incumbent in Congress, it certainly supports Baucus’ prediction that “nothin’s gonna’ happen right now”.
SO WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
As Michael Hiltzik put it in the Los Angeles Times on Mar. 9th: “the health insurance industry’s trade group AHIP revealed it had experienced an epiphany and decided to support the principle of universal health care. Briefly the industry wants the government to assume the cost of treating the sickest, and therefore the most expensive, Americans. The industry will accept a government mandate to take on all customers, as long as all Americans are required to buy coverage”. So, the insurance industry would still run the health care business but now with an even bigger market to feed upon, and with the Federal Government paying the insurance premium for all of those who are impoverished, unemployed, or just too damned sick to come up with the jack. What is this? Privatized socialism?