Democrats taking wrong approach to health care

Michael Schreiber

Health care is a human right, something that every citizen of the United States deserves to have. Why is it that the Democrats are so unwilling to say this?
The American people elected a Democratic president and a Democratic congress, and the American people handed the Democrats a mandate to create effective health care reform. Unfortunately, the Democrats decided to put health care reform in terms of dollars and cents – not life and liberty. And, of course, the Republicans have leapt on the Democrats for wanting a tax to support reforms that, according to them, are bound to be wildly expensive.
The Democrats have succeeded so far in alienating both their liberal base and their conservative detractors – health care reform is on life support. Let’s take a step back and figure out where the Democrats went wrong.
The biggest mistake the Democrats made was taking their best bargaining chip off the table without even putting up a show of a fight. The Democrats begged the question of single-payer, universal health insurance and jumped into a quagmire full of nebulous terms such as “public option” and “health care exchange.”
Matt Taibbi has described the current Democratic health reform plan as “aiming low” in his September exposé article for Rolling Stone titled “Sick and Wrong: How Washington is screwing up health care reform – and why it may take a revolt to fix it.”
As Taibbi points out, most of the major players in the current reform effort have historically supported single-payer reform. Curiously, President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi no longer seem to support single-payer now that they might actually have a chance to implement it. What is worse, many of the meetings and public forums that were supposedly designed to explore options for health care reform actively excluded supporters of a single-payer system.
It is no wonder that Obama is finding it difficult to garner support for what amounts to a collection of half-measures. Even the “public option,” a mutilated ghost of the single-payer government-run insurance company, has been weakened to the point that it is no better than a private insurer. Under the current versions of the reform bill, the public option lacks the ability to negotiate prices – if the public option cannot compete with private insurers on price, what good is it?
As it stands right now, the United States is a member of an exclusive group – the highly developed nations lacking a universal, single-payer health insurance program. Our economically advanced allies such as Canada, France and the U.K. all enjoy equal access to national health care programs, whereas the United States, the supposed exemplar of industrialized success, fails to provide in this crucial area. This failure results in Americans paying over twice what other industrialized nations do for health care per capita.
Of course, the U.S. does pay to provide care to certain groups, but the current system of providing limited coverage for the poverty-stricken and elderly squanders federal funds because it is so limited in scope.
The U.S. government subcontracts private insurance companies to provide care to these groups, which, according to the Physicians for a National Health Program, results in “a fragmentary payment system that entrusts private firms with administration, ensuring the waste of billions of dollars on useless paper pushing and profits.” It is easy for a person to feel cheated by these “government” programs; the money goes out in the form of taxes, but little actually gets back to those who need it for health care.
As might be expected considering the sway special interest groups still hold with Congress, the reforms proposed by the Democrats do nothing to eliminate the waste inherent to our current, unique – and uniquely bad – system. The main problem is that the current Democratic reform plan fails to cut out the middle men, the private insurers who waste money on redundant levels of administration and advertising.
Without removing these expenses from the health care system or giving the government some kind of bargaining power, there is no way for the reform plan to recoup any of the expenses that providing coverage to all Americans is certain to create. Instead, the reform plan becomes a subsidy to a broken, bloated health insurance industry.
Sadly, the politicians who have rejected nationalized, single-payer health insurance as an option cite the effect of such a program on the – heavily lobbying – insurance sector as a fatal flaw in the single-payer solution. As if the health insurance industry is the lynchpin of our economy – hardly. The insurance industry would certainly lose business, but the extra productivity gained in all sectors by having a healthy workforce would be sure to preserve the solvency of the economy.
The great benefit of single-payer health insurance, as opposed to the current plan, is that everyone gets to pay a fair rate to ensure that everyone has access to health care. Under progressive taxation, the wealthiest individuals would be responsible for most of the burden, while the poorest individuals would be heavily subsidized.
With the money that would no longer be spent on administration and advertising, the single-payer system would be no more expensive than the current system, which covers far fewer people. Studies by the Government Accountability Office have reflected this truth time and time again. The Republican objections to the current reform plan just do not hold up against single-payer reform.
So where does all of this talk of single-payer health insurance leave us? Surely, most politicians from both sides of the aisle would agree that some sort of reform is necessary. It is practically self-evident: Because our current system of providing health care is so broken, we certainly need health care reform.
However, we need to make sure that we create real change – half-measures that do not change the paradigm will accomplish little more than losing the Democrats the next election. We need to act now to insure Americans under a single-payer system and to ensure Americans do not have to suffer another round of fake reform and no real progress on this issue. If steps are not taken to truly correct the current health care system, the United States is definitely sick.