Kal ZoneBlog

Single-payer health care recedes in the rear-view

July 15, 2010

Do you understand exactly how the health-care reform bill passed by Congress will affect you and your family? No? Neither do I.

Many people I've talked to recently are still struggling to find affordable health coverage. It's still a big concern. I find myself thinking it's too bad single-payer health care — aka "Medicare for all" — never had a chance in Congress, even though it had significant public support as shown by polls over the last several years. Earlier House versions of the bill did include a public option, which would have created a government-run health insurance agency to compete with private health insurance companies. But this too was purged from the final bill, even though such a public option had majority support in many polls.

Single-payer would have simplified health coverage for many people I know. Yes, taxes would have had to go up somewhere. But for many people (and employers) this would have been offset by the elimination of expensive health-insurance premiums.

But since when has Congress acted in the public interest?

While pretending to be cowed by the Tea Party (which got media attention totally out of proportion to its numbers), our elected officials quietly worked out backroom deals with their corporate benefactors in the insurance and health-care industries.

Today Glenn Greenwald traces Liz Fowler's career path through the revolving door between industry and government, starting in 2001 as Chief Counsel for the Senate Finance Committee in charge of health and entitlement issues, then in 2006 as VP of the nation's largest private health insurerer WellPoint, then as one of Senator Max Baucus's key staffers who helped draft the complex health-care reform measure, and now as deputy director the Office of Consumer Information and Oversight at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she will "oversee" the implementation of the new law.

To me this illustrates most of what is wrong with government today: that government, under control of lobbyists and virtually unlimited corporate money, almost always puts corporate interests ahead of the public interest. A single-payer system would have been relatively simple and straightforward, though, admittedly, raising taxes to pay for it would have been very difficult indeed.  The health-reform bill that actually passed the Senate runs to 2,400+ pages of legalese that makes little sense to you or me because it was written by insiders to protect various corporate players. (Go ahead and try to read it.)

Yet, the bill has been denounced as "socialism". But that is just a bargaining position. If this bill is "socialism", then single-payer would have been so very much more socialistic, so tainted, so radioactive, that no elected official would dare touch it — even though single-payer had significant public support. So "socialistic" that Obama and the Democrats never considered it a possibility.

I think health reform may indeed come back to bite the Democrats, not because it is "socialistic" but because it is another Rube Goldberg device whose effects will take years to play out, and because it can be held up as yet another example of the fecklessness of government. Do the Democrats deserve blame for this? Of course. But obviously, single-payer would be heresy for any of today's ideologically pure Republicans — unlike the socialistic Republicans of 1965, almost half of whom voted for Medicare. So if you think we missed a big opportunity to simplify health coverage, be sure to give congressional Republicans their share of the blame.

Copyright © Kalle Nemvalts except as noted. Original content on this site is licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. The Creative Commons license does not cover commercial reuse or adaptation, which must be negotiated separately.