by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 23, 2009
WHY DO WE FEAR SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH CARE?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The conventional political wisdom says that single-payer health care - where the government collects taxes to finance national health insurance that covers every citizen and pays the bills for medical care - is off the table.
It's not that single-payer is unworkable. It's used by nearly every developed nation in the world.
It's not because it means less choice. Every hospital and doctor would be available to everyone, without the worries about whether your provider is in your current private insurance plan.
It's not because it would cost citizens more money. Over the past five years, health insurance premiums have gone up 5.5 times faster than the rate of inflation, 2.3 times faster than business income and four times faster than worker earnings.
And it's not because of the fear of a big government bureaucracy. The Veterans Administration medical system delivers better care at a lower cost than anyone else, and it is a single-payer system.
Medicare is also a single-payer system, and it has done a better job of controlling costs than private insurers. Between 1996 and 2006, health care costs per person rose 4.6 percent annually for Medicare compared to 7.3 percent for private insurers.
No, the only reason why single payer health care is off the table is because politicians are too afraid to fight against the private health insurance industry, the drug companies and every other entity that benefits from the current system.
Why do these powerful interests see single payer as a threat? Because if there is only one insurer - the federal government - negotiating bulk purchases of drugs, setting fees with health care providers and drafting global budgets for hospitals and large clinics, you eliminate the profits of private insurers, the drug companies and for-profit health care providers. These forces will not give up without a huge fight.
If only the private sector can deliver health care effectively, as the defenders of the health care status quo maintain, why are medical bills the cause of more than 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States? That's an increase of 50 percent in just six years, according to a team of researchers at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University. These researchers recently reported in the American Journal of Medicine that more than 75 percent of these bankrupt families had health insurance but still were overwhelmed by their medical debts.
If the private market is so efficient, why is 15 percent of the population - 46 million people - without any insurance coverage at all?
If it is so efficient, why is the average administrative overhead for private insurers 27-40 percent, compared to 2-3 percent for Medicare?
If it is so efficient, why does the United States have the most expensive health care system per capita of any nation in the world, yet lags behind many developed countries in virtually every health category from infant mortality to life expectancy.
That's why the one option that the Obama Administration steadfastly refuses to consider seriously - single-payer health insurance - is needed if we wish to see a real reform of the American health care system.
Polls consistently show that two-thirds of the American people want single-payer. The potential to finally realize a universal, equitable health care care system is now within reach.
To those who say single payer is not possible, I ask this question. Any change, even the modest ones that have been proposed, is going to face a fight from the drug and insurance companies. So why not fight for something that will cost Americans less money and guarantee that every person, regardless of age, gender or employment status, receives basic coverage? Why not fight for something that guarantees that no one will go broke or die because they can't afford health care?
The only thing that can stop single-payer health care is politicians without the guts to stand up to the people who have a vested interest in maintaining a selective, inequitable and highly profitable setup that is failing to deliver health care to too many Americans.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics at http://hclassics15.blogspot.com.