What war? George Bush started the "shock and awe" portion of his healthcare proposal with a national PR tour--and the private insurance industry is providing him air cover. Elsewhere, the Dem candidates for President all talk up universal healthcare without much specifics, a single-payer bill is re-introduced in Congress, public health facilities across the country are under attack, and the California and Massachusetts proposals run into more trouble.
Brought to you by the Nurses Organizing Committee as we organize to make 2007 the Year of Single-Payer Healthcare.
The major media all cover Bush embarking on a national PR tour for his health plan. He’s selling not legislation, but ideology: an expanded role for private insurance in our healthcare delivery field. Lots of similarities to the PR tour he undertook for his plan to privatize social security in 2005. Both campaigns had the goal of pushing risk to private individuals, while enriching sectors of the financial community (investment houses in the first case, insurers in the second).
Note this interesting quote in the Washington Post:
"There is no question in my mind that a proper role for the federal government is to help the poor and the elderly and the diseased get health care," Bush said. "We'll do that."
This is big-government conservatism—like Medicare Part D. Bush will leave the federal government on the hook for the most expensive cases, while private insurers construct risk pools of the young and healthy. They run off with profits, while Medicare slowly goes bankrupt.
The interesting thing about all the articles covering the PR push? The only people with positive things to say about Bush’s plan are the private health insurance industry, who hope they don’t get thrown on the ash heap of history by a lean and efficient single-payer system. It’s probably good for advocates of single-payer to link private insurance companies with a President whose popularity languishes around 30%.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times rolls out some interesting new numbers, with vague sourcing, on Bush’s plan:
Currently, about 25% of employer health plans cost companies and their employees more than $15,000 a year, meaning that roughly 75% of those with employer health plans would get a tax break under the president's proposal. But healthcare experts say that those savings could be short-lived; the deduction and cap will be indexed to inflation, whereas healthcare costs have been rising faster than the inflation rate.
I was wrong above—one other person has positive things to say about Bush’s plan: former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich,who thinks it might lead towards single-payer healthcare by helping breakdown the employer-based system.
The president's health care proposal deserves one cheer for the following reason: It potentially de-couples health care from employment....
Finally, three cheers for the politician who bypasses America's inefficient private insurance market and establishes a single payer that provides all Americans with health insurance just as good as the health insurance their representatives in Congress receive free of charge. Note I said single payer, not single provider. Americans want to keep their choice of doctor and hospital. But a single payer -- either through Medicare or the federal employee's health insurance program -- would avoid the current insanity by which private insurers spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year advertising and marketing to younger and healthier beneficiaries, and seeking to discourage older and riskier ones or people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The candidate who gets three cheers on this will be our next president.
Several Presidential candidates are, in fact, inching that way. Barack Obama recently joined Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and probably others in calling for “Universal Healthcare.” Obama set a goal of six years, but with no specifics. He said:
"At a time when businesses are facing increased competition and workers rarely stay with one company throughout their lives, we also have to ask if the employer-based system of health care itself is still the best for providing insurance for all Americans," Obama said.
Asked to clarify the comment afterward by reporters, he said, "I don't think we immediately replace the employer-based system.
Kucinich is the only Presidential candidate, so far, to have endorsed a single-payer system. Yesterday hailed the re-introduction of Conyers’ Medicare for All bill, HR 676, of which he is one of 78 co-sponsors.
While the debate continues nationally, the situation on-the-ground, in the states continues to erode. Yesterday we documented the uproar in New York over cuts to the public health budget; today, patients and caregivers in Chicago are resisting extreme cuts to their public health budget.
Reality check: the public in poll after poll says that health care is the most important issue to them (or second, along with the war). Politicians who make the health care situation worse should suffer the consequences.
But Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, worries that if medical inflation isn't corralled — and the governor's plan is weak in this regard — there may be little choice but to try to tap businesses again and again to keep the program running.
"Even if the money is adequate today, will it be enough to fund the program five years from now?" he asks.
Insurers are also busy dissecting the Schwarzenegger proposal. Chris Ohman, president of the California Assn. of Health Plans, suggests that a provision to treat everyone, regardless of medical history, could cause the price of policies to soar for the 1.7 million state residents who buy insurance on the open market. It could also force insurers, faced with a less favorable set of economics, to pull out.
"We run the risk of having a perverse result," Ohman says.
Zaremberg seems to fear being saddled with a system like the one we have now—whereas the insurance rep fears any change. Proof of how hard it is to patch up a system with problems as fundamental as ours.
New Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley isn’t even trying.
Around the Web, columnist Tom Elias reminds us how much simpler a single-payer system would be than all of these complicated attempts to keep our current system up and running; columnist Joe Deraymond reminds us how much cheaper it would be; the Philadelphia Inquirer just throws its hands up in the air; while Blogger Randy Bayne counsels that we must do a much better job of explaining the concept to people (and I’ve noticed many healthcare reporters still seem unclear on the concept).