The inevitability of health care reform
Robert Downes 9/7/09
If you were at a dinner party and the conversation turned to health care reform, could you explain the single-payer plan used by many countries around the world?
This is just a blind guess, but one can only imagine that the vast majority of Americans dont have a clue. All they know is that single-payer has something to do with Canadian health care and it sounds like a
bureaucratic buzz word, so it must be a shady proposition.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration hasnt done a very good job of offering a simple explanation of health care alternatives such as the so-called public option, much less a single-payer plan. Instead, much of the debate has been ceded to those who are intent on spreading disinformation.
So its high time the president got around to laying out exactly what he and the Democrats intend to offer at the joint session of Congress this week.
The latest disinformation campaign includes the idea that President Obama plans to do away with Medicare, and that old folks will be denied chemotherapy after a certain age, among other lies that some gullible seniors have adopted as the gospel.
But the problem with disinformation is that, like a parasite, it cant survive outside of a friendly host.
Take Sarah Palins claim that a death panel would probably kill her Down Syndrome baby if Obamacare went through. Palin came up with this idea out of thin air and there hasnt been much of a peep out of her since it was debunked in early August.
Ultimately, disinformation withers under the spotlight of public scrutiny. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, the cable TV news shows have nothing better to do than spend endless hours debunking myths, such as the idea that Americans will have no health insurance options other than what the government has to offer. Obviously, in a country as profit-driven as ours, there will always be private insurance companies catering to those who can afford their policies, no matter what public option appears.
In a way, the uproar over health care reform has been a positive thing for America, because ultimately, it will educate us all to better choices than the half-measures that are being proposed by the Democrats.
Take single-payer, for instance -- an option which is considered to be off the books for the Democrats as being too radical.
Yet thanks to the debate, the Letters pages of newspapers across the country are being flooded with calls for a single-payer plan on par with that of Canada or Europe.
And what is that?
Single-payer simply means that every American would begin paying into a public health care plan, the same as we currently pay into Medicare and Social Security.
To put it another way, it would mean a form of Medicare extended to all Americans.
A single-payer plan of universal coverage would allow every American to see a physician for preventive health measures, such as screenings for cancer, diabetes and heart disease. As writer Anne Stanton notes in her excellent article in this issue, A Sick Story, early diagnosis and treatment saves money and lives by not letting diseases get out of control.
Most Americans have learned to put their trust in Medicare and Social Security. That trust would no doubt be extended to a single-payer plan. Those who dont like the plan could buy an additional private insurance policy, just as those who dont care for Social Security are free to invest in the stock market and 401k plans to supplement their retirement.
Meanwhile, the insurance companies fear that the public option proposed by the Obama administration would quickly become so popular with Americans that theyd soon go out of business.
Thats not a difficult idea for Americans to grasp and even applaud, since most of us have no love of insurance company profits. Whatever comes of the joint session of Congress this week, eventually it will sink in that a public option may be a good direction for America. Our insurance companies could still have a stake, but as non-profit organizations.
Some may recall that the health care reform plan of 1994 went off the rails in large part because Democratic-leaning union members didnt support it. Today, however, many of those same union members have lost their health care insurance and are solidly behind reform.
Single-payer, public option -- these are concepts that were once mysterious, but are starting to be more widely understood, thanks to the debate. Ultimately, America will talk its way into health care reform; perhaps the Obama Administration will score only one small victory this term, but in subsequent elections well hear a drumbeat for change that cant be resisted.