Why Single Payer Advocacy Matters Now More Than Ever

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The Nation

Why Single Payer Advocacy Matters Now More Than Ever

How should serious supporters of health-care reform spend the month of August? 

Not by getting trapped in the narrow "debate" between "party of no" Republicans who favor no reform at all, and Blue Dog Democrats, whose "reform" is to make a bad system worse.

And not by campaigning for "buzz words – "public option," "employer mandates" – or whatever President Obama or Speaker Pelosi happen to favor this week. There will be plenty of advertising and organizing to that end, including a $15 million expenditure by the AFL-CIO.

Americans who want to tip the debate in the most progressive direction should take advantage an opening provided at the last minute during negotiations to get a bill approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

And they should do so by advocating even more aggressively for single-payer health care.

One of the many side deals that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Energy and Commerce chair Henry Waxman, D-California, had to cut to get the votes they needed for the compromise reform measure that was approved before the House broke for its August recess will allow a floor vote on real reform.

Waxman sidetracked a move by New York Congressman Anthony Weiner to replace his proposal with a single-payer plan by agreeing – with Pelosi's approval – to schedule a vote by the full House on the plan to replace the current for-profit system with a Medicare-style plan that covers all Americans and controls costs.

"A lot of members on our committee want a vote on that," Waxman, a California Democrat who has worked closely with the Speaker to advance a moderate reform agenda, said of single-payer. "I believe their wishes will be accommodated."

Weiner is declaring a sort of victory, saying that: "Single-payer is a better plan and now it is on center stage. Americans have a clear choice. Their Member of Congress will have a simpler, less expensive and smarter bill to choose. I am thrilled that the Speaker is giving us that choice."

Of course, getting a September vote on single-payer does not mean that single-payer will get the votes.

With the Obama administration and congressional leaders determined to compromise rather than fight, it is unlikely in the extreme that the current debate will end with the adoption of a single-payer plan. Even if the House approved one, it would still face a fight in the Senate.

But just as Republicans are willing to just say "no" to any reform, progressives should just say "yes" to real reform.

Campaigning for single-payer in August – by demanding that members of the House agree to support such a plan when it comes up for a vote, and by urging senators to schedule and support a similar vote in their chamber – is the best was to assure that whatever reform ultimately comes will err on the side of Americans who need health care rather than insurance companies that would deny them that care.

At the very least, single-payer advocacy should preserve an amendment sponsored by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, which would allow states to experiment with single-payer programs even if the federal government refuses to do so. That's a significant matter, since Canada's national health care program began with single-payer experiments at the provincial level.

The worst mistake that progressives could make in August would be to put their time and energy into getting members of Congress to agree to back a barely-acceptable compromise that could end up being unacceptable by the time the lobbyists and their political handmaidens finish with it.

Better to get representatives and senators to commit to back single-payer bills.

That does not prevent them from ultimately agreeing to compromise measures.

But it gets them to begin on the side of real reform, and lessens the likelihood that the eventual deals will be as bad as the schemes that the Blue Dogs tried to impose before the break.

Perhaps just as importantly, a strong vote for single-payer will remind the Obama administration that the president was right when he said six years ago that single-payer was the right response to the mess that private insurers and their allies have made of our health-care system.

Groups that back single-payer are gearing up for August activism.

Keep track of the most important advocacy on the health care issue by following the work of Physicians for a Natonal Health Program at www.pnhp.org, the California Nurses Association at http://www.pdamerica.org.

Activist David Swanson is suggesting that this should be "Single-Payer Summer."

Swanson's right.

Only if Americans who favor real reform make this "Single-Payer Summer" will we have anything worth considering in the fall.

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