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Open Health Care Debate
Published in the Friday, November 24, 2001 issue of the Madison Capital Times
Open Health Care Debate
Ten years ago this fall, former Kennedy administration aide Harris Wofford won a special election for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania on a promise to fight for health care for all. Wofford's win shook the political process and created a movement toward health care reform that would culminate in the unsuccessful attempt by former President Bill Clinton to implement a national health care program.

The Clinton plan failed because it deviated from the simple message that won Wofford that election. By attempting to "reform" a for-profit health care system by developing a complex program of protections for insurance companies and existing health care providers, the program advanced by Bill and Hillary Clinton created a public-private mish-mash that made no sense to anyone.

When it went down to failure, the prospect for real reform that arose with Wofford's election was lost. Even as the number of Americans lacking health care coverage rose to 44 million, the crisis was met only with tinkering that amounted to the policy equivalent of "take two aspirin and call me in the morning."

Now, however, as an economic slowdown refocuses attention on an unaddressed crisis, the prospect for real health care reform has again arisen. And it is coming the right way - not in the form of a bureaucratic public-private partnership scheme designed to preserve structures, but a grass-roots proposal for a simple, efficient and humane government-funded single-payer health care plan.

As in Canada, where that country's universal health care program developed from the provincial level and then went national, this important stride toward honest health care reform in America is starting at the state level. In Illinois, a movement is growing to put a binding referendum on the statewide ballot that would order legislators to create a universal health care program. Several other states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, are in various stages of exploring single-payer approaches.

But the big progress is coming in Maine. Last year, legislators there created a commission to look into the pros and cons of a government-funded program. As the commission prepares to make its report, the state is beginning to engage in a broad debate on the issue. And voters are once again weighing in on the side of health care for all.

Despite a massive campaign by health care industry corporations to defeat a referendum endorsing Maine's single-payer reform, Portland voters backed the proposal. Says Tammy Greaton, co-director of the Maine People's Alliance: "(The victory) sends a loud sound of support that we're sick and tired of health care that does not provide quality, that does not provide access and is unaffordable."

That should come as no surprise. Americans are ready for real reform. With conservatives in charge of the White House and the U.S. House of Representatives, it is unlikely that real health care reform will come from Washington. But it can get started at the state level, most likely in Maine. And all Americans who want to address the crisis that is America's current health care system should be cheering on the Maine People's Alliance and other activists in that state.

A single-payer system, if implemented in Maine, will be a success. And its success will spread the movement for real reform - perhaps even to Wisconsin.

Copyright 2001 The Capital Times


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