So, here it is folks. Many intelligent and gifted leaders believe our healthcare system needs major reform and that a single payer system would be the ideal way to accomplish that overhaul. Yet many of those same bright people opt to support "incremental change" as the way to begin fixing a system that leaves millions without any access to healthcare and millions of others with inadequate access.
Just down and dirty: a single payer system would have every American pay into one pool for healthcare (just as we now pay into Medicare), and all claims would be paid from that one pool to patient-chosen doctors, clinics, hospitals and other providers. Publicly financed, privately delivered healthcare. That's what single payer is.
Awesomely simple and exquisitely responsible, single payer offers patients maximum flexibility in seeking quality healthcare, and it offers the nation maximum "bang for the buck" by removing the mark-ups for excessive profit necessary in the current for-profit, private health insurance markets.
It's not a difficult concept.
The incremental health reform plans are quite convoluted and difficult to follow. Designed to protect all the corporate, for-profit entities currently making money in our system, it is nearly impossible to accomplish universal access to care while maintaining the status quo of our national corporate healthcare system.
Make no mistake about it, Americans already pay more for healthcare than any other people on earth, and many don't even get care at all though they are legally bound to pay it for others. (To read a great piece on this, See "Paying More, Getting Less" by Joel Harrison in Dollars and Sense. As author Harrison points out, even the uninsured spend at nearly 10 percent of their incomes paying tax burdens for healthcare others will get, including their elected representatives.
We run scared rather than stand tall. We die and let others we love die without healthcare rather then fight the battle against the titan insurance industry and the gigantic pharmaceutical companies. We are not behaving like we give a damn; we are behaving like we need to beg for relief, for care - like we are weak.
We lost our generational fire somewhere between the Sea of Tranquility and the Lower Ninth Ward. How else do we explain our national ability to watch our fellow citizens drowning on rooftops while our national emergency manager worried about whether or not to roll his sleeves up for the cameras?
When did we become a nation of people who settle for the possible? We used to be made up of pioneers with spirits as big as the open plains and dreams to match. We built railroads no one ever thought we could, had the generational fortitude to win World War II, fought against oppression during the civil rights battles in the 60s, clawed and clamored to put a man on the moon first and told ourselves there were no limits to our aspirations.
Then we softened, and we began to settle for only what we thought we could get. I blame my generation - we baby boomers sold out in ways that our children and grandchildren are now dying for. We let our guard down when Viet Nam ended, when Watergate wrapped up, when Jimmy Carter lost and when Ronald Reagan clamped down on the labor movement and used the air traffic controllers as his ghoulish examples of what happens to people if they stand up together for what they believe.
We began to internalize a behavior of settling for the possible rather than losing the farm. America's leaders behaved in the world like drunken bullies, demanding allegiance and rewarding compliance to what our leaders dictated. We taught ourselves that to succeed one must never break rank, lest you be crushed by those more powerful.
Why were we not in the streets, up in arms - quite literally - for our brothers and sisters in New Orleans? Why are we forgetting them still?
We are no longer our forefathers' daughters or our foremothers' sons. We lost our emotional and societal grounding and sought easier, softer ways - earn money, buy stuff, retire early, buy more stuff. We judged one another more based on superficial acquisitions than substantial accomplishments.
Well, it is time for the people of the nation to stop it. Just stop it. We know better than this, and we are smarter than this. Stop settling for the pabulum and demand the best solutions not just the possible. Healthcare for every person in this nation is not a pipe dream nor is it impossible to achieve in our lifetimes. We do not need to cede this battle to the next generation or the generation after that.
Don't worry about the insurance companies and the pharmaceuticals... they'll find ways to make cash under a new, single payer system. Some folks will want to buy and have the resources to buy designer meds and procedures. And more power to them. But the vast majority of us will welcome paying into a single pool that will provide us the basic of health and preventative care. When I hear the incrementalists talk, I know they understand that any healthcare system built on profit-making cannot stand the test of justice and compassion - nor can it stand the test of fiscal responsibility, else we wouldn't be having these problems today.
I admit to my complicity in not fighting soon enough or hard enough. I am ready for this battle. I was trained in life by a World War II veteran and a mom who worked hard to provide me with a good life full of opportunity. Now it is my turn to fight another tough American battle: the battle for sanity and common sense and the exponential potential of single payer. I want to leave this nation a better and stronger one, and unless I help fix this mess, I will surely have failed.
And I am my father's daughter. I do not like to fail.
Donna Smith is founder of American Patients United.