Voters of Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District elected Tammy Baldwin a decade ago because she promised to go to Washington to fight for fundamental reform of this country's broken health care system.
Baldwin has kept her promise.
Unfortunately, Baldwin's struggle -- and that of her allies in the Congressional Progressive Caucus -- has never been taken all that seriously by congressional leaders or most Washington reporters.
That's bad for the debate that now appears likely to develop with regard to necessary health care reforms.
That's also bad for the debate about how to repair this country's broken economy.
There is an unhealthy tendency on the part of politicians and journalists to see discussions about economic recovery and health care reform as separate debates.
In fact, one of the most important steps on the road to economic recovery -- or, more precisely, toward a new, responsible and sustainable prosperity -- involves the fundamental reform of this country's broken health care system.
But it must be the right reform: the establishment of a national single-payer-style system accomplished by expanding the existing Medicare system to cover all Americans.
"Single Payer/Medicare for All: An Economic Stimulus Plan for the Nation" was released last week by the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association and is available at www.Calnurses.org. According to the study, such a reform would provide a major stimulus for the sputtering U.S. economy, creating slightly more than the number of jobs lost in 2008.
"These dramatic new findings document for the first time that a single-payer system could not only solve our health care crisis, but also substantially contribute to putting America back to work and assisting the economic recovery," argues NNOC/CNA Co-president Geri Jenkins, RN.
Specifically, says Jenkins, expanding Medicare to include the uninsured and those on Medicaid or employer-sponsored health plans, and expanding coverage for those with limited Medicare, would:
1. Create 2.6 million permanent, well-paying jobs (slightly exceeding the number of jobs lost in 2008) -- and they would be jobs that are not easily shipped overseas.
2. Boost the economy with $317 billion in increased business and public revenues.
3. Add $100 billion in employee compensation.
4. Infuse public budgets with $44 billion in new tax revenues.
"Through direct and supplemental expenditures, health care is already a uniquely dominant force in the U.S. economy," says the study's lead author, Don DeMoro, who directs the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy, the NNOC/CNA's research arm. "If we were to expand our present Medicare system to cover all Americans, the economic stimulus alone would create an immense engine that would help drive our national economy for decades to come."
Activists with Progressive Democrats of America and other groups that support single-payer are urging Americans to call Congress on behalf of real reform.
Noting that Congressman John Conyers has reintroduced H.R. 676, his single-payer health care bill, in the 111th Congress, PDA and other groups are mounting a campaign to encourage members of the House to sign on as co-sponsors of the Conyers bill.
"In order to ensure H.R. 676 is part of the health care discussion in Congress, we need 150 cosponsors by the end of February," PDA explains, adding, "Former Sen. Tom Daschle, President Obama's nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services, called for 'a government-run insurance program modeled after Medicare' in testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions as part of the solution to our health care crisis. His plan also includes health insurance corporations. Only H.R. 676 would implement a sustainable, fair and efficient solution to the health care crisis as well as providing economic stimulus."
Baldwin co-sponsored H.R. 676 on the day it was initially introduced in 2007. Eventually, the bill gathered 93 co-sponsors, including Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore. Unfortunately, the names of other members of the Wisconsin delegation -- including Democrats Ron Kind, Dave Obey and Steve Kagen -- were not on that list of co-sponsors. That's where Wisconsinites should direct their calls.
Also, make calls to Wisconsin's Sens. Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl to ask them to sponsor a Senate version of the Conyers legislation.
It is time for the single-payer reform that makes Medicare available to all Americans -- not just to cure what ails our health care system, but as the cure for what ails our economy.