The debate about health reform is clearly in critical condition, with the prospects for President Barack Obama's proposed "public option" looking increasingly uncertain. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation where insurance for primary healthcare is largely in the hands of private corporations, but despite overwhelming public support for a greater government role in health insurance, pundits are now advising us that even Obama’s modest proposal of making private insurance corporations compete with a public insurance fund may have to be scrapped.
Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) -- the politician who played one of the most powerful roles in shaping this debate -- would seem at first blush an unlikely man to diagnose the ailments afflicting our health reform debate.
After all, many people will recall that when several doctors asked at a recent Senate hearing why "Medicare-for-all" -- a reform option that many citizens and healthcare professionals see as the best tool for fixing healthcare -- was not on the table, Baucus responded by asking for more police.
Yet as the NYT reported, Baucus has since:
Conceded that it was a mistake to rule out a fully government-run health system, or a ‘single-payer plan,’ not because he supports it but because doing so alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama’s proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.
After all, what better way to diffuse the fearmongering about Obama’s plan being a "Trojan horse" for the right’s favorite boogeyman -- "socialized" medicine -- than provide the public with accurate information on Medicare-for-all and its benefits? After all, a single public fund that would provide all Americans with healthcare coverage, much like Medicare currently provides for seniors, is seen by many experts as the most effective way of achieving the goals of healthcare reform: reducing costs while expanding coverage.
What better way to counter the pundits’ insistence that Obama "compromise" with industry-backed politicians than by pointing out that the "public option" is already a serious compromise, given that most citizens and physicians actually favor "single-payer” -- a more comprehensive and progressive option. After all, a recent New York Times/CBS poll (1/11-15/09) found that 59 percent of respondents said they would prefer that"the government in Washington provide national health insurance," rather than leaving health insurance to private industry. Meanwhile a recent survey (Annals of Internal Medicine, 4/1/08) found that 59 percent of physicians also support single-payer.
Of course, the insurance lobbies and many politicians have never wanted to talk about single-payer.
But it is largely the media’s fault that Obama’s plan has come to be seen as the most liberal position in the debate. For the corporate media has long shut single-payer and its advocates out of the discussion.
A recent study by FAIR found that of hundreds of stories about healthcare in major outlets earlier this year, only five stories included the views of advocates of single-payer -- none of which appeared on the TV networks.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that the public have information about the full range of options for healthcare reform -- including Medicare-for-all.
That is why the media watch group FAIR, filmmaker Michael Moore, former MSNBC host Phil Donahue, Harvard medical professors David Himmelstein and Stephanie Woolhandler and Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program, Obama’s longtime physician David Scheiner, actors Mike Farrell, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association are calling onto the TV networks to include single-payer in their coverage of healthcare reform.
You can read their letter to ABC, CBS and NBC -- and add your voice to this effort to bring about the broad debate on reform options that is so essential to fixing the broken U.S. healthcare system -- here:
Tuesday, July 28th, FAIR, Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare
Now!, Code Pink, the Private Health Insurance Must Go Coalition and the
Raging Grannies will be delivering this message to the NYC offices of
ABC News -- the network that disinvited Obama’s longtime physician from its recent healthcare forum where he’d been planning on asking a question about Medicare-for-all.
A version of this article appeared on Alternet.