In his speech on health care to a joint session of Congress, President Obama talked about the long, long history of health-care reform efforts in this country, and said he wants to be the last President to take up the issue. Let's hope not.
The reform now shaping up in Congress--with a heavy dose of industry-written language--is not likely to be much of a fix. Without a robust public option--a "Medicare for all" program that can cut administrative costs and compete with the profit-hogging private insurance companies—we are not likely to see a big improvement in health care for Americans.
By taking single-payer health care off the table and working on a compromise the insurance industry can support, Obama is letting us down.
But that is no reason to give up the fight. Some progressive members of Congress are still pushing for single-payer legislation. And rarely does health care receive so much intense public attention. Now is the time to get the message out about what a functional health insurance system would look like.
Industry knows that and that's why we are hearing the echo chamber of talking points: beware a "government takeover" of health care, the "consequences of rationing," and "bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine." These words and phrases are all over Fox News, conservative talk radio, and in the mouths of Republican members of Congress, repeated at town hall meetings, and at the recent Tea Party rally in Washington, DC. They are also, verbatim, in a memo produced by Republican strategist Frank Luntz directing the party how to oppose health care reform.
On the other side are the Mad As Hell Doctors, members of Physicians for a National Health Program. This group of physicians from Portland, Oregon, is driving across the country to a rally in Washington, DC, in support of single payer on September 30. They are in Madison, Wisconsin, today to meet with health care providers and hold a rally on the steps of the state capitol building at 5 pm. The so-called Kucinich Amendment--HR 676, the "Medicare for All" bill, sponsored by Representatives Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, is supposed to come to the floor this month, and various single payer advocates are planning events around it.
Kucinich begins hearings tomorrow in the domestic policy subcommittee entitled "Between You and Your Doctor: The Bureaucracy of Private Health Insurance" with a witness list that includes the family members of patients denied needed care because the industry needs to maintain its high profit margins.
This is the message health care reform advocates need to get out: Private health insurance companies are the bureaucrats who stand between you and good medical care. Because these companies must maintain 20 percent profit margins--that is, keep 20 percent of the money you pay them for health care--in order to maintain their high stock prices, they have a perverse incentive to limit medical care.
Under our private insurance system, America wastes 30 percent of health care dollars on advertising, administration, and CEO pay. The idea that we have more "choice" is also ridiculous. People in other industrialized countries with universal, national health care are far more satisfied with the care they get and their choice of doctors. What we have is a system in which your employer or your HMO can push you out the door if you start to cost too much. After all, they are in business to make money, not to see that you get the care you need.
As health care reform reaches the homestretch in Congress and Americans tune into the issue, it is important for everyone to get these facts. Members of Congress need to hear from real constituents, and your friends and neighbors who are being fed so much of the industry line need to hear from people who understand the issue and care. It may be a long road ahead for health insurance reform, but this is an important step along the way.