The answer to the nation’s health care crisis is staring everyone in the face, yet as a country we continue to refuse to come to grips with it.
Late last month, the Wisconsin secretary of health services, Dennis Smith, held hearings to let people sound off about planned cuts to Wisconsin’s BadgerCare and Family Care programs. The state says it needs to reduce health care spending by some $554 million over the next two years, which is likely to leave tens of thousands of Wisconsin low-income citizens without health care coverage once again.
At around the same time Smith was holding his hearings, former Wisconsin governor and U.S. health secretary Tommy Thompson was telling a WisPolitics.com luncheon audience that American companies often find themselves at a competitive disadvantage because their health insurance costs are so much higher than those of companies in other countries.
But neither Smith nor Thompson, nor most of our state and national leaders, can bring themselves to a simple obvious solution to this continuing quandary that has faced Americans for the past several decades.
It is far from rocket science. What this country simply needs is a single-payer national health insurance program that covers all American citizens from the day they’re born to the day they die — just as other advanced countries have done for decades.
Bill Kraus, who was a confidant of the late Wisconsin Republican Gov. Lee Dreyfus, in a column on FightingBob.com last week traced the sad history of America’s health system. He went back to the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, pointing out that Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins first proposed a national health care plan as part of the president’s vast New Deal program aimed at ending the Great Depression.
Before Congress was able to seriously debate the plan, World War II intervened, but it was revived again by President Harry Truman, only to run into stiff opposition from a Congress that was sympathetic to the American Medical Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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“The AMA exploited the power of the Chamber of Commerce to expand the fledgling health insurance industry by convincing its insurance company members to go into that business despite the dim prospects that (they) could make a profit,” Kraus wrote. “Over time the insurance industry solved the profit problem and private health insurance became a member of the status quo which is committed to protecting the status quo against change.”
The insurance lobby and others who benefit from the current system — decrying what they call “socialized medicine” — beat Richard Nixon when he tried to reform health care, destroyed Bill Clinton’s plan in the 1990s and now continue to fight tooth and nail against Barack Obama’s plan, which promises to at least provide health care coverage to most Americans but hasn’t been able to stem the rising costs.
“These oversights brought the shortsighted Chamber of Commerce into the battle against ‘socialized medicine’ again despite the woes many of their members were experiencing as they tried to price the products they were trying to sell abroad competitively,” Kraus noted.
So what we have today is a system that costs Americans nearly double the cost of single-payer national health insurance — in short, Medicare for all — in countries like England, France, Germany, Canada and even China.
We could finance health care coverage for every American by taking the resources that employees and employers are pumping into the current broken system and still have money left over for a substantial tax cut, not to mention that it would put U.S. employers back on a level playing field with their competitors in the world market.
Yet we refuse to even put that debate on the front burner where it belongs, plodding along with a system that with each passing year continues to hurt more and more Americans in many different ways.