The Cap Times
June 9, 2010
Plain Talk: Medicare for all still the best idea
By Dave Zweifel, Cap Times editor emeritus
But what's still so befuddling is that health care reform could have been so much better — and easier for everyone to understand.
In fact, following the 2008 presidential election, the opportunity to finally get the United States to adopt a universal single-payer health care system seemed at hand.
Many of the Democrats who had been swept into office that fall had campaigned for single-payer and there were strong indications that the congressional leadership was ready to introduce legislation that, in effect, would reduce the eligibility for Medicare from age 65 to 0.
People were beginning to understand that there's enough administrative waste in the existing system that extending health coverage to every American from birth to death could be accomplished without substantial added cost. Yes, the Medicare payroll tax would need to be increased, but that increase would be more than offset by the elimination of insurance premiums for both employers and employees.
Further, single-payer isn't some kind of experimental, untested idea. It's working all around us, has been for years. For decades the Canadians, the British, the French, the Germans and countless other so-called advanced countries have had a universal health care system that covers all of their citizens.
Yet by the time Congress fiddle-faddled its way through a bunch of meetings and pro-insurance company legislators were placed in key positions to come up with a bill that would somehow appeal to Republicans as well as so-called Blue Dog Democrats, single-payer didn't even make it to first base. The entrenched interests -- those with money to throw into campaign coffers and into lobbying -- succeeded in shoving it aside.
Comment: Just because Congress passed and the President signed a bill labeled "health care reform" doesn't mean that the policy debate has been retired. Single payer Medicare for all is "still the best idea."
The public will soon understand that "passing reform" did not guarantee insurance for everyone, it did not guarantee that insurance benefits will be adequate to prevent financial hardship, and it did not prevent insurers from denying patients choice by restricting care to their limited networks of providers.
But what will really convince everyone that we didn't get real reform is that individuals, employers and the government will continue to see intolerable increases in the costs of health care. Skyrocketing insurance premiums for low actuarial value products that fail to protect personal household finances will drive the demand for the reform we need.
We don't have to wait until 2020 or later to fix it. Before the November elections, let the candidates know that we want an improved Medicare for all now.