No one of any political stripe can argue that health care is not a problem that must be addressed. The divide occurs when solutions for reform are discussed.
The first big disappointment came in 2009 when, with the health care debate barely begun, President Barack Obama took the entire idea of “single payer” off the table. Then the public option was stripped from consideration too.
The insurance industry had won again. Their multi-billion-dollar profit is the reason any form of single payer, or Medicare or All, is repeatedly rejected by Congress so that members ensure continued campaign support from the industry.
Last month, Congressional Republicans took a big enough beating from constituents at town hall meetings over the Medicare privatization “voucher” proposal in Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) Path to Prosperity budget for 2012, that he and many other legislators of his party have backed away from it.
But don't think for a moment privatization of Medicare or cuts to the program are dead in Washington. This is just a lull while new strategies for moving elders into the for-profit health care system are developed.
If Congress actually represented the people rather than big business and if there were any budget sanity in Washington, we would have had a single payer system for everyone long ago.
It is the only sensible, fair and moral way to go and there are a dozen or more examples in developed nations from which our country could fashion a system wherein everyone receives basic health care at an affordable price.
In fact, Medicare is an excellent example that would work quite well if it didn't cover only the oldest and therefore sickest people in the U.S. Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, put one type of single payer system in place in his state and it is a success (although it is causing him grief with Republican powers-that-be in his potential bid for the presidency), covering about 97 percent of the state's population now.
Additionally, both houses of the Vermont legislature have passed a bill that will move their state toward a single-payer system and Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign it. That's two states that have or will soon implement a smart health care system for their citizens.
Speaking of Vermont, independent Senator Bernie Sanders this week introduced the American Health Security Act of 2011 (S.915) while his colleague, James McDermott (D-WA) simultaneously introduced an identical bill in the House (H.R.1200). The full text is here and you can read Senator Sanders' press release about the bill here.
As Sam Baker at The Hill's Healthwatch blog explains:
”The bill would establish state-based programs to administer coverage and set payment rates for providers. A federal board would set criteria for those offices.
“The new system would replace Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and insurance exchanges established under the Obama administration's healthcare reform law.
“It would be funded through a series of tax increases on businesses and individuals, as well as money that otherwise would have been set aside for subsidies and tax credits under healthcare reform.”
Dr. Garrett Adams, president of Physicians for a National Health Program gave some more detail:
“Sanders’ legislation would cover nearly all 51 million people who currently lack coverage and improve benefits for everyone by eliminating co-pays and deductibles and restoring free choice of physician,” Adams said.
“By slashing private insurance overhead and bureaucracy in doctors’ offices and hospitals, S. 915 would recapture about $400 billion annually that is currently wasted on unnecessary paperwork. That money, in turn, would be channeled back into high-quality clinical care.
“Further, by using a single-payer system’s bargaining power, we would be able to negotiate lower prices for pharmaceuticals and other goods and services, allowing us to rein in rising health care costs,” he said.
The two bills were introduced in their respective houses of Congress on Tuesday. The Senate version has been referred to the Committee on Finance.
I can hear every one of you saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. One more rational idea that won't go anywhere in Washington. Something else good that will wind up in the Department of Lost Causes.”
Maybe you're right. Maybe it won't happen this time with this bill, but if we shrug off Senators Sanders' and McDermott's righteous attempt, failure is guaranteed.
We got Medicare in 1965, because President Lyndon Johnson believed in it, wanted it and was the best president in history at arm-twisting Congress. Our current president is pretty good at knocking off pirates and a terrorist leader, but no match for Johnson's executive prowess.
That leaves Sanders, McDermott and you and me to do our best this time and the next and the next – however long it takes because not to act is to act; not to speak is to speak.
Write about these bills on your blogs – copy any or all of what I've written if that makes it easier and don't bother with crediting me. It would also be good to write your senators and suggest they co-sponsor Senator Sanders' bill. Write your representative and suggest the same thing for the House bill.
One of the places you can easily do that is here. Fill in your Zip Code in the right sidebar for email links to your Congressional reps. The numbers and title of the bills are above.
Let's not let this be a lost cause – however long it takes.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Love Story – Part One