• America needs Medicare For All/Single-Payer, not a life-support system for insurance companies and HMOs
• Whether Obamacare passes or the GOP blocks health care reform, insurance companies will win and American people will lose
• Attention paid to Obamacare vs. town hall hecklers eclipses the fact that most Americans want national health care, according to polls
The following is a Green Party (http://www.gp.org) response to President Obama’s address to Congress on September 9, 2009
President Obama was correct when he said, quoting the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, that health care was fundamentally a moral issue and a matter of “social justice and the character of our country.” President Obama understands that we’re in a national crisis — that’s why he wants to lead on health care reform.
But the President stopped short of asserting that health care should be made a right for all Americans. He said he has “no interest in putting insurance companies out of business.” He did not admit the fact that the insurance industry’s very existence depends on the power to restrict coverage, deny claims to those with coverage, cancel coverage for people when they need medical care most, and reject people who are high-risk because of low income, age, and prior medical condition. (President Obama related several accounts of such outrages in his speech.) The insurance business plays a middle-man role, exacting huge fees for its profits, administrative costs, overhead, and high CEO salaries, while providing no medical services.
As long as for-profit insurance continues to exist, access to health care remains secondary to corporate middle-man profits. Replacing private insurance and HMO coverage with a plan to make Medicare universal is the only solution.
Since Medicare doesn’t function to make a profit, its administrative costs are about three percent. For-profit insurance takes about a 30 percent bite out of health care spending and imposes unwieldy administrative costs and paperwork on doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers. That’s why health care eats up over 15 percent of domestic spending in the US, compared to about 9 percent in Canada, which has a Single-Payer system.
What do we get for all this extra spending, under the for-profit insurance status quo? Nearly 47 million Americans have no coverage at all. Even people with coverage are at risk. Most personal bankruptcies are caused by medical costs, and 7 out of 10 Americans bankrupted by medical costs have insurance. Infant mortality rates are higher in the US than in Canada and the UK, and life expectancies are lower, according to the World Health Organization.
America already has death panels — they’re called HMOs and insurance companies. (See http://www.reuters.com/article/pressRelease/idUS202570+02-Sep-2009+PRN20090902 and http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/healthcare/2002-05-22-insurance-deaths.htm)
This is a terrible waste of human lives, and a waste of money, too. President Obama knows that the Medicare For All / Single-Payer plan is the best solution. He has said so in the past, admitting that if one wanted to provide health care to all Americans, the only solution was Single-Payer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpAyan1fXCE&feature=player_embedded / http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/us/politics/22obama.transcript.html). But now that he is President, he won’t challenge the power and profits of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
The President proposes a solution that would heavily regulate HMOs and insurance firms yet compensate them with huge payoffs. He would improve access to health insurance and reduce the number of uninsured, but at a cost of $1 trillion over ten years, according to preliminary estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (http://money.cnn.com/2009/06/15/news/economy/health_care_reform/index.htm). This $1 trillion includes subsidies to businesses to cover their employees. Since Obamacare would exempt 95% of small businesses from the employer insurance mandate, small business employees (many of whom are low-income) will have to be covered elsewhere — an added expense. President Obama is simply wrong when he says he would not increase the federal deficit to pay for health care expansion.
Obamacare would also impose ‘mandates.’ The President made this clear when he said “under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance — just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.” The mandate plan would subsidize people who can’t afford to purchase health insurance under this new law.
The Massachusetts mandate plan, passed three years ago, has not provided universal health care. The state’s individual-mandate health reform law, which President Obama seeks to replicate on a national scale, has failed to cover at least 352,000 uninsured residents (http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/september/uninsured_figures_sh.php).
And Obamacare will protect drug company profits by maintaining the Bush ban on bulk purchasing of prescription drugs.
In his speech, President Obama urged inclusion of the public option. But he noted that the public option would not ever cover more than 5% of the American people. That’s not a sufficient public option. We cannot drive down insurance premiums with a program that only covers 10 million people (a number likely to include millions of Americans who are either high-risk or suffer existing health problems). In the end, the President said that the public option is negotiable — it might be no more than a bargaining chip in talks with Republicans and blue-dog Democrats.
In the end, Obamacare means a giant taxpayer-funded life-support system for private for-profit corporations, while Americans spend more money for less access. Is this necessary?
Insurance, pharmaceutical, and other big-business lobbies pumped millions of dollars into both Democratic and Republican campaigns in the last election to buy influence ($46,002,881 in insurance industry contributions in 2008; see http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=F09). Now they’re seeing their investment pay off — just as Goldman Sachs and other financial institutions reaped campaign contribution rewards when the White House and Congress bailed out Wall Street earlier this year.
Media commentators are asking if President Obama can succeed in his bold effort to win bipartisan support. But for those of us excluded from the national debate, including the Green Party and other advocates of universal health care, bipartisanship too often means that Democrats and Republicans alike are serving the demands of corporate lobbyists instead of the public interest.
Whether Obamacare passes or Republicans, town-hall hecklers, and radio ranters succeed in blocking health care reform, the result will be a victory for insurance companies and other powerful corporations and a defeat for the American people.
The Green Party says: We can either protect insurance and drug companies and their profits, or we can save American lives and dollars by enacting Medicare For All / Single-Payer national health care. We demand Single-Payer.
What would we get if Single-Payer legislation were passed?
• Single-Payer covers every American regardless of employment, income, ability to pay, age, or prior medical condition. Everyone is guaranteed quality health care, including prescriptions: Everybody in, nobody out. Under Single-Payer, no American will face financial ruin because of illness or injury.
• Single-Payer is less bureaucratic than private insurance. Health care decisions are made solely by patient and physician. Single-Payer allows us to choose our physician, health care provider, and health care facility, without needing an approval from a government or insurance company bureaucrat.
• Single-Payer will cut health care costs by as much as a third and reduce what we pay for coverage. Health care will be funded at the federal level and administered at the state level. Working Americans will pay far less than what we now pay for private health coverage, because Single-Payer eliminates the profit-making insurance and HMO middle-men. By pooling risk among all of us, everyone would pay the same percent of their income — replacing the current system, in which sick and poor Americans pay proportionally more.
• Single-payer will reduce paperwork for physicians and hospitals, one reason why thousands of MDs, other health care professionals, and medical students have endorsed single-payer. Physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers will compete to serve the public in a Single-Payer system, raising the quality of health care.
• Health care rationing? With private insurance, medical treatment is rationed according to your ability to pay for coverage. With Single-Payer, insurance company profits are abolished and health care is rationed according to need, with medical emergencies and serious illnesses receiving top priority.
• People of color (with or without coverage) and poor Americans have suffered the worst treatment under the status quo, and thus have the most to gain from Single-Payer. (See Cynthia McKinney’s article “How Did We Get From There to Here? (100,000 Unnecessary Black Deaths Per Year).” http://www.gp.org/cynthia/display.php?ID=17)
• Single-Payer will boost our ailing economy and provide relief for businesses large and small, because it cancels the high expense and administrative burden of employer-based health benefits. Single-Payer will relieve cities, towns, and school boards from the cost of providing health insurance to employees, allowing responsible officials to reduce their budgets and lower local property taxes.
• Single-Payer gives government and citizens a common stake in preventive, holistic medicine and sound food policies to keep costs down while promoting greater public health. Greens support reorienting health care from expensive technology and pharmaceutical-based disease management to an integrative promotion of healthy lifestyles and alternative therapies, including therapies that have been used effectively for thousands of years as well as new ones that come from our increasing understanding of mind-body interactions. And we need to look at the incentives the US government currently provides. As Dr. Andrew Weil said in a recent interview with Larry King, “You can’t have the government telling us to eat more fruits and vegetables and at the same time, through its subsidy program, ensuring that fruits and vegetables are the most expensive things in grocery stores and all the unhealthy stuff is the cheapest.” (Larry King Live, CNN, September 10,
• Single-Payer is not socialized medicine. It is social insurance for health care. Under Single-Payer, private physicians and hospitals remain private. After treating a patient, instead of sending a bill to one of several hundred insurers, HMOs, or agencies (each with its own different and complex requirements), they send the bill to a single agency (hence ‘Single-Payer’) and then get paid. Calling Single-Payer socialism is like calling the defense industry socialism because Lockheed-Martin gets 96% of its revenue from government contracts.
For all these reasons, the Green Party supports Single-Payer/Medicare For All. It has always been in our national platform — and Green candidates and elected public officials are firmly behind the demand for passage of HR 676, Rep. John Conyers’ bill to expand Medicare to cover everyone. Greens take no corporate contributions and we don’t take orders from any insurance, drug, or other corporate lobby.
We demand that Democrats make good on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s pledge to bring HR 676 to the House floor for a debate and full vote up or down after Congress’s August recess. Such a vote will require new studies by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Congressional Budget Office on the cost of Single-Payer. Earlier GAO, CBO, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) studies revealed that moving to a Medicare For All system would not increase federal spending but would save about $400 billion annually, or $4 trillion over ten years — enough to cover nearly 47 million Americans uninsured and eliminate co-pays and deductibles for everyone.
We demand a televised national debate between advocates and opponents of Single-Payer, so Americans can hear the truth about universal health care.
We demand that the White House and Congress — and the media — acknowledge that a majority of the American people, according to numerous polls, want a plan to provide national health insurance. Recent polls show 59% in favor (http://www.healthcare-now.org/another-poll-shows-majority-support-for-single-payer/ / http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/PollMemo.pdf). The majority of physicians favor such a plan (http://www.pnhp.org/news/2008/march/most_doctors_support.php), and so do America’s mayors (http://www.pnhp.org/campaign/materials/MayorsResolution.pdf).
Despite these numbers, media coverage of ‘Tea Party’ protesters at town hall meetings has eclipsed the fact that most Americans support national health care.
In a 2004 CBC poll, citizens of Canada identified Tommy Douglas as the “greatest Canadian of all time.” Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister-turned-politician, led the effort to enact Single-Payer health care in Canada.
If Barack Obama led America as Tommy Douglas led Canada, he would leave a legacy of real change. By making health care a right for all, Mr. Obama would go down in history as one of America’s greatest presidents, with the stature of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Delano Roosevelt.