Most Americans know there is something wrong with our healthcare system, and it needs to be fixed. This past summer, a New York Times poll (6/21/09) found that nearly three-quarters of Americans favored "offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans." That is the kind of plan that Congress should be working toward.
It couldn't be simpler. If the American people want a healthcare plan like Medicare, why not just include everyone in Medicare? You're born--you're covered. Unfortunately, our government doesn't do anything simple--especially the US Senate. The self-proclaimed World's Greatest Deliberative Body can't just do what the American people want. It has to hold hearings; ask tough questions; get straight answers and then deliberate.
And so it began...
Since the task was to reform the American healthcare system, the Senate naturally assigned the job to the Senate Finance Committee. I guess that is because the American healthcare system has a lot more to do with money than it does with health. Or maybe it was because committee chairman Senator Max Baucus (D-MN) has received more campaign contributions from health insurance and pharmaceutical industries than any current Democrat in Congress--thus making him an authority on the subject.
Senator Baucus, knowing that a majority of the American people want a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare, invited witnesses to testify before the Senate Finance Committee from just about every group interested in healthcare--except one: advocates of a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare.
All together, forty-one witnesses appeared before Baucus' Finance Committee's hearings on healthcare reform; and not one advocate of a single-payer system was allowed to speak. Before the start of one hearing, a group of eight (doctors, lawyers and concerned citizens) stood, one after another, and asked Senator Baucus to open the hearings to single payer advocates. Senator Baucus responded by having them arrested, handcuffed, and charged with "disruption of Congress". At a later hearing, another group of 5 (doctors and nurses) were similarly arrested and charged.
In the meantime, the right-wing propaganda machine began an all-out campaign to convince the American people that they didn't really want a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare; but since there are no good arguments against a plan like Medicare (which already covers nearly half of all Americans), the health insurance industry had to rely on a campaign of lies and misinformation.
There are a couple of lies that really stand out. The first is that America has the best healthcare system in the world. (The old "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" argument.) While it may be true that the American healthcare system has superior training and facilities available, it does not provide the best care--not even close. The World Health Organization ranks America's healthcare system 37th out of the top 50 industrialized nations. You may dismiss this rating as a subjective opinion, but the facts can't be denied:
The United States ranks 20th in life expectancy for women and 21st for men. We were number one in both categories in 1945.
The United States ranks 23rd in infant mortality, down from 12th in 1960.
The United States ranks 67th in providing immunizations--right behind Botswana.
There is only one aspect of healthcare in which America ranks first--cost. We spend almost twice as much per person as every other nation--which brings us to the second big lie: The United States of America cannot afford a universal healthcare system like every other industrialized nation of the world.
After cutting taxes and spending like drunken sailors all during the Bush years, Republicans are now suddenly concerned about the deficit. They argue that we can't afford to fix healthcare right now, because it would cost a trillion dollars over ten years. That is $100 bllion a year--a figure that pales in comparison to the hundred of billions of dollars we squander every year on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and maintaining the American empire, consisting of more than 700 military bases in 60+ nations.
The fact is that we must change our healthcare system to something like Medicare--and soon.