Roads to Single-Payer

Commenting on Vienna’s post on universal health care, J writes:

Health Care for America Now (HCAN) does not support single-payer healthcare. They support Obama’s mixed public/private insurance plan.

It’s true that HCAN supports a choice of private or public plans. Which means they don’t support single-payer right away. That doesn’t mean that what they’re proposing won’t lead to single-payer eventually.

Look at HCAN’s list of congressional supporters. It includes Barack Obama (and Joe Biden). But it also includes … John Conyers (who introduced H. R. 676, the single-payer bill Vienna was writing about).

Single-payer advocates who sign on to Obama/HCAN-style mixed public/private plans will have to push for certain key elements to make it into the final legislation, like (for example) a public option (“Medicare for anyone who wants it”) and strong regulation on private insurers prohibiting discrimination based on pre-existing conditions.

For better or for worse, the mixed plans have a lot of momentum right now. The biggest domestic health care event of the week was Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus unveiling his new white paper. He isn’t an HCAN supporter, but  his plan is in the Obama/HCAN vein. Very roughly, it’s Obama plus an individual mandate.

For more healthcare activism, check out Families USA’s Stand Up for Healthcare, including their excellent blog, and long-time single-payer advocates Physicians for a National Health Program, which Lynn Moses Yellott was right to highlight.

What's So Funny About Universal Healthcare?

Yesterday someone emailed me a link to a mock NYT article, National Health Insurance Act Passes.  I’m embarrassed to confess: I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. I believe that universal health care is one of the most important issues of our time, so, for a minute, as I read the first few paragraphs, I was elated. And then I noticed the date: July 4, 2009.

The United States National Health Insurance Act really does exist. Representative John Conyers first introduced the bill (H.R. 676) in 2003. Today there are 93 cosponsors. The bill would create a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system for all, essentially expanding the U.S. Medicare program.   It would be what is described as a “single payer” system.

Polls show that some sixty-four percent of Americans want the U.S. to adopt universal health insurance. Fifty-four percent support a single payer system, as do 6 in 10 physicians. President-elect Obama has said that he would  consider a single payer health care system if he were designing a system from scratch.

So why does the idea of “Medicare for all” seem so far-fetched?  Is it really on “that’ll never happen” par with Donald Rumsfeld tearfully admitting on “The View” that “the whole torture thing wasn’t such a good idea” (as reported in another mock NYT article)?

Are we intimidated by the prospect of confronting a powerful insurance lobby? Is the stumbling block the “socialized medicine” label that opponents are quick to throw around?

I’ll confess one other thing: the article left me feeling energized in a surprising way.  For a moment, I felt what it would be like to learn that Congress had taken a genuinely groundbreaking step to ensure that no one falls between the cracks. That the right to health care would finally be something people enjoy and not just hear about in debates. That 18,000 people wouldn’t die that year because they couldn’t afford care. That hundreds of billions of dollars wouldn’t be diverted from health care to administration while policymakers talk about having to make hard choices about who can be covered. And that hundreds of thousands of people wouldn’t be forced into bankruptcy or homelessness by crushing medical bills.

So what do you think? Can we make universal healthcare a reality in the United States?

Learn more about what activists in the U.S. are doing to bring about universal healthcare:


Health Care for America Now


Human Right to Health Care