easy to forget that President Jimmy Carter tried but failed
to get a national health program, even though Democrats controlled
both houses of Congress. Sixteen years later, President Bill
Clinton waltzed into the Oval Office with a Democratic majority
in both houses and put his wife in charge of creating a health-care
program. Opponents of the plan derided and demolished it so
thoroughly that the idea of government- sponsored health care
was never mentioned again. Until now.
Now it’s déjà vu all over again! But wait, President Obama
said it’s different this time. He’s invited all sorts
of people to come to the health-care bargaining table. And
he was especially happy to welcome Karen Ignagni of America’s
Health Insurance Plans, the group that ran the misleading
“Harry and Louise” advertisements that helped destroy the
Clinton plan. Obama said he knew things were different when
Karen told him, “We want to work with you.”
that what the fox says to the chickens? The insurance companies
want to work with the president and Congress to make sure
that whatever health-care program emerges, the financing will
be run by insurance companies. They have never, ever worked
with anybody to reduce their profits.
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus and his Senate Finance Committee
have jurisdiction over major public health-insurance programs
and have been holding hearings. Like Obama, Sen. Baucus has
invited all sorts of people to come and testify: representatives
from pharmaceutical groups, insurance companies, HMOs and
the like. Oddly enough, the only people he’s forgotten to
invite are those who favor a single-payer system, a system
that has broad popular support.
Or maybe Baucus’ forgetfulness isn’t so odd. After all, at
last count, the senator had received a total of $3,902,785
from the health-insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies,
HMOs and the like.
As for Barack Obama, he believes it’s too late to construct
a single-payer health system. “People don’t have time to wait,”
Obama said. “They need relief now. So my attitude is let’s
build up the system we got. Let’s make it more efficient.
We may over time—as we make the system more efficient and
everybody’s covered—decide that there are other ways for us
to provide care more effectively.”
The “system we got” is commercial health insurance, and building
it up means getting everybody, one way or another, signed
onto a private health-insurance policy. And if it’s difficult
to change the system now, it will be near impossible to change
it when insurance companies have enrolled everybody in the
country, have hired even more employees, and have poured even
more money into Congress.
As for government health insurance, Max Baucus said, “That’s
an option. It’s on the table.” Yes, it’s on the table so it
can be embalmed and put away for a long, long time.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, the generally moderate Maine Republican,
said a bipartisan group on the Senate Finance Committee is
considering a delay of several years before thinking about
a “public option” health insurance plan. It’s no secret that
the health-insurance industry doesn’t want competition from
Big money-making insurance companies, such as Aetna, say they
would be at a disadvantage in a system that included government
health insurance that, in effect, offered Medicare’s lower
costs to anybody who signed up for it. And Medco Health Solutions
threatened that such a plan would undo the cooperative effort
to improve national health-care policy. By the way, Medco
spent $990,000 in the first quarter of this year lobbying
about health-care information technology, antitrust laws and
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD), which compares trends among 30 industrialized countries,
reports that the United States spends more per capita on health
care than any other nation; the cost is rising faster in the
United States than anywhere else; and a greater proportion
of the cost goes to administration than in any other country.
And yet, according to the Commonwealth Fund, we rank lowest
among industrialized countries “in preventing deaths through
use of timely and effective medical care.” The World Health
Organization says our health-care system rates 37th in the
world in terms of quality and fairness.
The health-care system now being patched together in Congress
has as its core principle that the government must not
provide health insurance and that everybody must be covered
by commercial health insurance. The bed wetters in Congress
fear anything like Medicare, but swoon over insurance companies.
It’s time they grew up.