Thursday, June 18, 2009

Too bad single-payer isn't being considered

by Helen Thomas, SF Chronicle

A universal health-care system based on the single-payer model appears to be a bridge too far for politically attuned President Obama.

A single-payer system -- such as Medicare for everyone -- would solve the problem of out-of-control costs and would provide health care for all.

President Lyndon B. Johnson had the courage to weigh in with all his political clout to win passage of Medicare and Medicaid, star accomplishments of the Great Society.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt put all his chips on the table to win passage of the Social Security Act that makes the elderly more financially secure.

All around the world, governments have long made medical care available for their citizens. Why not us?

Obama clearly has no stomach for the political battle that any single-payer plan would ignite. So he's endorsed a step that would allow the government to provide health insurance coverage -- not health care -- to eligible people.

Such government-sponsored health insurance -- the so-called public-plan option -- is now being considered in Congress as it writes health-care reform legislation.

While the public-plan option gets full consideration in Congress, the single-payer model -- such as universal Medicare -- has been unwelcome at the White House or on Capitol Hill. It's too hot politically.

Even the public option faces a struggle. Believe it or not, opponents of that plan -- including many lawmakers beholden to the health-insurance industry -- are still using the bugaboo "socialism" scare word in an effort to intimidate would-be supporters.

Obama said part of the fierce opposition to health-care reform has been fueled "by some interest groups and lobbyists -- opposition that has used fear tactics to paint any effort to achieve reform as an attempt to, yes, socialize medicine."

He made it clear that his idea of health-care reform would allow patients to choose their own doctors and keep their own health plans. Somehow government bailouts have been more palatable for Wall Street plutocrats who happen to be broke and needy.

Obama, apparently fearing to be labeled a liberal, stressed in a speech to the AMA in Chicago this week that he does not favor socialized medicine. (We won't ask him whether he favors government- financed public schools, libraries, roads and parks, just to name a few examples of socialism in our midst.)

Some 47 million Americans are uninsured, many of them because some employers have dropped coverage in the economic downturn. Others lack insurance because pre-existing illnesses deny them access to private insurance. There also are millions with no way to pay for soaring health insurance payments because they have lost their jobs.

Nearly all Republicans and some moderate Democrats are opposed to any public-plan option. These are the same lawmakers who receive many government-provided perks including health insurance coverage.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, exemplified the dominant Republican viewpoint on the public option when he wrote in the newspaper Politico that as many as 119 million Americans "would shift from private coverage for the government plan" if one were created.

The Obama administration scoffs, contending that such an option would increase competitiveness and lower private-insurance costs.

In his remarks to the AMA, Obama warned against "scare tactics" and "fear mongering" by opponents of the public-plan option, which the president said it should be available to those who have no health insurance.

Obama also told the AMA that a "public option is not your enemy, it is your friend." He rejected the "illegitimate concern that's being put forward by those who are claiming that a public option is somehow a Trojan horse for a single payer system."

Obama should tear a page out of LBJ's vote-getting manual and shame the heartless opponents.

The health of all Americans is our business.

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