Thursday, August 13, 2009

Helen Thomas: Health Care For All

And who knows Washington better than Helen?

I covered the battle to create the Medicare system back in the 1960s. The cries of "socialized medicine" worked for years until President Lyndon B. Johnson rammed Medicare through Congress in 1965.

Johnson signed the Medicare legislation on former President Harry Truman’s desk in Independence, Mo. Truman had first proposed a health care program for the elderly back in the 1950s.

Truman, still feisty at age 81, was all smiles.

I remember a newsman went up to Johnson and told him "my mother thanks you." Johnson turned to him and said: "You should thank me," meaning Medicare would help families with the increasingly heavy financial burden of caring for seniors.

What kind of a country are we if we do not provide everyone with the excellent medical care that only some of us now receive?

I continue to think the so-called single payer system is the only answer to the nation’s obligation to make sure that no one lacks health care. Yes, single payer means a government-run health insurance program for all -- the prevailing system in Canada and in many nations in Europe.

At this point under the current employer-provided private health insurance system, 47 million Americans have no coverage and more are losing what they have every day through job loss in this devastating recession.

President Barack Obama is making a big mistake by ignoring the single-payer proposal.

Because the words "single payer" have been subjected to such pervasive demagoguery and misrepresentation, its polling numbers do not reflect how popular it really is.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month, 58 percent of Americans either strongly or somewhat favored a program to provide insurance "through an expanded, universal form of Medicare-for-all."

That’s basically the same as single payer. But once the same poll actually used the words "single payer" to describe the program, support dropped to 51 percent.

In 2003 before he became a U.S. senator from Illinois, Obama actually called himself a single-payer "proponent." But now that he is president, Obama has buckled to Republicans and conservative Blue Dog Democrats in pursuit of consensus. My question is if Congress passes a watered-down version of health care that doesn’t truly cover everyone, is the result worth it?

The president has given no hearing to the advocates of a single-payer system and neither has the media.

He also had worked out a deal with the drug manufacturers not to use the federal government’s massive bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices -- although now the White House appears to be having second thoughts.

Single payer works; it is not code for substandard medical care.

It’s understandable why the president has bent over backwards to appease Congress, having studied Hillary Clinton’s failure to touch base with key lawmakers in selling the program she drafted in her years as first lady. Her recommendations died on Capitol Hill, aided by the phony "Harry and Louise" television distractions.

President Obama should lay down markers for real health care reform -- meaning we all kick in to a national program instead of fattening the pocketbooks of the insurance financiers.

Instead, the president has given up on Medicare for all, calling single payer "impractical."

He still has time to do the right thing and nothing to lose.

Source: The Susquehanna Valley

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