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Obama for Single-Payer Before He Was Against It

By David Sirota for AlterNet

How Political Elites Have Made Single Payer “Politically Impossible”

In light of the White House’s big hand-holding session today with the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries today, let me take this moment to note that a cynic – or, perhaps, a realist – might look at President Obama’s statements on health care and see a politician moving farther and farther away from his progressive roots and closer and closer to the Washington/money Establishment.

In 2003, Obama said he supports a single-payer health care system, and that the only reason we “may not get there immiediately” is “because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House” – which, of course, we have:

“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program…I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.” – Barack Obama, 2003

In 2006, I spent a day with Obama in the U.S. Senate, and he said he supports a “debate” on single-payer, but that he also bad started to have his doubts, now that he was in the Senate:

I asked him to give me some specific examples of what he meant. Is a proposal to convert America’s healthcare system to one in which the government is the single payer for all services revolutionary or reformist? “Anything that Canada does can’t be entirely revolutionary-it’s Canada,” Obama joked. “When I drive through Toronto, it doesn’t look like a bunch of Maoists.” Even so, Obama said that although he “would not shy away from a debate about single-payer,” right now he is “not convinced that it is the best way to achieve universal healthcare.”

By last week, it became clear that Obama and his allies in Congress will use their legislative leverage to prevent even a debate about single payer. Here’s the Associated Press: “Baucus and many others, including President Barack Obama, say single-payer is not practical or politically feasible.”

“Everything is on the table with the single exception of single-payer,” Baucus said.

My guess is that Obama still believes in what he originally says, because he knows the evidence about the supremacy of a single-payer system is irrefutable. But I’m also guessing that he’s afraid of being attacked by moneyed interests that enjoy the status quo, and he’s surrounded himself by Clintonites who, after the health care debacle of the early 1990s, aren’t interested in antagonizing the insurance industry.

However, let me just echo Ta-Neishi Coates who recently wrote that “while a good politician accomplishes what is possible, a great one expands the realm of possibility – he doesn’t simply accept the lines of argument as they’re drawn and hew to the side with the most soldiers, he tries to redraw those lines to benefit his ideals.”

The whole idea that single payer is the best option but politically “impossible” is simply unacceptable. Last I checked, electing an African American president was politically “impossible”…until Barack Obama went ahead and got himself elected president. The entire notion of “politically possible” and “politically impossible” is a canard that justifies the status quo. So while it’s certainly terrific that Obama is fighting for some sort of universal health care system, and one with a public option (which could ultimately become a single-payer system), let’s just remember: Nothing has been politically “possible” until it actually happened – and so if that’s the major argument against single payer, it’s not just a poor argument, it’s a fraud.

Comments

11 Responses to “Obama for Single-Payer Before He Was Against It”
  1. MaineBob says:

    AND here is this AP story from earlier today:
    http://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_12369452

    RIO RANCHO, N.M. — President Barack Obama says if he were building the health care system from scratch, a single-payer system would be the best approach. But he says his goal is to improve the current system.

    Responding to a question at a town hall-style meeting in New Mexico today, Obama said he expects a plan from Congress by the August recess that will be a “vast improvement” over the current system.

    Obama was asked why a “single payer” plan — where the government makes payments directly to medical care providers — isn’t on the table.

    He said the nation has a tradition of employer-based health care using private insurance companies, and that a lot of people are satisfied with it.

    Congressional leaders have said a single-payer plan is politically impractical.
    ==========
    I am very disappointed…. Is it Possible to find More “Lot of people” who are *NOT* satisfied until we get Single Payer. THis just seems so common sense to have Single Payer.

    It is outrageous that people speaking for single-payer were shut out from congress. We need an obama style campaign to make this change with a majority of the people.

  2. lauren serven says:

    david

    as always you provide excellent talking points. things are only impossible until they are not. thanks for your work

  3. Eliza Jane Dodd says:

    Today in the Huffington Poast …Health Care Industry Says Heck NO Obama Over-Stated …They are NOT Bringing Health Care Costs Down ….Just the OPPOSITE ! They are going RISE even More to Keep Up with INFLATION ! I say we storm the Emergency rooms all over America and have a SIT DOWN and DONT MOVE ! Thats One Way to Get it in Our Presidents head ! And One Really Big Way to tell the Industry We Ant Going to Take it No MORE !!

  4. Time for Single Payer says:

    The health insurance companies are at it again. First, they said they’d end discrimination against women only on their terms – if all Americans were forced to buy health insurance and if there was no public option. Both terms would benefit the insurance companies and increase their profits while harming the rest of us, especially women. http://thenewagenda.net/2009/05/08/insurance-companies-tell-congress-you-sell-us-your-soul-well-end-discrimination/

    Now, the insurance companies are taking back their ‘promise’ to control costs. It affects their profits.

    Read about it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/health/policy/15health.html?_r=2&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

    It’s what we’ve known all along: we can’t trust the insurance industry with health care reform.

    Only a single-payer approach to healthcare reform will end the inhumanity of our failed healthcare insurance system, where profits are more important than patients’ health, and where people die because of it.

    Our fight against the insurance companies’ discrimination against women, and for equal access to healthcare for all, is about democracy, human rights, civil rights, and basic human decency.

    TAKE ACTION:

    1. ASK Obama to support Single Payer reform. Tell him it’s what the country wants and needs. We can’t afford not to have single-payer reform!

    COMMENT HERE: http://www.healthreform.gov/contact/index.html

    AND HERE: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

    CALL AND FAX: Phone: Comments: 202-456-1111;
Switchboard: 202-456-1414; FAX: 202-456-2461

    2. ASK your Senators to co-sponsor S 703, The American Health Security Act.

    3. ASK your Representative to co-sponsor HR 676, The United States National Health Insurance Act. (75 Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors so far).

    You can find your legislators’ contact information here: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

  5. care4all says:

    THE LATEST FIGURES:

    The health insurance companies have played a major role in our current healthcare crisis. They make huge profits and their CEOs make millions, while the rest of us are are subject to life-threatening insurance denials. The CEOs continue to make outrageous salaries, money that could provide healthcare for Americans.

    The Total Package: Health plan CEO compensation for 2008
    May 14, 2009

    Despite the trials and tribulations of the past year, the health insurance executives are still raking in MILLIONS of dollars at the end of the day. This is a look at some of the top total compensation packages from 2008 based on information gathered from the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission.

    1. Ron Williams, Aetna – $24.3 million

    2. H. Edward Hanway, CIGNA – $12.2 million

    3. Angela Braly, WellPoint – $9.8 million

    4. Dale Wolf, Coventry Health Care – $9 million

    5. Michael Neidorff, Centene – $8.8 million

    6. James Carlson, AMERIGROUP – $5.3 million

    7. Michael McCallister, Humana – $4.8 million

    8. Jay Gellert, Health Net – $4.4 million

    9. Richard Barasch, Universal American – $3.5 million

    10. Stephen Hemsley, UnitedHealth Group – $3.2 million

    – adapted from article by Dan Bowman
    http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/story/health-reform-legislation-due-july-31/2009-05-15

    Only a single-payer approach to healthcare reform will end the inhumanity of our failed healthcare insurance system, where profits are more important than patients’ health, and where people die because of it.

    Our fight for equal access to healthcare for all, is about democracy, human rights, civil rights, and basic human decency.

  6. Joy says:

    Truth is until we get bloody, there won’t be single payer. I’m not advocating violence, but believe violence is the inevitable conclusion to all this, regardless of what I say.

    Massive protests will begin popping up. Eventually a police chief will get gas-happy on a group with an asmatic or two, or a protester will bring a gun. This won’t be a one time incident. After the 3rd or 4th death or serious injury, the politicians will realize the threat of the mob. Then we will see what happens.

    We will either free or elected officials hands to finally make real headway towards single payer, on the theory that their lives and safety are more important than big pharma’s campaign contribution, or the USA will be under martial law. It all depends on the specifics of how it goes down, how the press spins it, and who actually has faith in the ideals of the constitution. Personally I think it will end well, as martial law is hard to impliment long term. They would have to keep it in place for years to be effective. It breeds insurgencies and homegrown militias, and thanks to voluntary enlistment, too many US soldiers come from the same mob they’d be sent to police with deadly force. And the international diplomatic and financial nightmare wouldn’t be pretty either.

    I take heart from the the experiences of the progressive era coming on the heels of the guilded age, and the new deal birthed from the aftermath of the roaring twenties. America always rights itself, but it takes bloodshed and civil chaos to do it, that whole ‘tree of liberty being refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants’ thing Thomas Jefferson went on about.

  7. Impra says:

    Obama should be selling healthcare as a benefit to business.

    Imagine if businesses didn’t have to provide health care.

    The savings. The paperwork reduction. If layoffs occur, employees are covered.

    For small businesses, they can hire away people who don’t have to be as concerned with benefits if they want to take a chance on a growing company.

    For startups, same thing. Just salary can be enough.

  8. Zeus says:

    Regarding: “However, let me just echo Ta-Neishi Coates who recently wrote that “while a good politician accomplishes what is possible, a great one expands the realm of possibility – he doesn’t simply accept the lines of argument as they’re drawn and hew to the side with the most soldiers, he tries to redraw those lines to benefit his ideals.”

    An even greater president, uses his ability to enlarge or expand the realm of possibility to inspire citizens and force the status quo into significant, non-token change. Obama does not seem to understand that pushing a progressive issue like single-payer will make it vastly more likely that any more moderate reform will look like a reasonable alternative. By lowering the bar he only signals he is willing to compromise down, rather than making the status quo compromise up.

  9. PolishKnight says:

    “if all Americans were forced to buy health insurance and if there was no public option. Both terms would benefit the insurance companies and increase their profits while harming the rest of us, especially women”

    I’m reminded of the punchline to the joke about the newspaper headline that the world is coming to an end: “World to end tomorrow! Women and minorities disproportionately affected!”

    Yeah, discrimination against women is bad. Discrimination against men, super duper!

    Thanks for the chuckle this morning folks. Your clear agenda of tryign to push working class men (including minority men) under the bus helps to keep just enough support going for corporate America going to scuttle or undermine your agenda. Tee hee.

    • junbolayog says:

      we’ve all known too well that politicians will think twice before earning the ire of two powerful political lobbyists in the US. the National Rifle Association and the health insurance companies. Politicians receive huge political campaign donations from these organizations. And these monied corporations will hire powerful lobbyists to defeat pres obama’s health care reform because the reform will surely cut on their big profits profoundly. If president obama and the democrats in the senate and congress are able to pass a legislation for a cheaper government health insurance option that does not deny those with medical condition and everyone will have health coverage, it would be a heroic gesture. good luck mr president.

  10. mary says:

    Before you all come out of your Obama induced coma, I will let you in on a little secret. Single payer which is Universal healthcare will make our taxes go sky high like England. Why do you think Europe has been hurting soo badly for many years. For God sake people they were ruling the world. They too devauled the dollar, industry left and they drowned their people in taxes to support healthcare. Now that our dollar has been devalued by 95% and the Chinese who basically own us now are laughing at all the debt that has been created in the last few months. Obama is nothing but an elitist who conned most of you on a worthless promise. Sorry, he is not a bro. This is the guy who just bailed out his big bro friends in GM’s Union and don’t forget about Fannie Mae and Freddie and all his banker friends. Ok you say he inherited this. Fair enough on some of the debt, but in his short time he has tripled our debt. Look at history people under Hyperinflation. What is all the hurry for Cap and Trade, Healthcare? To allow Americans to figure out what’s going on? Obama and Congress want to rush this all through so fast so later we won’t know what the hell hit us. Remember, the man is a politian, not GOD!