Editorial: Times Union (Albany, NY), May 19th, 2009
Earlier this month, eight courageous doctors, lawyers and other activists interrupted a Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care reform to ask why there wasn’t one advocate of a single-payer health care system at the table. Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, had them arrested. Shame on Senator Baucus, and shame on Congress if it continues to stifle debate on one of the biggest issues facing this country.
To claim, as they have, that “everything is on the table” except a nationalized health insurance system, similar to what many other modern, industrial Western nations have, is much like saying the Thanksgiving meal is complete, except for the turkey.
We are not saying single-payer is necessarily the answer. We are saying that a full discussion of the future of health care in America can’t take place if all credible potential solutions aren’t examined.
We are mindful that there are powerful pressures on President Obama and Congress against discussing a government-run health care program – whether it is one that coexists with a private insurance market or one, like single-payer, that replaces it entirely. There are the inevitable charges from critics on the right of the S-word – socialism – at any hint of the government suggesting it could do a better job than the private sector.
And then there’s the vast and entrenched health care industry, looking to scuttle mere talk of a plan that might help the nation gain control of spiraling health care costs and provide decent, affordable coverage to the 50 million people without it. Hence its vague offer last week to trim an astounding $2 trillion in costs over 10 years. That the industry could shave $2 trillion, just like that, would seem to only hint at the excess there is in the current health care system.
And what exactly was this offer?
To trim future growth from a crushing 7 percent a year to a still-unsustainable 5.5 percent. And if costs grow faster anyway? Will we be told, well, it’s still less than it might have been?
We recognize that Democrats would want to avoid the more uncomfortable discussion. There are many – including New York’s own Sen. Charles Schumer – who agree a single-payer system is the solution America needs, but that it isn’t practical right now.
Well, if we can’t even discuss it now – when the country is in a recession and the ranks of the uninsured are growing; when major industries like automakers are buckling, in no small measure because of health care costs; when Americans are poised for change and the party that promised it is in power – then when?
Perhaps those who prefer to shy away from the uncomfortable yet absolutely necessary discussion could take courage from 75 members of Congress, including 10 from New York – among them freshman Democrat Paul Tonko of Amsterdam – who signed on to Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s single-payer bill. Or from the people who earlier this month, at the risk of arrest, went to Washington to say what they thought was best for the nation.
We’d like to imagine we sent our representatives there for the same reason.
Congress shut down debate on a single-payer health care system before it even started.
A solution that many believe is the best for the nation needs to at least be discussed.