Why Single-Payer Health Care Can’t Wait

Americans’ experience with employer-paid health benefits has been far from happy.

A steady stream of reporters from corporate news media outlets warmed things up at a frigid Camp Hope in Chicago last week, when CNN and the local affiliates of ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS all called at Drexel Park on day two of the 18-day vigil urging President-elect Obama to make good on his campaign pledges.

Universal, publicly funded health care was the theme, highlighted by a presentation from one of the nation’s top authorities on the subject, Dr. Quentin Young, MD.

For decades, Dr. Young has promoted the benefits of a Canadian-type, “single-payer” system like most of the world’s industrialized nations. Young’s office is in Hyde Park, the same venerable neighborhood where Camp Hope is pitched, a few short blocks from Barack Obama’s home. His partner in the practice has been Barack Obama’s personal physician since the Senator moved into the historic district a few years ago.

Young related that in Obama’s early years in politics, he used to say he was all for single-payer. Then in 2006, the Senator started to say he was still for it, but that it would never happen without a solid Democrat majority in Congress. Then during the presidential campaign, he said that because of America’s rich experience with employment-based insurance that option would be included in the mix of plans he supported.

The white-haired physician paused for a moment and added, “Well I can tell you as someone who has practiced medicine for decades, Americans may have experience with employment-related health benefits but it’s been far from a happy experience.”

Even though health insurance costs in the U.S. add $1200 or more to the price of a car produced here Young said, big employers like General Motors Corp., along with the Chambers of Commerce are opposed to single-payer insurance because “they’re trapped in ideological blinders and unable to see the issues clearly.” However, in Canada, he said, the Big Three automakers and the Canadian Auto Workers Union both say they like the system they have, even admitting when pressed that it gives Canadian industry an advantage.

“The power of corporations is incredibly strong. Take a look at the number of registered lobbyists

Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry) employs to sell its message to the U.S. House of Representatives: it has 675 registered lobbyists, plus staff, and there are 435 members of the House. ‘Hope and change.’ I like it,” Dr. Young said, “but I’d rather hear us talking about solidarity.”

Discussing some of the health care proposals under discussion, Dr. Young offered, “The ‘incremental’ plans put forth by some activists are idiotic. Every year companies try to off-load more of the cost of health benefits onto workers. I just hope that when Obama gets into office he quickly says ‘The situation is much worse than I thought. We need single-payer insurance now.’ What’s more likely, though,” Dr. Young observed, “is we will start hearing some baloney like, ‘Don’t worry, the public plan is so much better that it will eventually win out over the private one.’”

Continue reading this article by Mike Ferner at AlterNet.org


  1. James Swanson on January 13, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Jim Swanson, Los Altos, CA
    http://www.bushleagueofnations.com [for FREE download of entire book]

    I support single-payer universal health care, but it appears Congress won’t have the backbone to provide more than half a loaf.

    Truly progressive reform must meet the following two principals:

    1. America needs universal health care—not health insurance companies.

    2. American employers, both large and small, must be removed from the health care business, which will make them more competitive globally.

    What follows are excerpts from my new book, “The Bush League of Nations,” which you can download for free at http://www.bushleagueofnations.com.

    The United States is the only nation among the top 25 industrialized nations that does not provide health coverage for all its citizens. At the same time, America spends much more per capita on health care costs, almost 2.4 times the average of other industrialized nations ($5,267 per capita annually, versus $2,193.)

    America’s health care system is wasteful precisely because it is private. It is a private con game run by and for huge corporate interests.

    The privately milked health care system is structured to provide maximum returns for shareholders and wealthy industry executives who are not caregivers, while denying and delaying coverage, and passing around like “hot potatoes” those individuals most needing medical care.

    As a result, America spends more than $1,000 annually per capita—almost $400 billion annually—on administration and paperwork, while Canada, for example, spends less than one-third this amount on a per capita basis.

    America’s private health insurance companies spend billions each year on advertising and gaming the system. Patients and the actual caregivers—doctors, nurses and other staff—are forced to waste enormous time and money coping with the bureaucratic obstacles and paperwork of hundreds of different billing and reimbursement systems.

    Health insurance companies enjoy record profits, and their CEOs and other senior executives pocket exorbitant compensation. William McGuire, the CEO of UnitedHealth Group, received compensation totaling $124.8 million in 2005. Critics noted that his compensation of $124.8 million in 2005 could cover the total cost of medical care for an entire year for more than 33,000 average Americans.

    McGuire retired under pressure in October 2006 due to a pay and stock options scandal affecting UnitedHealth. An investigation determined that McGuire’s options to purchase 1.5 million shares had probably been “backdated” to increase their value. His stock option package has been reported to be worth $1.6 billion (imagine 1,600 piles of $1 million each.)

    This is many thousands of times what is paid to the most highly compensated executive in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is run more efficiently than America’s private health care system.

    The additional reported amount of $1.6 billion in stock options for McGuire could have paid the total cost of medical care for an entire year for 422,400 Americans.

    It has been the kiss of death for any political leader to push progressive reform because the corporate and political forces on the right kill the messenger and sidetrack any serious policy debate on the merits.

    This is why reform proposals proposed by congressional leaders keep insurance companies in the business of screwing America.

    Jim Swanson, Los Altos, CA
    http://www.bushleagueofnations.com [for FREE download of entire book]