News & Politics

Paul Krugman: Why I Support Hillary's Vision for Health Care - Not Bernie's

In a blunt column, Krugman makes it clear which side he stands on.

Photo Credit: via YouTube

Paul Krugman takes up the difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders when it comes to healthcare reform in Monday's column. And he definitely takes a side: Hillary's.

This is probably not surprising since the columnist has been touting Obamacare for a long time. "Health reform is the signature achievement of the Obama presidency," he writes.  "It was the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare was established in the 1960s. It more or less achieves a goal — access to health insurance for all Americans — that progressives have been trying to reach for three generations. And it is already producing dramatic results, with the percentage of uninsured Americans falling to record lows."

Krugman admits that Obamacare is far from perfect, an awkward, imperfect solution that does not work for everyone. But he thinks it would be a mistake for Democrats to expend political capital refighting the battle that gave them their biggest victory in decades. Here's how he lays out his case:

If we could start from scratch, many, perhaps most, health economists would recommend single-payer, a Medicare-type program covering everyone. But single-payer wasn’t a politically feasible goal in America, for three big reasons that aren’t going away.

First, like it or not, incumbent players have a lot of power. Private insurers played a major part in killing health reform in the early 1990s, so this time around reformers went for a system that preserved their role and gave them plenty of new business.

Second, single-payer would require a lot of additional tax revenue — and we would be talking about taxes on the middle class, not just the wealthy. It’s true that higher taxes would be offset by a sharp reduction or even elimination of private insurance premiums, but it would be difficult to make that case to the broad public, especially given the chorus of misinformation you know would dominate the airwaves.

Finally, and I suspect most important, switching to single-payer would impose a lot of disruption on tens of millions of families who currently have good coverage through their employers. You might say that they would end up just as well off, and it might well be true for most people — although not those with especially good policies. But getting voters to believe that would be a very steep climb.

Bottom line for Krugman is that single-payer ain't gonna happen. Like it or not, the fact that Obamacare did not disrupt the millions of Americans who get health insurance through their employers gives it a leg up. Then there is the fact that taxes would have to be raised on the middle class to pay for it, as even Sanders acknowledges. And even though the middle class would not doubt save even more on their health insurance premiums, Krugman comes down on the side that higher taxes on them would not fly politically.

Krugman has an alternative agenda for the next, hopefully Democratic president: addressing climate change, restoring the rights of workers, making college affordable.

Plenty of work to do, that's for sure, and all with a completely recalcitrant Congress.

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