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Bill Moyers: How Can We Expect an Industry That Profits from Disease and Sickness to Police Itself?

The health care industry has spent $134 million on lobbying this year to keep its profits high and public health in the shadows.
 
 
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In 2003, a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told a local AFL-CIO meeting, “I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program.”

Single payer. Universal. That’s health coverage, like Medicare, but for everyone who wants it. Single payer eliminates insurance companies as pricey middlemen. The government pays care providers directly. It’s a system that polls consistently have shown the American people favoring by as much as two-to-one.

There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago: “All of you know we might 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.”

Fast forward six years. President Obama has everything he said was needed – Democrats in control of the executive branch and both chambers of Congress. So what’s happened to single payer?

A woman at his town hall meeting in New Mexico last week asked him exactly that. “If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense,” the President replied. “That's the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world.

“The only problem is that we're not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you've got this system that's already in place. We don't want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we're trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy.”

So the banks were too big to fail and now, apparently, health care is too big to fix, at least the way a majority of people indicate they would like it to be fixed, with a single payer option. President Obama favors a public health plan competing with the medical cartel that he hopes will create a real market that would bring down costs. But single payer has vanished from his radar.

Nor is single payer getting much coverage in the mainstream media. Barely a mention was given to the hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who came to Washington last week to protest the absence of official debate over single payer.

Is it the proverbial tree falling in the forest, making a noise that journalists can’t or won’t hear? Could the indifference of the press be because both the President of the United States and Congress have been avoiding single payer like, well, like the plague? As we see so often, government officials set the agenda by what they do and don’t talk about.

Instead, President Obama is looking for consensus, seeking peace among all the parties involved. Except for single payer advocates. At that big White House powwow in Washington last week, the President asked representatives of the health care business to reason together with him. “What's brought us all together today is a recognition that we can't continue down the same dangerous road we've been traveling for so many years,” he said, “ that costs are out of control; and that reform is not a luxury that can be postponed, but a necessity that cannot wait.”

They came, listened, made nice for the photo op and while they failed to participate in a hearty chorus of “Kumbaya,” they did promise to cut health care costs voluntarily over the next ten years. The press ate it up – and Mr. Obama was a happy man.

 
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