The Political Imperative of Universal Healthcare

Universal Healthcare: A Moral Obligation, An Economic Necessity and A Political Imperative

Since 1948 the progressive wing of the Democratic party has fought for universal healthcare largely from the standpoint that it is a moral obligation of the modern state to provide for the general welfare of its citizens and moreover that it makes economic sense to enact it.  Harvard economists David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler have estimated the bureaucratic waste from private medical insurance is some $350 billion per year, or just under 2% of GDP. On these merits alone, enacting universal healthcare is worth it. But there's another reason to enact healthcare reform, it is a political imperative. The GOP is deathly scared of it and for good reason--enacting healthcare may just lead to the demise, or perhaps at the very least the long-term political irrelevance, of the Republican party.

"If the Democrats succeed in redistributing economic power, we're screwed."

I say, let's screw them then. After all, they have screwed us long enough. The truth is that I haven't read Tom Daschle's book but now I feel I must for it seems its contents are sounding a clarion call among Republicans to wage jihad against Obamacare as once they waged it against Hillarycare. The particulars of their crusade don't really matter, only that it is a threat not to the American way of life, though they do claim that taking care to insert the word "socialized" at every opportunity, but rather that enacting universal healthcare is a threat to the political viability of the GOP.  Thomas Frank in the Wall Street Journal and James Pethokoukis of US News & World Report have already penned alarms.

Now Philip Klein of the The American Spectator has written another, this one on Obama's and Daschle's incremental approach towards a single-payer system. The funny thing is that I don't disagree with the assessment of the long road approach. Incrementalism may actually work and achieve universal healthcare.

Let's be fair: Barack Obama and Tom Daschle will not attempt to immediately impose socialized health care on America.

Instead, they'll just take us along the scenic route.

With the appointment of former Senate Majority Leader Daschle to be his new Secretary of Health and Human Services as well as the head of his new White House Office of Health Reform, Obama has sent a clear signal that health care will be a top priority of the new administration. Daschle combines vast legislative experience with a passion for health care, as well as first-hand knowledge of how the Clinton administration bungled the last serious push for universal health care in 1993.

Liberals, for good reason, believe that the wind is at their backs this time around. Democrats won the White House, took control of both chambers of Congress and built a near filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; Americans are as fed up as ever with the current system; rising unemployment will expand the ranks of the uninsured; many businesses would welcome government taking over their rising health care costs; and even traditional opponents of universal health care, such as the insurance industry and the American Medical Association, have put out their own plans for reform.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint conceded Thursday that it would be an uphill battle. "Because of down economic times and the promise of free health care, I think we're in real danger of losing this," DeMint said.

The important thing to keep in mind over the next several months is that for all the talk Democrats will do about choice and public-private partnerships, the ultimate goal of any Obama-Daschle proposal will be to put America on the pathway to a single-payer health care system, which is a more academic way of describing a socialized system in which government is the sole purchaser of health care.

Hey, if the scenic route happens to takes the GOP off a cliff, I say let's do it. Even if it doesn't, we still get universal healthcare and that has been a dream deferred for far too long.

Tags: Healthcare, Republican Pary, Single-Payer System, Tom Daschle (all tags)



Re: The Political Imperative of Universal

We've got enough votes... but, it won't be for single payer or anything close...  It will be more like Hillarycare.  I think we can pull this off... we've learned a lot of lessons from 1993, and we have a lot more allies in the business community and even the insurance industry...  Things are much worse now in regards to health care... even McCain had to pitch his awful plan... so, something will get done...  Wyden's got 14 republicans aboard his convoluted plan.... If we can get a quarter of that, we're in good shape!

The leadership is bullish that we can get this thing passed as part of the stimulus package... They wouldn't be talking that way if they didn't have good odds that we can get something passed...

by LordMike 2008-12-18 07:58PM | 0 recs
you're absolutely right - there is no push for

universal healthcare from Obama and Daschle - that would take political courage which both have never shown, instead they'll push for some arcane, lousy and cheap health reform while trying to pass it as such. It's all very well explained on: ing_conclusion_obama_team_wants_healthca re

by suzieg 2008-12-18 10:10PM | 0 recs
Re: you're absolutely right - there is no push fo

Ah, the font of objectivity and insight that is Corrente...  No thanks, I'll pass.

by username 2008-12-19 03:53AM | 0 recs
What's wrong with Corrente? He's a democrat who

has a very good point of view - take off your blinders, you might learn something - Aren't you bored yet by the echo?

by suzieg 2008-12-19 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: What's wrong with Corrente? He's a democrat wh

Yeah, but the dumb paranoia doesn't do much for me, e.g.

* "What a crock. Whoever wrote this survey can take any response that does not conform and chuck it out of the final result."  Um, how does this makes it different from any other survey ever given?
* "You just gave the Obama team permission to get more propaganda and to ask you to fill out more skewed surveys with the answers the Obama team wants."  You say "propaganda," I say "information."  I've seen push-polls, and those questions aren't.

Lambert and vastleft are (usually) a waste of my time.

by username 2008-12-20 05:51AM | 0 recs
Yes, yes, I know

Correntewire is evil because some of us (prematurely) didn't like Obama's post-partisanship and some other elements of the 2008 campaign.

That's an excellent reason to dismiss citizen action that's trying to help bring single-payer universal healthcare to the United States!

by vastleft 2008-12-23 08:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes, yes, I know

No, it's tedious and unpleasant because it is nothing but constant and unfocused shrillness.  Have they moved on from Speechwriter-groping-cardboard-gate to Invocation-gate yet?  I can't imagine myself caring less about either, so I tend to ignore people who go red in the face and wave their arms about them.  There are plenty of things that matter in the world, and plenty of blogs that talk about them.

by username 2008-12-24 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes, yes, I know

So far, the list of Corrente's oxymoronically unfocused obsessions that don't float your progressive boat includes:

Healthcare (single payer)
Misogyny (Hillary-date-rape-in-effigy)
Homophobia (gay-bashing invocation speaker)

How about the the financial meltdown? Another ho-hum for you?

by vastleft 2008-12-25 01:20PM | 0 recs

On the issues: All the ones you mention deserve to be discussed.  Health care and the economic collapse matter a great deal; sexism and homophobia certainly exist, but should take a back seat to our more pressing and serious problems.


* Pegging a discussion of sexism to a joke picture with a cardboard cutout is dubious; calling it "date rape in effigy" is mind-blowingly clueless.  Why not use real examples?

* There shouldn't be an invocation or benediction at our inauguration anyways -- we have a secular government.  Given that they exist, I don't see a reason to pay them any mind.  Why not pay attention to actual policy rather than going apoplectic over this?

* On economics, I can read real economists (Krugman, Delong, Roubini, Reich, Bernstein, ...) rather than shrill amateurs.

* On healthcare, pretty much every progressive admits that some form of single payer is most efficient, but that politically we can't get there in one step.

But hey, everyone needs a place to blow off steam.  Some people shout at their TVs; others join the crypto-racist Cult of Hillary (NQ, PUMA); others rant and sputter about how things aren't progressive enough.  I just don't see why I should pay attention to them.

by username 2008-12-26 05:39AM | 0 recs
What's Wyden's convoluted plan?

I'm not familiar with Wyden's plan. Could you give me a brief description of it compared to Obama's plan or compared to single-payer?

by potus2020 2008-12-19 01:20AM | 0 recs
Re: What's Wyden's convoluted plan?

It's similar to Obama's in many respects, but it requires employers to directly compensate folk to buy health insurance at group rates... it's really unworkable and unenforceable.

by LordMike 2008-12-19 07:22AM | 0 recs
Re: What's Wyden's convoluted plan?

You can always look up info on a bill, and the speech made by the sponsor upon introducing it, on the THOMAS website.  The crux of Wyden's plan is like Romney's MA plan, which is basically the Republican plan as offered by the late John Chafee in 1993.  It expands the private insurance market and gives people money to buy their own insurance.  It's better if it's in groups than in the individual market, but it does nothing to address most of the problems in the system--profit, bureaucratic waste, quality, cost, minimum coverage requirements.  I think it was an effort to get something through a Congress with more Republicans in it to Bush's desk.  It's geared to be centrist and compromise-oriented.  Hardly the best we could do.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 12:09PM | 0 recs
We should be able to get something

We will likely have 59 Democratic senators, which is three more than we had in 1993.  I am very bullish.  

by Kent 2008-12-18 08:14PM | 0 recs
Three more, plus...

as obnoxious as our Democrats in congress can often times be, I think they're still of better quality than a lot of the Dems in the early 90's.

by potus2020 2008-12-19 01:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Three more, plus...

It helps that a lot less of them are from the deep south and are thus are more progressive.

by Quinton 2008-12-19 05:20AM | 0 recs
Re: We should be able to get something

We'll have 59 once Obama, Biden, Clinton, and Salazar are replaced, IF Franken wins.  We lost Lloyd Bentsen's seat in a June 1993 special election; I believe we had 57 before that.  But we do have fewer southern conservatives in the caucus now.  And it's not entirely inconceivable that a reasonable moderate like Olympia Snowe might vote our way on this.  I think the question is less whether Obama and Congress will move a health package and more what it will be/include.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 12:16PM | 0 recs
It's good for business

I'm always surprised that people don't make the arguement that it's good for business more often. How much would GM save? How much would other major companies save if they weren't paying into employee health care plans?

by carrieboberry 2008-12-19 12:24AM | 0 recs
Re: It's good for business

I think that will be a major part of selling the program this spring (or whenever it happens). At that point, the auto industry, for instance, will either be taken care of or will have failed. Either way, proponents of UHC can point to the auto bailout (or lack thereof) and say "If only we'd had universal health care when Clinton proposed it in the 90's or when Truman proposed it in the 40's, we never would have had to bailout the auto industry."

by potus2020 2008-12-19 01:23AM | 0 recs
it's such an obvious point

but don't expect the Chamber of Commerce types to clue in.

by desmoinesdem 2008-12-19 05:46AM | 0 recs
Re: It's good for business

Lee Iacocca was one of the big business proponents of universal health care last time around.  He came out for it around 1990.  I think a lot more business types understand this now than 15 years ago.

GM spends more money per car on employee health care than steel. (!)

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 12:21PM | 0 recs
Single Payer Not the Only Option

I want to clarify that universal health care is the goal, and single-payer is just one universal health care system you can have to get there.  I realize we've heard virtually no policy details on universal health care since 1994, so many people don't appreciate this distinction--but it's an important one.  We all know that every advanced nation except the US and maybe South Africa (?) has universal health care.  But as far as I know, Canada is the only one using single-payer.  There are almost as many possible systems as there are countries with universal health care.  Britain's system is different than Canada's (cheaper & fully socialized while Canadian providers and facilities are still private), which is different from Japan's, which is different from France's, which is different from Germany's, which is different from Sweden's...

Single payer is merely ONE choice.  Having lived in Canada, I can appreciate many of its benefits: simplicity, egalitarianism, removing the profit motive for necessary care.  But it also has its shortcomings: long waiting lines for some procedures, the highest per capita cost after the US, and a growing number of Canadians secretly coming to the US or illegally paying for private care because they can't get what they need quickly enough or with enough quality inside the system.  I'm not a health policy expert, but from the few systems I've looked at, the German/Dutch model seems best.  It is also universal but seems to guarantee a higher quality of care while containing costs more effectively (health care shouldn't be consuming 15% of our GDP; ideally it should be under 10%--we can't afford for health care to crowd out so much else in the economy).  It's not as simple though; it's a bit of a patchwork starting with employer-based coverage (the centerpiece is an employer mandate similar to what Clinton proposed 15 years ago) funded by payroll taxes, with pools added to cover kids, retirees, the unemployed, and those with disabilities or long term illness.

Don't get me wrong; the failure to provide universal health care is a stinging moral indictment of our political system AND a major hindrance to us economically.  What we have now is a disaster, and I would choose single-payer or any other universal system in a New York minute over the status quo.  But having the chance to enact universal health care also means having the opportunity and obligation to do it right.  We NEED universal health care.  We don't necessarily need it to be single-payer.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 11:40AM | 0 recs
Americans WANT "socialized medicine" 4/Americans_unsure_about_socialized_medi cine/UPI-99751203031877/

I hope Republicans wear the hell out of this phrase; it doesn't scare people anymore.  They think "socialized medicine"--even when defined overly broadly--would be better than what we have now!  

Fun facts: Our Medicare program is already the biggest single-payer health care system in the world.  But the VA health system is more socialized than Medicare; it's more like Britain's National Health Service.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Americans WANT "socialized medicine"

Any idea what percentage of people in America are already covered under medicare, medicaid, tri-care, the VA, s-chip, or similar state government programs? I bet it's a huge percentage already.

by Quinton 2008-12-19 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Americans WANT "socialized medicine"

That's a great question I don't have the answer to.  I'd check or  I know Medicare covers at least 40 million people, and they sure as hell don't want anyone cutting it or taking it away!  My 87 year old grandfather finds "socialized" medicine anethema, basically telling me why people like me shouldn't be insured, while he's enjoyed 22 years of publicly funded care.  I'm on Washington state's Basic Health plan myself.

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 03:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Americans WANT "socialized medicine"

Actually, about 60% of Americans are covered through employer-based insurance.  About 15% are uninsured.  So maybe around 25% of Americans are on some sort of public plan?

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-19 03:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Americans WANT "socialized medicine"

So at least 1 out of every 4 people is already in a public plan? That's amazing if you think about it and it's also a good start.

by Quinton 2008-12-19 09:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Americans WANT "socialized medicine"

18% of Americans under 65: B_09a-2008.pdf

by Sandwich Repairman 2008-12-20 10:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Americans WANT "socialized medicine"

And it seems that 39 million people are on medicare, which is another 13% of the population. That's a total of 32% all up. Almost 1 in 3 people in America. That's huge.

by Quinton 2008-12-20 05:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Universal Healthcare

Himmelstein and Woolhandler are not economists -- they are docs @ Harvard Medical School and at Cambridge. (I was reminded of this by a reader when I uncritically quoted this post at our blog.)

by Charley on the MTA 2008-12-20 08:05AM | 0 recs


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