The fight over healthcare reform enters a crucial phase this week. The Congressional committee charged with drafting legislation on reform is scheduled to start voting on Wednesday. President Obama made a major speech outlining his intentions to the American Medical Association, which has come out in opposition to important aspects of his proposed reforms, especially the so-called “public option.” And the Congressional Budget Office, the agency charged with reviewing the budgetary implications of proposed legislation, released a study on the likely outcomes of the leading Democratic plan. It wasn’t pretty.
As a report in the New York Times made clear, the administration’s “reform” proposals fail to do what any sort of legitimate reform should have as its two central goals: cost containment and universal coverage. The CBO estimates that establishing the Obama plan would cost a staggering $1 trillion over ten years, and would only cover a net total of 16 million people who currently lack insurance, leaving 36 million people uninsured by 2017.
Some Democrats have proposed introducing taxes on soft drinks and a value-added tax in order to raise the funds necessary to pay for the plan. But why spend an additional $1 trillion when we already spend far more on healthcare than every other industrialized country, with inferior health outcomes? Why resort to labyrinthine legislative schemes that don’t even accomplish the president’s stated goals for healthcare reform? The answers to these questions are obvious, of course. The private health insurance industry and the doctors’ lobby want to sabotage any effort at serious reform, and they have lined the pockets of politicians in both parties (including President Obama) to ensure that single-payer, or at least a legitimate public option that can possibly lead the way to single-payer, remains off the agenda. And Obama’s healthcare proposals once again point up the deeply conservative nature of his conciliatory approach to politics. The private insurers can’t be “brought to the table.” They must disappear, and the only way to do that is through the mobilization of public opinion (which clearly supports single-payer) and through conflict, something that Obama seems congenitally allergic to.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that any sort of healthcare “reform” that comes out of Congress this year is going to be so mutilated by the corporate-dominated legislative process that we’ll wind up with a healthcare system that’s even worse than the one that we have now. Advocates of real universal healthcare need to draw a line in the sand, oppose Obamacare, and continue to organize for single-payer.
For more information on single-payer health insurance, see Physicians for a National Health Program.