19 February 2007

Challenging the Dems

That was then, this is now, but Steven Colbert continues to fiercely, relentlessly support a still-unappreciative Bush.

I missed Colbert's television explanation of Bush's health plan, but it translates well to print: "It’s so simple. Most people who can’t afford health insurance also are too poor to owe taxes. But if you give them a deduction from the taxes they don’t owe, they can use the money they’re not getting back from what they haven’t given to buy the health care they can’t afford."

Exactly. Cornell professor Robert Frank used the Colbert explanation as his lede in the NYT, following it up with a great challenge for the Democratic candidates to stop being sissies and come out for single-payer healthcare:
As health economists have long known, market incentives induce private insurers to spend vast sums to avoid people who may actually require health care. This problem is mitigated (though not eliminated) by employer-provided group policies. Because Mr. Bush’s proposal would steer people toward individual policies, it would actually strengthen the incentive to shun unhealthy people. Such people can now keep their insurance by not changing jobs. But no private company would want them as individual policyholders at a price anyone could afford.

That Mr. Bush’s proposal will not shrink the ranks of the uninsured is not its most serious problem. Far more troubling is its embrace of a system under which we spend more than twice as much on health care, on average, as the 21 countries in which life expectancy exceeds ours. American costs are so high in part because the reliance on private insurance multiplies administrative expenses, currently about 31 percent of total outlays...

If the single-payer system embraced by virtually all other developed countries is clearly the best solution, why doesn’t the United States adopt it? Some analysts concede its merits, but characterize it as either unaffordable or politically unrealistic. But why should a policy that promises better results for less money be considered a nonstarter?

There are two obstacles, which could both be overcome by intelligent political leadership. One is that the single-payer system would require additional tax revenue. In the current climate, that’s a tough political hurdle, to be sure. Yet how complicated would it be to explain to voters that because the single-payer plan would reduce costs substantially, every additional tax dollar would be offset by an even larger reduction in private insurance spending? Given that such a system is so much cheaper over all, calling it unaffordable makes no sense.

The second obstacle is opposition from private insurers, who would be understandably reluctant to abandon multibillion-dollar annual profit streams. Those who stand to lose from policy changes always battle harder than those who stand to gain — an asymmetry that is exaggerated when losses would be concentrated and gains diffuse. So, yes, the insurance industry would bitterly resist...

[F]orceful advocacy of the single-payer approach offers a golden opportunity for any serious presidential candidate. Voters are fed up with rising insurance costs and dwindling coverage...

Critics of the single-payer plan have long railed against the specter of socialized medicine, suggesting that it means being treated by government functionaries. Yet people who have experienced single-payer coverage firsthand seem unconcerned. When one of my sons needed surgery for a broken arm during a sabbatical in Paris, for example, the medical system we encountered was just as professional as the American one and far less bureaucratic. And in France, which spends half as much on health care as the United States and has more doctors and hospital beds per capita, everyone is covered.

We live in challenging times. Does a candidate who couldn’t persuade voters to embrace the single-payer approach deserve to be president?
Bravo. Are you listening, Hillary?

Obama? You there?

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