Single-payer blues


If you missed Bill Moyers' Journal last night on health care reform, it's available online and it was an important discussion - the likes of which we don't get often enough in the public sphere.

Single-payer advocates Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Sidney Wolfe joined Moyers for a look at why single-payer possibilities just aren't on the table in Washington, aren't represented around the table of those making the plans, and aren't covered much by journalism.



MOYERS: I am puzzled as a journalist as to why this subject of single-payer, whether one is for it or against it, seems totally out of the debate in Washington. It's just not on the table. And it's not in the- on the radar screen of the press. Why do you think that is?

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE: I think the reason is, unfortunately, simple and frightening. Which is the power of the health insurance industry. Whereas, only about one out of 14 people trust the insurance industry as being honest and trustworthy.

BILL MOYERS: That's a poll?

DR. SIDNEY WOLFE: It's a Harris poll last fall. One out of 14 people think that the health insurance industry is honest and trustworthy. On the other hand, in Washington, they're in bed with the health insurance industry. Just as Wall Street and the banks have bought the Congress to get what they want in terms of the bailout, the health insurance industry has bought and influenced members of Congress and the President so much that they don't even consider the possibility of a plan that doesn't have a health insurance industry.

DR. DAVID HIMMELSTEIN: That's the big problem here is people want to find a solution that they can get through without a big fight with the insurance industry. Unfortunately it's economically and medically nonsensical - you can't actually have a health care program that works, if you keep the insurance industry alive.

Watch the entire program and/or read the entire transcript online. It's worth your effort to hear more about something you don't hear enough about these days.


To the contrary, the media are totally in the tank for single payer. At the recent conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists, the assumption was that "we all know that single payer is best for us." Just ask Trudy Lieberman, who promotes it at every opportunity. The frottage over single payer is so widespread within media circles that it is hardly worth remarking upon, except for its absence, as in this instance.
The question remains, do most Americans want to live in the country that David Himmelstein has in mind for them? Do Idaho, Texas and Alabama want to live in the future that Berkeley, Cambridge and Morningside Heights are devising?
These single-payer diehards persistently confuse the United States with Canada. The fact that many media professionals would be perfectly at home in the social-democratic mental architecture of France, Britain, or Sweden doesn't mean that the average American would be.

"Do most Americans want to live in the country that David Himmelstein has in mind for them?"

Yes, we do.

When single-payer is properly explained, not as scary "socialized medicine" or "government healthcare," but as a system that replaces the current patchwork of for-profit health-insurance companies with a universal, nationwide health insurance plan like Medicare, at least 59 percent of Americans favor it. Even when it's termed "socialized medicine" (which no one is calling for), most people still want it. (Poll results:

Patients want it. Doctors want it. Nurses want it.

The people who don't want it are part of the insurance industry, in bed with them, or complacent snobs who think, "I'll never have to worry about affording health care, and I don't care about anybody else."

As for the working media, they are mostly too engaged in frightened navel-gazing over the dying news industry to bother covering the 22,000 people dying each year because they have no health coverage, or the single-payer movement that's trying to save them.

Journalists, consider: When you get laid off and the COBRA runs out, where will you get health care? Maybe you should visit the emergency room at your local public hospital and see what it's like for those of us without insurance now. (I can tell you -- -- but go see for yourselves.)

Thank you, Gary, for this post.

As we watched the "free market" banking system fail under the care of outrageously paid executives, and as we watch the auto industry go down the same path, it boggles the mind that limits on executive compensation are not part of the discussion of health care options. To me, a single payer system would be best at addressing this. I fail to see why Americans in Idaho, Texas and Alabama particularly want to make a few insurance executives wealthy at the expense of everybody's basic health.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Gary Schwitzer published on May 23, 2009 10:02 AM.

Problems with news coverage of early release of ASCO abstracts was the previous entry in this blog.

More is not always better in medical imaging is the next entry in this blog.

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