Single payer healthcare, not the Obama-Congress plan!

(Leaflet of the Seattle Communist Study Group for the health care reform rally of December 12, 2009)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. healthcare is the most expensive in the world except for East Timor. Yet in 2000 WHO ranked the U.S. health care system 37th in overall performance, 72nd by overall level of health, while life expectancy lags at 42nd in the world. Of the industrialized countries, the U.S. ranks 14th in preventing infant mortalities and last in preventing deaths through use of timely and effective medical care. Further, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year, while a 2009 Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health estimates 44,800 unnecessary deaths. And medical debt is the principal cause of personal bankruptcy.

This healthcare crisis for the masses of people has been brought about by the medicine-for-profit system, with private insurance only for those who can afford it.

Single payer insurance is the reasonable alternative

For those who really care about the health of the people, going over to "single-payer" national health insurance (such as in Canada) would be a giant step forward, as would a system like the National Health Service in Britain. Such a plan would be universal (provided that undocumented immigrants are included). Everyone would be in the same category rather than competing with one another. It would manage healthcare more efficiently than private insurance, and cut out the huge overhead and administrative costs of private insurance --- much of which is spent in order to deny benefits. It has proven in practice to provide better healthcare than the U.S. system of private insurance. And it would be simple.

But no, they give handouts to the insurance companies instead!

But the past months have shown just how little Obama and the politicians of his filibuster-proof Democrat-controlled Congress really care about the health of the people. The centerpiece of their legislation doesn't just maintain the private insurance system which is the problem, but would also fatten its profits by forcing everyone to buy insurance -- by law. (If someone can prove that they can't afford insurance the government would then subsidize payments to the insurance parasites.)

This is modeled after the Massachusetts Plan, a plan that hasn't provided universal coverage and left many people worse off than they were before. Just one of many examples: for Massachusetts to provide affordable private plans, the private plans are often so stingy that they may have a $2,000 deductible, to say nothing of the various co-pays. Thus, even though a person now has insurance, they often can't go to a doctor or get treatments because of these extras.(1)

The "public" option

Around this centerpiece, the politicians have for months been haggling over other features of the legislation, the most famous being the proposed public option. The latter sounds nice because it includes the word "public," but the problem is that this option was never intended to cover a large number of people. Moreover, the public option proponents have insisted that it would be run in the same way as a private insurance company, except maybe as a co-op. This would mean that it really wouldn't be that different from the private insurers.

The current Senate bill

Well, now the Senate (with Obama's approval) has dropped even the public option from its bill. In it's place are two other nice sounding provisions: 1) people age 55 to 64 would have the option of buying into Medicare, 2) millions of others would have the option of signing up for private plans sponsored by the federal employee health system, which members of Congress often belong to. The problem is that buying into Medicare would cost a working family about $7,600 a year, not counting deductibles and co-payments. And the federal employee health benefits plans are also costly, with the price of the most popular one going up 15 percent next year.

Other facts about this monstrously complex 2,074-page bill (without amendments!)(2):

Indeed, much of the entire legislative scheme is built around robbing some of the people to pay others, which works to pit them against each other. Behind this is the fact that while Obama has handed trillions of dollars to the Wall Street financial sharks, and nearly a trillion dollars to the Pentagon for purposes of defending the U.S. global empire, he demands that ensuring the health of the people be revenue-neutral: hence, squeeze Peter in order to pay Paul.

Winning universal healthcare requires a stern struggle of class against class

If Obama gets his way the Senate bill will now be compromised with the House bill (which still contains a miserable public option), with the progressive masses of people reduced to the role of rooting for maintaining the public option. And after passage of the finalized legislation the people are supposed to believe that this was the best that could be done, that the healthcare debate only comes along every few decades, and other rot.

Behind this is the fact that both the Democrats and Republicans not only represent the interests of the rich -- and the healthcare industry is a huge and profitable industry in this country -- but they're also stuck in free-market fundamentalism, i.e., all problems of the masses must be solved through the market. But these great free-market principles are bearing down on the working class -- causing suffering and death, and doubly bearing down on the poor and the minorities. The Massachusetts Plan was based on these principles, and it failed to solve the healthcare crisis of the masses. The Obama-Congressional copy of it will likewise fail the people.

Yet winning universal healthcare under a single payer or other national health plans has been done in other countries, and it can be done in this country! But life is showing that to achieve it means that a powerful movement independent of both the Democratic and Republican parties must be built up from below. Moreover, in the course of this struggle the role of various union leaders (and others) in prettifying Obama's gift to the big insurance companies, their whimpering that it's the best that we can hope for, and other sabotage of the struggle, must be exposed and opposed at every turn.

The leaders of both parties are pretending that the elephant in the room---a single payer national plan---is not there . . . while worrying over the profits of the healthcare industry. But for the masses of people the elephant very much remains in the room, and we must fight to release it. Healthcare is a right for all people!

(1) For more on the failed Massachusetts Plan see Massachusetts' Plan: A Failed Model for Health Care Reform Harvard Medical School Drs. Nardin, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler at

(2) Many of the facts in this section are taken from Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar's December 9 Associated Press reports.

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Last changed on December 14, 2009.