The Vermont Senate recently gave final approval by a 21-9 margin to a health care reform bill that would establish a single-payer health care system within the state, after a similar bill passed in the Vermont House of Representatives. The bill moves to a conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the proposal and eventually to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s desk, who has strongly supported the bill.
Legal hurdles will remain, although Vermont for Single Payer does not believe they will be impediments to enacting the bill. These include obtaining a waiver to opt out of the Affordable Care Act and passing a bill that would allow the opt-out to happen in 2014, rather than the 2017 date specified in that legislation, as well as circumventing laws that prohibit states from enacting legislation related to employee benefit plans.
The proposed single-payer plan would provide publicly financed, government-funded health care coverage for everyone and would be funded by broad-based taxes. It would also sever the ties in Vermont between employment and health care, putting no health insurance mandate on employers.
Advocates of single-payer health care should be prepared and ready for a full-fledged, no-holds-barred campaign from regional and national health insurers to prevent this bill from becoming law, not only because of the potential effect on profitability from losing the 625,000 Vermont residents’ health care premiums, but more importantly because those on all sides of the health care debate know the significance of the precedent this bill would set.
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It is still unclear whether the Vermont bill, if passed, would result in a France-like system where people receive basic public insurance, and tend to supplement it with additional private coverage, or another variation. We can be sure that the corporate interests that stand to lose money as a result of the bill will continue the campaigns seeking to influence public opinion against the single-payer health care tide.
As a former CIGNA vice president wrote in his book “Deadly Spin,” and expanded upon during an interview on “The David Pakman Show,” front groups created to spread anti-single-payer propaganda under the guise of being “independent” research organizations will likely be a part of the campaign to keep corporate profits at the forefront of the health care system for years to come.
Reminiscent of the front groups financed by cigarette companies years ago to convince restaurant and bar owners that smoking bans could hurt their business, the single-payer related front groups, many of which Wendell Potter points out are organized by the same public relations firms, will attempt the same tired tactics.
These include suggesting that single-payer health care represents a “government takeover” or “loss of freedom,” that care will become worse or less accessible, that government bureaucrats (instead of for-profit insurance companies) will make evil decisions about individuals’ health coverage, that health care costs will skyrocket and, of course, that the United States will be a socialist, Marxist, Communist country if single-payer health care becomes part of the national landscape.
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Hopefully, Vermont residents and all Americans will be able to find truth amidst the spin, lies, and misdirection, most of which is based on protecting corporate profits and the pro-corporate status quo.
The reality is that when it comes to access to care, even those with above-average incomes in the U.S. have worse access to care than those in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Unlike what you will hear parroted time and again, per capita health spending in the U.S. is significantly higher than in Germany, Canada, France, and countless other countries at similar development levels.
It’s also important to touch upon the often-heard idea that a single-payer health care system would be inefficient due to government involvement. The best barometer by which to judge that statement is Medicare, which spends a fraction of its budget on administration and bureaucracy compared to for-profit insurers.
On the whole, the Vermont single-payer health care bill, if it passes, would be a significant first step toward national single payer – in fact, the most significant step realistically on the table during my lifetime – in terms of the events it could set in motion.
This is made even more compelling by the fact that its source is a meme that has been associated with conservative politics and right-wing political action, namely “power of the states.” I argued on “The David Pakman Show” upon first hearing of this proposal that this was a brilliant example of progressive single-payer health care, the conservative way.
The natural question that leads from this is whether a state single-payer health care proposal could end up forcing conservatives to reconsider just how much power they want to leave to individual states.
David Pakman, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, “The David Pakman Show,” writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com