Guest editorial by Ernest A. Canning
With the backing of the AFL-CIO, National Nurses United, and the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) simultaneously introduced the American Health Security Act of 2011, a Medicare-for-All single-payer system.
The move triggered a "provocative, interesting discussion," as Sanders described it, during a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee hearing in the Senate last week in which the Vermont Senator squared off with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (see video below). Sanders and a physician-witness agreed that treating healthcare as a "right" is consistent with the Hippocratic Oath. For his part, Paul, a self-certified physician, claimed that the establishment of healthcare as a right would turn physicians and their staffs into slaves, with the possibility of police barging into their houses at night to arrest them. Paul's theory that medical care for all "enslaves" doctors and all of those who choose to work in their offices, would no doubt come as a surprise to many physicians who live comfortably in single-payer countries, like the wealthy UK physician interviewed by Michael Moore in Sicko!
Dr. Paul's remarks underscore the extent to which ideology has obscured a basic reality that the core problem is not the ability of American physicians to deliver quality healthcare, but the absurdity of a society which places a greater value on accumulating obscene wealth in the hands of the privileged few above the health and very lives of its citizens...
Inequality is hazardous to your health
The core issue was identified by Dr. Stephen Bezruchka during a Mar. 30, 2009, appearance on Democracy Now!:
An article posted at Senator Sanders' web site backs up that observation. It reads, in part:
Exposing the 'universal coverage' scams
As we previously observed in "Single-Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit,'" various so-called "universal coverage" schemes share two essential features: (1) they do not address the core problem, which is not a lack of coverage but the presence of parasites --- for-profit carriers and HMOs --- which are sucking up billions of health care dollars for profit instead of for care; (2) they provide the illusion of reform while reinforcing the corruption of the current dysfunctional system by providing subsidies that will find their way into the coffers of the unnecessary, profit-driven parasites.
This is true of both the "mandatory coverage" under the Obama healthcare plan and the Mitt Romney Massachusetts law on which it was based.
While Romney concedes that his plan is a liability within the radical right GOP because it uses tax dollars to subsidize "coverage" for the poor, the reality is that the plan saddles MA families with some of the highest coverage premiums in the nation.
In Feb. 2009 Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) revealed that "insurance" afforded the lower middle class carries such high deductibles that care is rendered unaffordable. One young diabetic Bostonian reported that, under the law, medical care consumes one-fourth of her take home pay.
A matter of democracy
In 2009, when I wrote "Single Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit,'" I noted that where opponents of single-payer healthcare system rail against paying taxes towards it, the PNHP reports that our taxes already pay for 60% of health care costs in the US. "Americans pay the highest health care taxes in the world. We pay for national health insurance, but don’t get it."
Back then, the PNHP calculated that 31% of the money we spend on healthcare goes to the parasitic middle-men --- for-profit carriers, their CEOs, and Wall Street investors --- as compared to administrative costs in single-payer countries of one to two percent. According to Sen. Sanders, over the past two years that number has swelled to 40%.
Whether we deal with matters of war and peace, the recent assaults on unions, voter suppression, or environmental degradation, at the core we find a fundamental dispute between plutocracy and democracy.
As the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis so eloquently observed, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
Video of debate between Senators Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul on 5/11/11 follows...
Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).