Recently Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis submitted dueling op-eds answering the question: “What should a federal health care bill include?”
Both agreed they should “work together.” Both agreed to “fix what’s broken.” Neither agreed with 60 percent of Americans who support Medicare-for-All.
Both offer the same expensive for-profit insurance schemes promising relief, but which bankrupts over 700,000 Americans each year paying for it.
And that’s not the worst effect.
CNBC reported that each year “about 56 million adults — more than 20 percent of the population between the ages of 19 and 64 — will still struggle with health-care related bills.”
Davis and Durbin rely on a myth: That market-based, for-profit health insurance will provide universal coverage while driving down costs. Providing health insurance isn’t as simple as, say, automobile insurance. We can’t junk our bodies and get a new one when the repairs exceed our budget.
Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow introduced the field of Healthcare Economics. In 1963 he explained that health services are a special case: “The failure of the market … has created [health care] institutions in which the usual assumptions of the market … are contradicted.” That’s Economese for “Free Markets” don’t work for health services.
In 2015, Arrow joined 266 economists recommending a universal health plan — such as Medicare-for-All — saying “I still find it better than any other system.”
The question then becomes: Will Obamacare lead us to universal health care with reasonable cost controls?
Durbin supports “fixing” Obamacare: “We have made Medicare and Social Security stronger over the years, we should act quickly … on a bipartisan basis …”
There are three problems with the senator’s logic.
One, while the public yearns for bipartisanship, it wasn’t used to pass either Medicare or Social Security. Both bills passed House congressional committees on straight party line votes. And when the bills reached the House floor, Republicans tried to send the legislation back to committee to die.
Think about it: The reason Americans pay twice as much for health care compared to other developed countries is that our $3.2 trillion health care industry owns both political parties. One party needs to break free and drive through legislative reforms. FDR did it with Social Security. LBJ did it with Medicare.
Two, Obamacare didn’t break free from market-based, for-profit insurance, as Social Security and Medicare did in the 1930s and 1960s. Obamacare relies on complicated state insurance exchanges and market competition, which confuses consumers and leads to skyrocketing premium increases.
Three, Obamacare is a “needs-based” program, which means most people pay for benefits that they will never receive and have little interest in making the program work. Medicare and SSI apply to every American regardless of financial status. Therefore, politicians know there’s hell to pay when failing to deliver as promised.
In the long term, there isn’t much difference between Durbin’s or Davis’ health care agendas: Both fail to meet universal coverage, or control costs, and will collapse, as Obamacare is doing now.
Instead, we need comprehensive reforms, as our employer-based insurance plans are failing as well.
Former Illinois U.S. Sen. Paul Douglas framed the issue this way: ” … instead of confining insurance to the aged for disabilities from which they are already suffering, it should be extended to include medical care for all ages. … The failure of the public and of the politicians to consider care for everyone in the 1950’s deflected our focus to care for the aged in the 60’s. This was appealing emotionally, but less productive for the future than medical care of the young.”
President Johnson reflected in his memoirs: “Forecasts of disaster continued right up to the day Medicare went in effect ,” LBJ remembered. “There were predictions that hospitals and doctors’ offices would be flooded with hordes of elderly patients … the system would collapse …”
President Johnson was asked whether he worried about the dire predictions. “No,” LBJ replied. “If a man can’t take that kind of chance, he doesn’t belong in public life.”
More than 55 million Americans are covered by Medicare — 2 million in Illinois — and Medicare enjoys 75 percent support among participants.
Democrats should make health reform the centerpiece of the 2018/2020 elections and allow the 60 percent of Americans supporting Medicare-for-All decide “what a federal bill should include.”
— Bill Edley is a former Democrat state representative and holds a Master’s in Economic History from the London School of Economics and Political Science.