The stars do seem aligned for much needed change in the US healthcare system. But the organizations with a vested interest in the status quo, their lavishly funded lobbyists, and their tame Congressmen are going to do their damndest to make sure it does not happen.
The Boston Globe has an interesting article today: Held hostage by the health system. The article starts out by mentioning that the Senate Finance Committee (chaired by Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley) held a hearing earlier this month on healthcare reform and did not allow any advocates of a single-payer healthcare system to testify. And it is not as if there weren’t single-payer advocates ready and willing to speak. The Physicians for a National Health Program (which represents 16,000 doctors) asked the Committee to invite Dr. Marcia Angell (a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and a former Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine) to speak but the Committee decided to invite industry lobbyists instead.
As Dr. Angel points out, nearly every other developed country (e.g. Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, etc.) has some form of single-payer system. All pay less per capita than the US and all have better health statistics than the US. Surely, any debate on meaningful change in our healthcare system should include debate and discussion on single-payer systems. And equally surely, the only reason it isn’t being included is that it represents a financial threat to for-profit insurers, the pharmaceutical companies, and for-profit hospitals and they and their lobbyists will do whatever they can to steer debate and discussion away from single-payer options.
In addition to Dr. Angell’s Globe article (see link above), I would recommend checking out the PBS FrontLine program Sick Around the World which examines the single-payer health plans in Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, and Japan.
I run a small business and I currently get my healthcare through the local Chamber of Commerce. Inflation in the US has been running in the single digits for the last few years but each year the health insurance premiums go up by anything from 15% to 25%. There seems to be no real competition between the insurance companies on cost or benefits, no transparency (there are pages of fine print… “Oh, you thought you were covered”), and no real incentive on the part of the insurance companies to control cost.
The irony is that our current “free market” healthcare system is hurting the ability of US companies to compete globally. Healthcare costs are the fastest growing costs for US firms and are growing much faster than the comparable healthcare costs for their European and Asian competitors.