By Joe Rutherford
JACKSON – Senior Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in a recent column sounded gung- ho for medical care reform. President Obama is gung-ho for medical care reform. So the two should be on the same page to solve the nation’s most crying social need – the 46 million Americans who now have no health care coverage. Right?
Well, not exactly. When Thad talks about the need for a system that promotes wellness and prevention, and guaranteeing access to coverage for all Americans, it sounds like a Cochran-Obama marriage made in heaven.
But then Thad gets down to the guts of how he wants to reform health care and the words “government-run” and “single-payer” spill out as dangers to be guarded against. There, of course, the Cochran-Obama marriage ends. The president, now in an all-out push to pass a health care package, doesn’t give top billing to a government health insurance plan. However, he proposes government health insurance as an option for Americans to choose rather than private insurance.
Some Obama backers are not happy about his medical reform package, because they believe there can be no fundamental reform unless profit-based insurance is taken out of health care coverage. They also argue that without serious cost control, reform will be toothless.
Franklin D. Roosevelt first advocated universal health care in the 1930s but was thwarted by Republicans. Again, in the 1950s Democrat Harry Truman unsuccessfully tried to install universal access to health care coverage. And, in 1993 we all remember the relentless “Harry and Louise” health care industry ad campaign, that, with GOP help, blocked Bill Clinton’s attempt to reform health care.
Ironically, citizens of the U.S. now spend twice as much for health care as other countries, and, yet, we are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide universal health care to its citizens.
No less than Mississippi’s Dr. John D. Bower, the pioneer in building and placing kidney dialysis units across the state, is a strong advocate for a national single-payer health insurance plan. He’s convinced that is the best way to provide affordable, comprehensive coverage for all Americans.
Bower scoffs at the usual charge that any government-run health care plan is “socialized medicine.” If that were so, he charges, “we already have socialized medicine working well for millions of veterans receiving health care from the Veterans Administration (this writer one of them) and to a large extent in the Medicare program.”
Opposition that has blocked enactment of universal health care over the years is not just confined to the powerful health insurance and pharmaceutical industry lobbies, Bower says, but also Congress itself.
“The Congress has been bought,” Bower contends.
He cites that members of the Senate Finance committee headed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana) that is considering the Obama health care reform bill have received $13 million in campaign contributions from the health care industry. “And Baucus himself.” Bower said, “has gotten over $500,000.”
Last year in an op-ed piece in The Clarion-Ledger, Bower wrote that “a single-payer reform could realize administrative savings of more than $300 billion annually – more than enough to cover the uninsured and eliminate co-payments for all Americans.” Further, he emphasizes, it would slow the rapid cost increases in the present system.
Bower points to statistics developed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) that show 62.1 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007 were linked to medical bills or illness. “What’s striking is that three-fourths of them had health insurance,” he adds.
“The reason private insurance companies fight any kind of government insurance is that they are afraid of the competition and also want to keep denying coverage of anyone with pre-existing medical conditions,” Bower asserted.
One surprise discovery I made in digging into the medical care reform: most doctors now no longer belong to the American Medical Association, the goliath Washington lobby that had a leading role in blocking universal health coverage for many years and even opposed Medicare and Medicaid, now accepted as American staples.
Bower says he has tried three times to get the Mississippi Medical Association to merely consider resolutions recognizing that “eventually the nation is going to have a single-pay medical program and that we should help design it.” Not surprisingly, he failed. Imagine what Obama faces.
Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. His address is Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215. Send e-mails to Minor through firstname.lastname@example.org.