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Ryan’s wrong — we need ‘Medicare for all’

The Nation, 5/18/11

By: John Nicholas
The Nation
May 18, 2011
 
House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan proposes to undermine the integrity of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, with an eye toward enriching the insurance companies that so generously fund his campaigns.

The American people are not amused. They have sent clear signals that they want to maintain Medicare and Medicaid.

Ryan’s town hall meetings in April featured noisy opposition in communities such as Milton and Kenosha, and tough questioning even in the most conservative communities of Walworth County. Likewise, Republican House members from Pennsylvania, Florida and other states got earfuls at their town meetings.

The protests at the meetings were just the tip of the iceberg of objection to the plan championed by Ryan, R-Janesville.

Polls show that roughly 80 percent of voters think it is a bad idea to try to balance the budget by gutting Medicare and Medicaid as Ryan proposes — with a scheme to force seniors to buy coverage from private, for-profit insurance companies that happen to be major contributors to his campaign fund. Overwhelming majorities say that they would prefer that Congress end tax cuts for wealthy Americans and reduce Pentagon spending before making any changes to Medicare and Medicaid.

And rightly so. Despite the battering they have taken from misguided and malicious policymakers, the Medicare and Medicaid programs still provide the rough outlines for a single-payer health care program that keep costs down while expanding access to prevention and treatment for millions of Americans.

So, instead of gutting Medicare, as Ryan proposes, why not expand on what works?

That’s what Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is proposing.

“The United States is the only major nation in the industrialized world that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people. Meanwhile, we spend about twice as much per capita on health care with worse results than others that spend far less,” Sanders explained recently as he announced plans to introduce the American Health Security Act of 2011, which would provide federal guidelines and strong minimum standards for states to administer single-payer health care programs. “It is time that we bring about a fundamental transformation of the American health care system. It is time for us to end private, for-profit participation in delivering basic coverage. It is time for the United States to provide a Medicare-for-all single-payer health coverage program.”

Sanders’ plan is the right response to the health care crisis in America — and any country where tens of millions of citizens lack health care coverage, where tends of millions more lack adequate coverage, and where costs are skyrocketing because of insurance company profiteering.

Don’t get the independent senator wrong. He voted for the health care reform legislation that passed Congress last year and was signed by President Obama. He even improved that legislation by fighting to include funding for public health programs and community clinics.

But Sanders also recognizes flaws in the 2010 reform — which, reformers note, keeps the for-profit private health insurance industry at the center of the U.S. health system. And the senator argues that the ultimate cure for what ails American health care is a “Medicare for all” approach that ends the profiteering and focuses on prevention and treatment of disease.
And he is not alone.

Congressman Jim McDermott, the Washington Democrat who has for two decades been one of the House’s steadiest backers of real health care reform, will introduce a parallel bill in that chamber. Says McDermott: “The (2010) health care law made big progress toward covering many more people and finding ways to lower cost. However, I think the best way to reduce costs and guarantee coverage for all is through a single-payer system like Medicare. This bill does just that — it builds on the new health care law by giving states the flexibility they need to go to a single-payer system of their own. It will also reduce costs, and Americans will be healthier.”

The Sanders-McDermott initiative in Washington comes as the Vermont legislature has taken steps to make the senator’s home state the first in the nation to develop what advocates describe as a state-based variation on the single-payer approach. Sanders applauds the move, and thinks it could serve as a national model. Others agree, while noting that Medicare provides another model.

Sanders and McDermott were joined at the announcement of their new “Medicare for all” push by Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO; Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United; and Greg Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers. All three groups are encouraging this fight for real reform.

“Providing a single standard of high-quality care for all is a priority for registered nurses, who have seen their abilities to act as patient advocates made more difficult as for-profit interests control more patient care decisions,” says Ross, whose union has been in the forefront of the fight for single-payer. “We commend Senator Sanders and Representative McDermott for their vision and passion to help registered nurses create a more just health care system through the American Health Security Act and applaud our brothers and sisters in labor for their support.”

Physicians for a National Health Program, the movement of doctors and medical students for real reform, welcomed the national legislation.

“At a time when the airwaves are filled with talk about cutting or even ending Medicare,” said Dr. Garrett Adams, PNHP president, “Senator Sanders has boldly stepped forward with the seemingly paradoxical proposition that the best way to financially strengthen the Medicare program is to upgrade it and expand it to cover everyone.”

John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com

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