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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Public Option for Health Coverage: Socialism with Benefits!

PP notes that Tea Party organizers expect 10,000 people to join them in Sioux Falls to protest the "socialized Obama administration." (Maybe some of those doom criers would like to donate money to support the Karl Mundt Debate Tournament: Senator Mundt was big on the Red Scare, too.)

As we wait to hear an independent Tea Party headcount at the end of the day (maybe KSFY will send an intern to the fairgrounds with a hand clicker), let us remember that sometimes, socialism is the best way to allocate resources. In World War II, we socialized huge swaths of our economy (complete with rationing) to ensure we had the tanks, bombers, and fuel to beat the Axis (while our red-blooded socialist allies in Russia did much of the heavy lifting with Nazis occupying major portions of Soviet home turf). The Missouri River dams (one of which provided the setting for our family camping trip this week) brought socialist reallocation of resources to South Dakota (which Senator Mundt passionately fought for... now that's ironic!). Locally, Lake County continues to thrive on earmarks that redistribute wealth from richer parts of America.

When it comes to health insurance, those of us who support a real public option—i.e., single-payer, not-for-profit health insurance à la Canada—aren't asking for socialism of any greater scale than already exists in the status quo. As it is now, those of us who pay private health insurance premiums already see our money reallocated socialistically. Our premiums go up to cover losses from uninsured folks who show up in the emergency room and bankrupt folks who can't pay. In addition, we pay taxes to cover the poor, the elderly, and the millions of public servants (like Senator Tim Johnson) who get better public health coverage than I get under my private policy.

We also see our private insurance premiums reallocated rather less than socialistically. A big chunk of the money we pay Assurant, Aetna, et al. goes to pay a few executives who live high on the hog on the backs of the sick and afraid-to-get-sick. My wife forwards me a 2007 article finding that from 2000 to 2005, $14.9 billion ostensibly spent on health care was funneled to the pockets of just 23 people, the CEOs of 23 major health companies.

So suppose you have $14.9 billion to spend on health care over five years. Do you spend it to buy insurance for 300,000 families? Do you hire 15,000 doctors to tackle the shortage of practitioners in rural communities and Indian reservations? Or do you hand that cash to 23 guys who sit in offices and never stitch a cut or process a claim?

Here's where I turn socialist, not out of raving Redness, but out of a desire to get the most for my dollar. I'm tired of seeing my insurance dollars go toward such absurd executive pay and other overhead that doesn't fix a single broken bone. I'm sick of paying money to a for-profit entity that will use my money to pay lawyers to figure out tricky ways to deny me coverage when I need that health coverage the most. I want my money's worth... and in the broken-market world of health insurance, a public health coverage plan is the best way to get our money's worth.

Is a nationwide co-op of 300 million people all chipping in to the same pot to cover each others' medical bills socialism? Probably. But socialism would be an improvement over the current system. We taxpayers could keep covering the old and poor through Medicare and Medicaid and get ourselves more reliable coverage to boot. That sure beats the perverse socialism of reallocating wealth from the masses to 23 rich CEOs.

You Tea Partiers keep chanting ideology. The rest of us will keep looking for practical solutions.


  1. Yup Canada sure does have a great system, follow the link and judge for yourself.


    Tim Higgins

  2. But notice, Tim, that even the Fox News article that Boortz cites has a Canadian doctor saying "One can understand that this is evolving and a mix of private and public seems to be favorable in some context. On the other hand, we need to be really careful that we're not treating health care the way we treat a value meal at McDonalds." The U.S. plan evolving is about creating just such a mix, an affordable public option alongside the private insurers. I still say a full-tilt single-payer system would be better than the current system. Sure, I don't want to have to wait for my MRI for any reason, but I'd rather wait because there are other fellow citizens in line ahead of me rather than because the lawyers at the insurance company won't pay for it or won't let me go out of network. Note also that the article you cite talks about an MRI, not urgent/emergency care. Canadians still get better, fairer care... and note that the Fox article says Canadians spend $3600 per capita, half what we blow here in the United States of Medical Bankruptcy.

  3. People who say we don't have to wait under the current system are sadly mistaken.

    Even with employer-provided health insurance, I had to wait two weeks to find out whether my foot was broken. It was. Under our current system, my broken foot had no medical treatment during those two weeks of waiting.

  4. Searaven strikes me as one of the cruel people to post on this blog, with no attempt to be constructive. Apparently what anonymity brings.

  5. [In case anyone is confused, "Searaven," or "Tim S." is a pseudonymous commenter who declines to follow the comment policy.]


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