Surprisingly, many people still don’t know that America is the only country in the developed world without universal government-supported healthcare. We alone allow entire classes of citizens to simply fall through the cracks, for whom waiting for surgery is a non-issue and a single bad turn can wipe out the life savings, eat the house and leave you bankrupt. An astonishing number of Americans either cannot afford coverage or due to actuarial decisions by the insurance biz cannot find it at any cost.
In that light this rundown of western healthcare systems by a writer at Daily Kos is extremely interesting. Take the example of Taiwan:
Taiwan enacted its single-payer national health insurance program in 1995; in all estimates, it has been very successful. Taiwan enacted the program (from multiple insurance companies, like the United States) to the single-payer system with no measurable increase in costs, while insuring more than 8 million Taiwanese citizens who previously lacked insurance. While utilization did increase, its costs were largely offset by the enormous savings under single-payer. Taiwan also did not report any increase in queues or waits for services.
Huh. Taiwan must have some unique socioeconomic factors that prevented those rightwing doomsday scenarios from materializing, right? Actually I doubt it. If every developed country on Earth can provide a similar level of care to each citizen and for less money than we pay then odds are very good that we can do it too. Our problems simply aren’t that unique.
This blurb also deserves a mention:
The most highly-privatized system in Europe is probably Switzerland. Even there, private insurance companies are required by law to be nonprofit, their premiums, benefit structures and plans are set by the government, they are required to community-rate (i.e. they are not allowed to screen out the sick and deny them coverage, the fundamental way that U.S. insurance companies make money), and – get this – if one of them happens to enroll a healthier population and make more money, they have to give it away to the companies that made less.
Can you imagine U.S. health insurance companies being any more likely to go for that than for single-payer? They might as well go out of business! The idea that a system like that is going to make a proposal more “politically feasible” is totally ridiculous.
Democratic candidates should stop trying to get insurers on board with their healthcare plans. Really, just stop. It won’t happen. Smart politicians will follow Andy Stern’s lead and find potent allies whose business interests perfectly align with what we already want to do. Insurers will counterweight with fierce support for the Republicans, which for political reasons is exactly where I want them to be. Let the GOP define itself in favor of keeping huge sections of America just one emergency room visit away from bankruptcy, and we’ll see how many seats they pick up in ’08.