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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

March 2, 2010

IGNORING THE HEALTHCARE CURE

ROBERT KUTNER, HUFFINGTON POST - In 2009, total health care costs increased to 17 percent of GDP, with escalating premiums eating into both corporate profits and worker take home pay. The consensus among the usual policy experts is that there is no good solution. The march of technology and demography will just continue to raise health costs.

But you can reach that conclusion only by ignoring how the rest of the club of affluent countries manages to insure everyone for 9 or 10 percent of GDP, and have a healthier and longer-lived population, to boot. They do it, of course, through universal, socialized insurance.

There is no single formula. The Canadians do it with a single payer system for the insurance part, but physicians are private. The Brits have an integrated National Health Service. The Germans achieve near-universal coverage through a system of nonprofit health insurance plans.

What every other nation has in common is that they have taken the commercialism out of their health systems. As a consequence, they can direct health spending to areas of medical need rather than letting the market direct health dollars to areas of greatest profit. And with everyone covered, they can use highly cost-effective strategies for prevention, wellness, and public health. That's how you cover everyone for ten percent of GDP.

Our one island of single-payer medicine, Medicare, is phenomenally popular -- so popular that the Republicans' most effective attack on the Obama plan is that it would divert some money from Medicare. The Republicans, on the one hand, fiercely attack "government-run health insurance," while on the other they defend Medicare (which they would just as soon privatize).

But most Democratic politicians and policy wonks behave as if the option of a national health plan simply did not exist. These blinders are the result of the immense power of the medical-pharmaceutical-insurance complex combined with a failure of political leadership. Sooner or later, mainstream politicians will stumble their way to some form of single payer because there are no good alternatives unless we want to spend half of our GDP on health care.


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