“First, we have to take back the White House, the Senate, and the House...” That was when Barack Obama said a single-payer healthcare system would be possible. The "we" was the Democratic Party - which today controls the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. But hold off the jubilation -- the single-payer health system was just thrown under the bus!
Public outrage has risen as people have watched trillions of public dollars handed to Wall Street, while services like healthcare become harder and harder to get for working families. A number of rallies and mobilizations for healthcare reform have been initiated by labor, community, and activist organizations in the last period.
No one doubts that healthcare in the United States has reached a crisis level. The U.S. has long stood alone among advanced industrial countries as the place where a health crisis can leave a family in financial ruin – even if they have health insurance.
The numbers paint a bleak picture:
- 47 million Americans lack insurance.
- By 2002, 18,000 people were dying every year due to lack of health insurance. Today, that figure has risen to 22,000.
- The number of uninsured increased 4.6% from 2005 to 2006; it has increased 22% since 2000.
- The number of underinsured rose 60% from 2003 to 2007, to 25 million.
- The percentage of people with employment-based health insurance dropped from 70% in 1987 to 62% in 2007.
- Nearly 40% of the uninsured are in households that earn $50,000 or more.
In today’s dire economic climate, healthcare is getting even farther out of reach for millions of people. Health benefits are attached to people’s jobs, and the newly unemployed are or will soon become the newly uninsured.
Many families report that unemployment benefits can hardly cover their mortgage and utility bills, let alone health insurance. Subsequently, many skip care when they need it.
A 2009 Deloitte Survey of Health Care Consumers shows 24% of those polled decided not to seek medical care when they were sick or injured. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that families relied on home remedies and over-the-counter medications, instead of going to the doctor, about 35% of the time, and they skipped visits to the dentist 34% of the time.
Meanwhile, the few public health clinics and hospitals - the only alternative for the poor and uninsured - have been steadily starved of funds, and the current shortfall in most states’ budgets means cuts in public services with devastating effects on patients.
It’s no wonder that public opinion has shifted dramatically in favor of healthcare reform. According to a 2008 survey published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 59% of physicians support a national health insurance program.
As for the public, a 2003 Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 62% preferred "a universal health insurance program, in which everybody is covered under a program like Medicare that's run by the government and financed by taxpayers."
The insurance industry and its paid mouthpieces in Washington demonize such reforms as “socialism” and “tax-and-spend” policies, but so far have failed to shake public support for radical reform.
President (Audacity of Hope) Obama has now declared the single-payer option “too disruptive” to the system. He and Congress are working hard to preserve the insurance industry’s stake in healthcare.
Whether or not a “public option” is finally accepted as a part of the system, the private insurers will work hard to marginalize and weaken it - and the public’s well-being will still have to compete with shareholders’ earnings. Workers, their families, small businesses, and students need to build a mass movement on the ground to declare healthcare a basic right for all. That’s real audacity.