Talk of the healthcare crisis is playing an important role in the election debates. Nearly 45 million people in the U.S. don't have health insurance. Even those with health insurance can end up paying dearly. A Harvard study showed that half of personal bankruptcies were caused by medical expenses.
The problem isn't a lack of money being spent on healthcare. The U.S. spends almost twice as much on healthcare per capita as the average industrialized nation. However, the U.S. ranks near the bottom of industrialized nations in healthy life expectancy and infant mortality rates.
If so much money is being spent, why is it not translating into better care? Where is that money going? Unfortunately, the motivating factor behind the healthcare industry is not people's health but the profits of the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and the hospitals.
Not only does this suck up a lot of the money going into healthcare, but the U.S. healthcare crisis won’t be fundamentally fixed as long as profit is to be made by overcharging patients and Medicare (i.e. taxpayers), denying people with health problems coverage, not covering certain procedures, treating problems after they occur rather than promoting prevention, etc.
Healthcare is a right, not something to be denied to some people to make others richer. The profit motive needs to be taken out of healthcare. We need a free national single-payer universal healthcare system so everyone can get the care they need.
With the healthcare crisis on many people's minds, there is a lot of talk in the Democratic primaries for the 2008 elections about “universal coverage” or even “universal healthcare.” This sounds good, but what does it really mean?
Hillary Clinton's plan stresses expanding access to the private (including for-profit) health plans offered to federal employees (including congresspeople) through the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) while also offering people access to a Medicare-like plan, or letting people keep their current insurance while giving some a tax credit to help pay for it. Barack Obama also focuses on bringing more people into a FEHBP-like plan.
John Edwards wants to create regional “Health Care Markets” to allow a larger group of consumers to negotiate directly with insurance companies, with the aim of getting better deals. This plan would give businesses the option of joining in these “Health Care Markets” rather than negotiating with the insurance companies individually.
All of the plans put forward by the leading Democratic candidates focus on better regulating a private for-profit industry rather than eliminating the profit motive altogether. Edwards' and Clinton's plans would force people to buy insurance (in some cases with the help of tax credits), putting more money in the pockets of insurance companies.
The Democratic frontrunners' plans wouldn't take away insurance companies' authority to make decisions about which procedures get covered and which don't. Nor would they take away the insurance companies’ ability to raise prices.
Already, many people who have health insurance can't get necessary procedures or medications paid for by insurance companies and can't afford the cost themselves.
The Democrats' plans sound good to voters without really attacking the industry. However, solving the healthcare crisis would require taking the industry out of private hands, something that insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, etc. would fight against tooth-and-nail.
Perhaps the lack of willingness to do so on the part of the Democrats has to do with the money they've been receiving from the healthcare industry. Hospitals, drug makers, doctors, and insurers gave the Democratic presidential candidates about $6.5 million in 2007, of which Hillary Clinton has received the most and Barack Obama the second most. This is more than was given to Republican candidates (who received $4.7 million).
Of the few things that could potentially represent a step forward for working people in the Democrats’ plans, none are guaranteed to actually be put into practice if they get elected. In 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected he campaigned on a promise of creating a universal healthcare system.
Despite the Democrats controlling both the House and Senate in 1993 and 1994, Clinton failed to deliver on healthcare, caving to pressure from the health insurance companies. In fact, under Clinton the number of Americans without health insurance rose from 35 to 44 million, and part of Medicare (Part C) was opened up to private insurance companies.
It is clear from the first Clinton administration to the current proposals by Democratic frontrunners that the Democrats are not willing to stop taking million-dollar donations from big business and take them on to give us the healthcare we need.
If we want free single-payer healthcare for all, we won't get it by supporting the Democrats. We need to build a movement outside the Democratic Party and build independent anti-corporate, pro-healthcare campaigns to run in the coming presidential, congressional, and local elections in 2008.