In a way and with an emphasis never before seen in political discourse and debate in the U.S., the issue of healthcare reform has taken center stage as one of the top priorities among Democratic presidential candidates.
At every debate and every forum, at every town hall meeting and union hall gathering, the question comes up: What are your plans to reform our healthcare system?
Not surprisingly, every candidate has a plan. The kindest observation that can be made regarding those plans is that they reflect an acknowledgement by the candidates that something is terribly wrong and that something needs to be done to solve the problem. For the most part, they define the problem in terms of the 47 million Americans who are uninsured, the estimated 50 million Americans who are underinsured or the millions of others who are at risk of losing whatever insurance they have because of circumstances beyond their control, such as job loss or changes in employer-paid benefits.
Those candidates are wrong. What they see as the problem is merely a sad, sometimes tragic, litany of symptoms. The real problem, I submit, is that healthcare in the U.S. is delivered by a system that is controlled and directed by for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies whose financial prosperity depends on providing as little healthcare as possible. We can no longer treat healthcare as a marketplace commodity for sale to those who can afford it. We must recognize that the U.S. stands alone among major industrialized nations in its failure to ensure adequate healthcare for its citizens is the problem.
There is only one real solution for the problem, and that solution is to remove for-profit from the healthcare equation. And I am the only candidate who has proposed that solution.
House Resolution 676, introduced in January and co-authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and me, would establish a national, not-for-profit, single-payer insurance program that would cover all Americans for all necessary medical care. This bill, also known as the U.S. National Health Insurance Act, would provide coverage for prescription drugs, inpatient and outpatient care, primary and preventive care, emergency services, vision and dental care, mental health, home health, physical therapy, rehabilitation (including for substance abuse), chiropractic services and long-term care. There would be no premiums, no deductible and no copays.
The bill has 76 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and has been endorsed by the California Nurses Association, National Nurses Organizing Committee, Physicians for a National Health Program, hundreds of labor union locals, and a number of local and state governmental bodies across the country. It also is the only healthcare plan endorsed by filmmaker Michael Moore, whose courageous, landmark documentary Sicko was a blistering expose of the for-profit healthcare system in America.
HR 676 represents a fundamental change, not only in how healthcare is financed and delivered, but in our national philosophical and moral definition of what healthcare is: a basic right of the people in an enlightened society, and a social and moral obligation of the government to its citizens.
And it is eminently affordable.
We spend more than $2.2 trillion a year on our current for-profit healthcare system. More than 30 cents of every dollar go to cover costs and expenses that have nothing to do with delivering healthcare: profits, dividends, executive salaries, stock options, bonuses, advertising, marketing, paperwork, and a host of duplicative and redundant services among legions of separate, independent, for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Thats more than $660 billion per year that doesnt go directly to pay for healthcare.
Clearly, we are already paying for a national healthcare insurance system. Were just not getting it. Instead, were paying for a ridiculously inefficient and scandalously discriminatory patchwork system that prospers more and more only when it provides less and less care. Physicians, nurses and other medical professionals who are in the best position to collaborate with patients to make healthcare decisions are at the mercy of insurance companies profit-driven decisions.
At the same time, while other candidates assert with seemingly zealous rhetoric that their plans will help those tens of millions of Americans who are being denied coverage or are paying too much for it, they propose no fundamental change in the current system. Rather than removing for-profit insurance companies from the system, they propose subsidizing those companies as a means of reducing premiums and costs. Some propose incentives (subsidies) to employers to help cover employees healthcare costs. Some propose more aggressive negotiations with insurance and pharmaceutical companies to make coverage more affordable for more people.
But the seldom-spoken reality is that every plan except mine would keep the for-profit companies in place and in control. Every plan except mine would still leave millions of Americans uninsured or underinsured. Every plan except mine reflects an unwillingness to challenge the politically and financially powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries.
I am not afraid to challenge those interests. My campaign is not funded by them. My personal investment portfolio will not increase in value if the government begins pouring billions of dollars in subsidies into the for-profit healthcare industry. My loyalty and my commitment is to the American people. A universal, not-for-profit, single-payer health insurance plan for America is a moral and economic imperative. It is the No. 1 domestic policy issue, and reform requires more than rhetorical bandaging. It requires major surgery.