Can healthcare as a human right and insurance companies co-exist?

Until now I’ve never found election debates sufficiently entertaining to actually watch them. They always seemed to bring out the worst in what otherwise might be perfectly decent human beings. But I must say I’m finding these Democratic debates compelling (if too long by half). A lot has to do with the political moment: Which of this smart, attractive, and wonderfully diverse lineup will be chosen to slay the dragon?

But I continue to be frustrated by the muddled state of the healthcare debate. I’m tired of hearing all the quibbling about “taking away” supposedly beloved company-sponsored healthcare from people who in polls are quite clear that while they may be happy to have some healthcare, don’t like the US healthcare system at all.

Or the endless repetition of the scary figure of 34 trillion dollars, as in “OK, you Medicare for All fans, how are you going to pay for it?” When the whole point is that we can’t afford the healthcare system we have now, in which most people continue to pay ridiculously high premiums and still have ridiculously high deductibles, 28 million of us are uninsured (up 2 million from year before because of GOP attempts to weaken Obamacare), and the whole system costs, by most estimates I’ve read, at least twice what any other country we compare ourselves with are paying.

If it’s 34 trillion, that incomprehensibly large figure, then we will be paying twice (or more) than that in premiums if we continue with the system we have.

Yes, of course, as with any other program we the people decide we want, taxes will go up, and not just for billionaires (who, we are told, will manage not to pay them anyway). But families will save thousands in premiums we wont be paying. Or so, as I understand it, goes the logic of single-payer: remove the for-profit insurance companies from the equation and enjoy, society-wide and individually, a substantial savings. That is, if we follow the same laws of economic nature governing other countries like Canada.

Warren does do herself a disfavor by insisting on her mantra that as President she wouldn’t sign a healthcare bill that costs the non-wealthy more money. I think that’s her way of saying that the premium-tax tradeoff will be favorable to the non-rich while avoiding having to admit that taxes will go up to support the program. But it’s confusing and seems disingenuous. Bernie made the clearest statement of the logic of Medicare for All, but it got lost in the shuffle. Only Bernie clearly says: yes, it’s expensive, until you look at what the country pays for healthcare now with insurance company middle men running the show.

And because that the simple logic of the premium-tax tradeoff has failed to take hold, David Brooks can, the morning after the debate, hammer away on the old, misleading refrain: “[Warren’s]10-year, $34 trillion health care plan isn’t paid for.” Even a progressive-sounding New York Times op-ed titled “ We don’t need to raise taxes to have ‘Medicare for all” (because it can be paid for with big cuts in the defense budget, a good idea all on its own), totally misses the point in implying that if it had to be paid for by taxes it wouldn’t work.

The litmus test on healthcare is a candidate’s answer to the question: Is healthcare a human right ( like other forms of basic security such as police, roads, clean water)? And not just a right for aging humans?

And if the answer is “yes, healthcare is a human right,” which I believe it has been for all or most of the Democratic candidates, and you, Pete, Amy, Joe, want to keep insurance companies in the game, how do you get them to provide care as a human right and still make their huge profits?

If Medicare for All is not the only program consistent with healthcare as a human right, please explain.


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