The need for a government-run single payer health care system

I have said before that while I voted and supported Obama against McCain, he is firmly committed to following the policies of the pro-war/pro-business elites that govern this country. No politician can get elected to high office otherwise.

Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than his attitude to single-payer health care. I have written extensively about this in the past and it is clear that a system like that of France provides the most cost effective means of providing high-quality health care to everyone without the incredibly expensive, burdensome, and bureaucratic system that we have in the US.

But although Obama talked a lot about providing access to health care to everyone, when he called a summit to be held yesterday (March 5, 2009) to discuss this serious problem and said that he wanted wide-ranging views on how to solve it, he deliberately excluded those who wanted the single payer system as part of the discussion. His key people on health care reform are those with ties to the parasitic health insurance industry. Hillary Clinton did the same thing with her earlier ill-fated efforts to reform the health care system.

Politicians and the health insurance industry like to call for ‘universal’ health insurance as long as all it requires is that the government mandate that everyone have private health insurance, because that would hugely increase their profits. This is why it is important for people to realize that ‘universal’ health care and ‘government-run single payer’ health care systems are not the same thing. The latter is far, far, better.

Obama initially did not want not even allow the views single payer advocates to be heard, even though one of the most senior members of his own party, Congressman John Conyers, has proposed House Bill 676 to establish just such a system. This is because almost the entire government is beholden to the health-drug-hospital lobbies and they are all fearful that when more people realize how much better a government-run single payer system is, they will demand it.
But the supporters of single-payer flooded the government with protests about this exclusion and at the very last minute, an invitation was extended to advocates of single payer. They invited Conyers and Dr. Oliver Fein, who is president of Physicians for a National Health Program, whose mission is to obtain a single payer system. As their site points out:

The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $7,129 per capita. Yet our system performs poorly in comparison and still leaves 47 million without health coverage and millions more inadequately covered.

This is because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

That illustrates why, as I said before, it is extremely important that the people who voted for Obama not cut him any slack at all and keep up the pressure on him, because the lobbies that dominate the government work 24/7 to keep the pressure on the politicians they buy so that they follow their dictates. Obama is no exception, however much his most ardent supporters might think he is different.

This success in gaining entry to the summit does not mean that single-payer is going to win out soon. The for-profit health care lobbies that make fortunes out of the sickness and misery of people have too much at stake and are still too powerful to be vanquished that easily. They are vampires, preying on people’s fears in order to preserve their profits, and it will take a lot to drive a stake through their hearts. What kind of mentality pays bonuses to employees if they can cancel the policies of sick people, and thus save the company money? And yet, in the for-profit health care system we have now, such a cruel policy is good business practice.

The present system has become so appalling that now even a majority of doctors want a single payer system, because they themselves are finding the current system dehumanizing, deprofessionalizing, and a bureaucratic nightmare.

The latest sign is a poll published recently in the Annals of Internal Medicine showing that 59 percent of U.S. doctors support a “single payer” plan that essentially eliminates the central role of private insurers. Most industrial societies — including nations as diverse as Taiwan, France, and Canada — have adopted universal health systems that provide health care to all citizens and permit them free choice of their doctors and hospitals. These plans are typically funded by a mix of general tax revenues and payroll taxes, and essential health-care is administered by nonprofit government agencies rather than private insurers.

There will be no real improvement in the health care system until the private, for-profit health insurance industries are removed from it. But the health insurance lobby is powerful and has huge access to the halls of government and the media. It will take a huge groundswell of popular sentiment to overcome it.

POST SCRIPT: How other countries did it

The US is the only major country without a government-run single-payer health system. Supporters of the present system self-servingly argue that switching over would cause huge disruptions and chaos. This article in the New Yorker describes how the single payer system was introduced in other industrialized countries, with minimal fuss and to great satisfaction.

The French health-care system has among the highest public-satisfaction levels of any major Western country; and, compared with Americans, the French have a higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality, more physicians, and lower costs. In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked it the best health-care system in the world. (The United States was ranked thirty-seventh.)


  1. Carla says

    Mano, it’s good to see that you continue to cover this important issue. According to a press release by the Physicians for a National Health Program, our calls and emails helped to get single-payer advocates into the healthcare summit, but the real kicker was the threat of a full-blown demonstration of doctors in their white coats, picketing the White House. That wasn’t the image the administration wanted associated with its “reform” efforts on the evening news. The full press release and a copy of Dr. Oliver Fein’s prepared remarks can be found at

  2. Packeryman says

    I support any effort to change the system we have with limitations. We need a single payer system, remove the insurance companies, they are parasites. Until their profits are removed we will never have a system that works right. I am afraid if we leave the insurance industry in we will never be able to cut cost and have the American people believe covering everybody will work. I think this is the dirty little secret the right wing nuts know and a mixture of private insurance and goverment plans will result in long term failure. We have to remove the parasites(third party) insurance companies an develop a single payer system. They know that will work. That is the reason for such resistance and the loss of tremendous profits for insurance companies. The reactionary Republican party wants status quo on healthcare because they know a healthcare plan that works will have them wandering in the political wilderness for the rest of their lifetime.

  3. says

    Health is fundamental to the preservation of all other individual rights. If one is sick in a hospital bed, they cannot be said to have equal opportunity or the ability to exercise free speech and religion. And, of course, one cannot pursue happiness if they are in a hospital bed. This is why health must be considered a basic human right.

    Universal health care protects healthy citizens from many health risks. If citizens have a right to be healthy, they are due some protections from the sickly. By providing for the sickly, government is helping protect the rights of the healthy.

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