For now, I’ll keep posting my (brief) newsletters here. Apologies for those who come across it twice! You can signup for the newsletter here if interested: http://tinyletter.com/awgaffney
Dear PP Subscribers,
The Democratic primary race has intensified. Contests in Nevada and South Carolina are looming. The debate over single payer remains fierce.
The last few weeks have seen continued arguments from a spectrum of commentators as to why a Medicare-for-all program – like that proposed by the Sanders campaign – is untenable.
A number of overlapping lines of argument can be distinguished. First, it is frequently argued that the Sanders plan is poorly formulated and/or unrealistic given political conditions in Washington. Recently, for instance, Paul Starr in the American Prospect (headlined “The False Lure of the Sanders Single-Payer Plan”) argues that the Sanders proposal is “not a practical or carefully thought-out proposal.” Indeed, he sees the plan as an indictment of his overall campaign: it’s “a symbolic gesture, representative of the kind of socialism he supports.”
I addressed some of the earlier (and similar) liberal criticisms in an article published January 21 in US News & World Report, “Single Payer is Worth Fighting For.” I conclude:
The expansion of coverage achieved by the Affordable Care Act does not constitute a system of universal health care. Too many are uninsured and underinsured. Too many are squeezed by high deductibles, contend with “narrow networks” of doctors and hospitals, or face crushing medical bills and even bankruptcy. Single-payer is the best way to remedy these injustices while simultaneously controlling overall health spending.
I also chatted about some of these issues on the radio with Arnie Arnesan on WNHN 94.7, available here.
A second line is that single payer is simply not affordable – that the number don’t add up. For instance, in casting doubt on the seriousness of the Sanders’ single payer proposal, Starr relies on the widely-covered estimates of Kenneth Thorpe, an economist at Emory University. Vox covered Thorpe’s new estimates, which put the price of Sanders’ single payer proposal at nearly twice what his campaign has contended.
However, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler have clearly demonstrated the flawed assumptions behind these numbers in this detailed post at the Huffington Post, which is well worth reading. As they put it:
Thorpe’s analysis rests on several incorrect, and occasionally outlandish, assumptions. Moreover, it is at odds with analyses of the costs of single-payer programs that he produced in the past, which projected large savings from such reform […] In the past, Thorpe estimated that single-payer reform would lower health spending while covering all of the uninsured and upgrading coverage for the tens of millions who are currently underinsured. The facts on which those conclusions were based have not changed.
A third line admits the shortcomings of the current state of affairs in American health care, but suggests that the right way forward would be to expand towards universal coverage under the ACA – instead of pursuing the more fundamental change of single payer. I address this argument in an article published online Thursday in Jacobin, headlined “What Obamacare Can’t Do.” I turn to a country that has attempted to work towards “universal” coverage through a system of competing private insurers – the Netherlands – to demonstrate why this approach falls short, both from the perspective of cost and efficiency as well as that of equity.Regardless of the outcome of the primary, the campaign for single payer debate is far from over. The incremental reforms have already been accomplished – we now either move backwards or we move ahead.
Until the next sporadically timed newsletter,