On Tuesday, eight courageous activists stood up to Sen. Max Baucus and demanded that single-payer national health insurance be considered. The confrontation, which drew police to the chamber, occurred during a roundtable discussion on health reform held by the Senate Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs. This was one of the few times that single-payer has been covered in the mainstream press, and it's shameful it took something as dramatic as the arrest of physicians and other activists to make it newsworthy.
Baucus has taken the lead on shaping health reform legislation in the Senate this year, in part due to Sen. Ted Kennedy's ailing health, and he is arguably the most powerful Democrat in Congress on this issue. After the activists were removed by the Capitol Police, Baucus made a brief statement in which he said that "everybody in the Congress deeply deeply respects the views of all members of the audience, and all Americans who feel deeply about health care reform, especially those who are worried about a single-payer system or public option who really do fervently believe that is the proper result."
However, from the beginning Baucus has declared single-payer "off the table" and he has refused to allow even one single-payer supporter to testify before the Senate Finance Committee, even as the chief lobbyist for the private insurance industry and trade organizations that oppose fundamental reform made repeat appearances. The incongruity of Baucus' recent statement and his actions over the past year are almost Orwellian -- he will consider all opinions on health reform, except for single-payer, which, by the way, he deeply respects. The final roundtable discussion on health reform takes place next week, on May 12, and once again, no supporters of single-payer have been invited to participate.
The moons are aligned for health reform this year. We are in the midst of an economic recession that has exposed more clearly than ever the failure of our patchwork system of private health insurance, which has left nearly 50 million Americans without coverage and has driven the price of care beyond what millions of insured Americans can afford. Our president has made health reform a top legislative priority. Even the private insurers and their lobbyists concede that our current system is unsustainable and agree that the time for reform is now.
What a pity if we were to waste this opportunity to catch up to the rest of the industrialized world and create a national system of health insurance that covers everyone, comprehensively and equitably. We may not get another one for decades.