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Insurance Does Not Equal Health Care: Specious Arguments by 'Free-Market' Opponents of Colorado Single Payer Bill

05/25/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Paralysis around health care reform is exacerbated by specious rhetoric surrounding Single-Payer health care. Lazy media fail to look behind corrupted rhetoric, while corporate interests spin the debate to serve their bottom lines.

Media Blackout on Single-Payer Healthcare, a report by FAIR reveals that proponents of single-payer health care reform have been virtually shut out of the debate, despite polls showing strong public support - 59-to-32 over a privatized system in a New York Times/CBS survey (January 2009). In the week prior to President Obama's health summit, two of only three mentions of single-payer on TV outlets were by guests who strongly oppose it.

The Single-Payer discussion has been preempted - declared off the table by Congress before public discussion even begins, stifled by media blackouts, and dismissed without consideration as 'politically unfeasible' - shorthand for lack of political will to stand up to monied corporate lobbies.

So, with concerted opposition by the insurance lobby and Republicans, as well as heavy lobbying against the Colorado Guaranteed Health Care Act by Democratic Governor Bill Ritter, it is testament to strong grassroots support that a state bill to create a Single-Payer model of reform made it through 2 committees to a brief 1-1/2 hour window of debate on the House floor, where it ultimately fell short by 1 vote.

When Rep. John Kefalas introduced the Colorado Guaranteed Health Care Act (HB 1273) in February, he cited the unsustainable costs of private individual and small group insurances. Public insurances, too, experience higher costs as a result of privatization and multiple categories of coverage - e.g., Colorado Medicaid has approximately 20 different categories of coverage, each with different means testing, reauthorizations, etc., substantially increasing administrative costs and waiting lines. A universal single-risk-pool insurance billing system would streamline administrative costs for all.

The unsustainable U.S. for-profit health insurance bureaucracy regularly denies, delays or reneges on claims, often coming between doctor and patient. A proposal for systemic reform, HB 1273 would create a Health Care Authority, stipulating a two-year timeline for establishment of Single-Payer financing of health care in Colorado. The measure proposes guidelines for quality care, incentivizing best practices based on outcomes, addressing deteriorated primary care infrastructure, establishing educational incentives, and retraining displaced workers, etc.

In addition to 18% of Coloradans who are uninsured, Rep. Kefalas cited a Colorado University School of Medicine Report revealing that 36% of Coloradans are underinsured - many who delay seeking treatment, and fill the ranks of those experiencing 50% of personal bankruptcies due to large medical bills. With health care access compromised to over 50% of Coloradans, a Republican opponent of the bill asserted that "most health care problems have been solved," and that "80% of Coloradans are satisfied with their insurance," therefore not justifying major reform.

Aside from parallels drawn by Republicans to allegedly inferior Canadian and British health care (the documentary Sick Around the World counters that notion) and Rep. Spencer Swalm's obscure association of the bill with the former Soviet Union, opponents predictably invoked "free market" solutions, "competition" and "choice." Corrupted rhetoric from the right holds that people want "choice" of minimum benefit insurances, instead of the full choice of health care providers permitted by Single-Payer insurance. The bill's sponsor held that quality-centered health care would restore competition among providers, where it belongs, instead of among for-profit insurances.

There is willful cognitive dissonance among Republicans who deny the administrative savings with Single Payer insurance, and argue that providing comprehensive health care for all has driven up taxes inexorably in other countries, where people "cannot get the care they need" - unsupported by the facts. The U.S. averages twice the spending per capita on health care and has worse outcomes than other industrialized nations.

Allegations of "socialized medicine," "rationed care," and warnings that the bill would "open the floodgates to the world's sick," were leveled by a Colorado Springs Republican. Existing rationed care that renders many with minimal or no health care access, is facilely dismissed - as long as it affects others. One ultraconservative legislator has opposed universal health care, protesting, "I do not want to stand in long lines."

Seemingly counterintuitive, the more that have barrier-free access to necessary health care, the less cost and the better access for all. Rep. Amy Stephens further maintained that doctors would balk at having "to treat everybody" and would exit the state to make more money elsewhere.

An oft-used argument to foreclose debate around the Colorado Single-Payer bill by both the Democratic governor's office and Republicans has been the notion that the 208 Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform studied the Single Payer proposal in depth in 2007 and rejected it. Nevertheless, we who attended the 208 Commission meetings witnessed a swift dismissal, from the moment the Lewin Group presented its evaluation of the cost savings with the Single Payer plan - "That can't be!" exclaimed Commission Chair Bill Lindsay, an insurance broker. With no serious follow-up, the Commission early on dismissed the Single Payer proposal as"politically unfeasible." See Evaluation of the 208 Commission's Final Draft Recommendations.

Only 1 of 5 health care reform proposals evaluated by the Lewin Group for the Commission - the Colorado Health Services Single Payer model - demonstrated cost savings for businesses, families, providers, hospitals, and a net savings of $1.4 billion for the state, as well as the ability to provide comprehensive health care for all Coloradans. The Lewin findings mirrored those of more than 20 previous federal and state studies of the Single Payer model of health care reform.

The CHS proposal was met with an effective media blackout by Denver's large print media. Some Democrats continue to permit them to define the terms of the health care reform debate.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, "Americans do the right thing after exhausting all other possibilities," Rep. Kefalas cited the need for cost relief for businesses, families and providers, as well as Polls demonstrating that people want major health care reform, not more bandaids. Finally, he cited Nelson Mandela's statement: "Many things seem impossible until they are done."

The word from congressional leaders in Washington is that a Massachusetts-style Mandate is the preferred congressional model of health care reform. If so, U.S. health care will continue its downward spiral of rising costs and decreasing health care access. True economic recovery demands serious health care reform - not further capitulation to the insurance/pharmaceutical lobbies that wrote Medicare prescription drug reform for their own profit.