In his latest campaign, John Edwards has taken promising steps in an effort to burnish his credentials as an "economic populist" - as the New York Times put it - from his opening announcement in New Orleans' devastated 9th Ward to his regular visits to picket lines to his timetable for pulling our troops out of Iraq.
But his disappointing and shortsighted healthcare proposal shows he still has a long ways to go.
It's hard to open a newspaper today without seeing another pronouncement of a new coalition for "universal" health care or new legislative initiatives, from Capitol Hill to the state capitols.
But, with the notable exception of single payer bills, HR 676 in Congress, and SB 840 in California, virtually all of the proposals have a common thematic of expanding the role of an insurance industry already gorged on profits from denying needed care.
Sadly, Edwards has joined this camp with a "universal" healthcare plan that is neither universal nor populist.
In fact, the Edwards plan looks a lot like the healthcare plans being touted by other decidedly non-populist politicians including George Bush, Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, in addition to Hillary Clinton's dismal 1993 plan.
To sum it up, the Edwards plan is a soggy mix-and-match, including tax credits (from Bush), mandates on employers to provide benefits or pay to buy insurance (Schwarzenegger), requirements that individuals buy insurance (Romney and Schwarzenegger) and health market pools for purchasing insurance (Clinton, 1994).
Universal insurance means universally more profits for the industry that has gorged itself off the pain and suffering of others, mostly by denying them care. It is not, however, universal healthcare.
And, like the varied proposals by his political counterparts, the Edwards plan fails to crack down on insurance company premiums that from 2000 to 2005 rose by 73%.
Without controls on the ever-climbing premiums, the mandate that all individuals must buy health insurance which Edwards joins Schwarzenegger and Romney in demanding, looks like little more than criminalizing the uninsured and guaranteeing that many will end up with unaffordable, substandard plans.
Consider what more and more residents of Massachusetts and California are discovering about their much touted "universal" plans forcing everyone to buy insurance.
With no controls on premium costs, even many middle-income families will be squeezed into cut-rate, bare bones plans with deductibles of up to $10,000 per family, meaning many will end up paying most for most of their medical expenses out of their pocket on top of their premiums - or simply just forgo using their plans entirely.
If that sounds like a insurance CEO's dream come true, it is. As UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said of Schwarzenegger's plan, it's "an interesting set of proposals that represent real opportunities for our business." Presumably they'll soon look at the $1.2 billion in profits they amassed in the last quarter of 2006 as the lean years.
Another area in which Edwards falls down the same black hole as his political comrades in arms is an uncritical embrace of new technology in healthcare and promotion of so-called evidence based medicine, without any recognition of the serious dangers in both areas. Much of the new technology, for example, is being promoted to replace the professional judgment of caregivers with standardized protocols that fail to notice that humans are not widgets and every patient has individual health needs that computers and robots are not programmed to see.
Edwards does deserve some credit for proposing that at least one plan in each health market be a public program based on Medicare.
But, if a public program, as he implies, is more likely to assure affordable alternatives to the private insurance model, why get off in Chicago when your plane is going to New York?
Repeated polls have shown that wide majority of Americans want the US to move to a universal healthcare system that guarantees quality care for all patients "like Medicare."
A single-payer plan like Medicare is far simpler, more universal, and more comprehensive than Edwards' proposal or any other plans that are premised on the insurance industry which created our current healthcare nightmare by placing their profits ahead of quality, access, and affordability.
When it comes to healthcare, an issue that rightfully belongs at the center of his campaign, Edwards should step away from the policy wonks and the purveyors of realpolitik who are working feverishly to sabotage the only healthcare reform that will actually work.
We'd encourage Edwards to go back to the drawing board and rework his position to stand up to the insurance industry robber barons and support HR 676 and other single payer solutions, the real populist solution to our healthcare nightmare.