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Socialized Medicine and the State of the Union

Self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has officially proposed a Medicare For All Act, which is basically a socialized single-payer insurance scheme, and although it’s not likely to become law in the near future it’s nonetheless an ominous development.
The bill already has 15 Democratic Senators signed on, including several who are considered contenders for the party’s next presidential nomination, and all the polls confirm our anecdotal evidence from conversations at the local hipster bars that the party’s increasingly leftward base is enthusiastic for the idea. For now they don’t comprise a majority of popular opinion, much less the needed congressional majorities, and there’s also a putatively Republican president to veto anything they might get passed, but the idea no longer seems so far-fetched.
Democrats have been chasing the white whale of socialized medicine for a century or so, and Republicans have been successfully fending off the bogeyman of their efforts for just as long, The left has long noted that America is alone among the industrialized nations in not offering some sort of universal health insurance, and the right has long been able to reply by noting how much longer people in those countries have to wait for a medical procedure, and how much they pay in taxes, how puny their militaries become to pay for it, how free markets are as always more efficient than the government-run variety, and all those arguments still stand.
Even the editorial board at The Washington Post acknowledges the budget-busting implications of Sander’s proposal, and such relatively centrist Democrats as recent Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are warning against Sanders’ influence on the party. The Democrats had a hard enough time getting the semi-socialized Obamacare passed with bigger majorities in congress and a more true-blue Democrat in the White House, they suffered huge electoral losses on the lower ticket right down to the city council levels as a result, and for now there are only 15 Democratic senators and the usual number of House members signed on.
That’s for now, though, and these days there’s no telling how long that will last. For four consecutive electoral cycles the Republicans gained everything but the presidency on a promise to repeal Obamacare, and on the fourth try a putatively Republican won the White House on the same promise, but so far it’s proved as impossible as ever to undo any entitlement program that has a couple of million telegenic beneficiaries. The Republicans are betting that when Obamacare inevitably fails with vast human consequences both public opinion and the Democrats will come crawling for some free market solution, and not notice they didn’t try to at least stave it off, but we wouldn’t make that bet.
Some Trump-wary Republican pundits we respect think the Democrats are lurching so far leftward with a socialized single-payer system that they’ll wind up with a ’72-style loss, but these days seem even weirder than that weird year. Once upon our young lifetimes the words “socialized medicine” were a career-ending slut, but that was before a self-described socialist won 45 percent or so of the Democratic votes. It’s not good to root for other party going to the extremes, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, because there’s always a good chance that your party will as well.
Those sound arguments about the inefficiencies and far-reaching costs of socialized medicine still persuade most Republicans and the more sane sorts of Democrats, but the vast majority of the country is as always susceptible to promises of coverage for everyone at a vastly lower price. We can easily believe that next time around those silly Democratic primary voters will buy it, as the last time around the Republican party nominated a candidate peddling the same snake oil. All indications are that after an illegal-immigrant-bashing campaign Trump is eager to sign the illegal-immigrant-friendly “DREAM Act” that Obama and those bigger Democratic majorities couldn’t get passed, and he’s also capitulated to the Democrats’ budget and debt ceiling proposals, so there’s no telling how he might come out on a deal to immortalize him as the man who brought universal health coverage to America.
For now, at least, there are clean-ups from the floods and “Russia” leaks and plenty of other things to worry about.

— Bud Norman

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Another Conspiracy Confirmed

All of the right-wing wackos, including ourselves, have long suspected Obamacare is intended to so thoroughly wreck the American health care system that the public will at last accept a Canadian-style single payer system. Several left-wing wackos of our acquaintance think so, too, but regard it as a delightful trick to be played on their fellow citizens. More sensible people have regarded this as a far-fetched conspiracy, reasonably believing that no one in government would ever attempt such an audacious and unlikely ploy, but now we see that Sen. Harry Reid has made a full confession.
The Senate’s majority leader, who did much to push the legislation into law despite widespread public opposition, even after voters in ultra-liberal Massachusetts went so far as to elect a Republican to stop him, gave up the game during a public television appearance in his home state of Nevada. “What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid said. When asked if the meant the country would have a system without private insurance, he answered “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.”
There will likely be more of this sort of talk as the failure of Obamacare becomes ever more apparent with its haphazard and selective implementation. The law was imposed on an unwitting public with plenty of grand promises that everyone would at last have health insurance, premiums would go down, the national debt wouldn’t go up, no one’s existing coverage would be effected, employment would flourish, and all that talk about rationing and “death panels” was just a lie told by hateful people, but that’s getting harder for likes of Reid to say with a straight face. Our government now concedes that tens of millions will remain uninsured and pay for the privilege, premiums are rising in most states and are forecast to further rise, Congressional Budget Office projections made after all the accounting gimmicks expired show a dramatic cost increase, millions are going to lose their employer-provided policies, a delay in the employer mandate until after the mid-term elections acknowledges that it is driving a trend toward part-time jobs, and even such Democratic heroes as John Dean are publicly fretting about the law’s rationing board. No longer able to deny the facts that are showing up monthly in people’s mailboxes, Obamacare’s defenders are forced to talk of what comes next.
There will be efforts to blame it all on the Republicans, of course, and Obamacare’s eponymous president has already declared that opposition to the bill is motivated solely by some sick desire to deny people health care, but as the poll numbers for the law worsen with each passing day this will be harder to sell. Even with a billion-dollar advertising budget it is difficult to convince a majority of Americans that they are mean people who want others to die. Better to argue that greedy corporations and their Republican puppets won’t simply won’t permit Obamacare’s miracles to occur, and start making grand promises about the day when the free market for health insurance is at long last vanquished. Like Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying “I meant to do that,” the laws defenders can ultimately boast that socialized medicine was what they had intended all along.
It might even work. Many people prefer to blame some rich they don’t know rather than the politicians they have voted for when things go wrong, and insurance executives make for especially appealing scapegoats. A single-payer system can be more easily explained than the complexities of a free market system, too, and its inherent flaws more easily obscured. As strange as it might seem that the public would accept more government as the solution for problems caused by government, they do it all the time, and in recent memory responded to a government-engineered financial crisis by electing candidates promising ever more government control of the economy.

Still, there are hopeful signs that it might not work. Obamacare remains unpopular despite an unprecedented public relations campaign and the best efforts of the media to demonize opponents, and the same people so over-sold the law that even most apolitical types can’t help noticing how ridiculous they are. Whatever quarrels people have had with their insurance companies will soon pale in comparison to their complaints with the government’s heavy-handed role, and that “Flo” woman from the Progressive ads now seems a far more attractive spokeswoman for her industry than Obama is for his. One should never underestimate the Republicans’ ability to waste a good issue, but failing to take advantage of their opposition to Obamacare will take some doing.

Republicans are already making an effort, of course. An internecine battle is now underway in the party between those who want to de-fund Obamacare and those who would rather let its flaws become so tangible that more Democrats will join with the unions and the red state incumbents in rushing away from the law. De-funding Obamacare is a politically risky proposition, as it will allow the law’s die-hard to defenders to spend the rest of their lives insisting that it would have worked just as promised if not for those human-hating Republicans, and if a government shut-down is the result much of the media will revert to its usual role of writing sob stories and casting blame to the right, but letting it become fully implemented poses risks to the people whose lives are dependent on a functioning health care system. We’re inclined to side to with the de-funders, but hope they’ll go about it shrewdly enough to win the battle for public opinion despite the powerful forces arrayed against them.
Whatever happens in the upcoming budget fights, Reid is quite right to believe that Obamacare won’t last forever. The most important matter, then, is that he be proved wrong about what comes afterwards.

— Bud Norman

What’s the Symbol for Hate?

Every now and then during our drives about town we will spot a bumper sticker on another vehicle exclaiming that the motorist loves Obamacare. A heart-shaped symbol substitutes for the word “love,” as if scanning the four letters would take too much time out of our busy days, and of course there’s no room at all for an explanation of this uncommon affection.
Which is a shame, because we’d love to hear these proudly Obamacare-loving drivers state their reasons. It was easy enough to understand the enthusiasm back when the so-called Affordable Health Care Act was being pitched to an unwary public, and it was going to provide coverage to every single citizen and perhaps even a few non-citizens while allowing everyone who was satisfied with their existing plans to keep them, somehow help the employers who would suddenly be stuck with reams of new regulations, and cost the public treasury a trifling $980 billion, and lower everyone’s premiums to boot. Only the hard-hearted skeptics didn’t love that, but now that they’ve been proved right in every regard those bumper stickers are hard to comprehend.
By now those drivers should know that at least four million of the uninsured will choose to pay a fine cheaper than insurance and remain uninsured, at least seven million people with insurance will be forced off their plans whether they like them or not, employers are hoping to reduce their newly imposed costs by limiting workers’ hours, the Congressional Budget Office’s estimated tab after the budget gimmicks expired has now swelled to $1.85 trillion, and in the latest bit of vindication for the skeptics a Society of Actuaries report says the price of an insurance premium will continue to rise for most Americans. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius admits that at least part of the rise is directly attributable to Obamacare, telling a group of reporters on Tuesday that “These folks will be moving into a really fully insured product for the first time, and so there may be a higher cost associated with getting into that market.”
The secretary was quick to add that some people will see their insurance costs go down and that subsidies will be available for many lower-income Americans to help them with the cost of their newly-mandated coverage, and others with a heart-on for Obamacare will no doubt find other silver linings. There seems to be an awfully dark cloud within those silver linings, though, particularly for the now-quite-lower-income Americans who will be paying both higher premiums and higher taxes as a result of the subsidies, and Obamacare’s more realistic fans are already talking about the latest round of revisions and refinements. We anticipate that they’ll find all the problems are caused by the pesky remains of a free market insurance system and that even more government control is required, and if the problems persist they’ll prescribe more of the same.
Some conservatives have argued all along that Obamacare was meant to fail to such an extent that the public would at last demand a full-fledged single payer system such as can be found in the more fashionably socialized countries. They’ve been dismissed as paranoid right wing crackpots, of course, but we knew quite a few left-wingers who giddily espouse the very same theory as the reason for their support of the bill. Those who love Obamacare for its faults tell us that fully government-run health will be wonderful, but they’re hard-pressed to explain why something that’s so obviously a good idea can’t be sold to the public without mucking things up first, and they don’t seem to have planned for the possibility that a public fed up with higher premiums and worse care might turn to Republican congressional candidates disinclined to go the Swedish route, but they’re the only ones who seem pleased with the way things are going.

— Bud Norman