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Ringing In For Health Care

by: scott_laugenour

Mon Dec 27, 2010 at 16:50:51 PM EST

(A strong case for GRP continuing to make single-payer a focus of our efforts - promoted by michael horan)

The ringing phone abruptly woke me up on a January morning in 2008.  I did not recognize the Great Barrington area phone number showing on the display as I hit the answer button.  I am recalling a conversation that took place three years ago because now at the close of 2010 there have been some  recent discussions within the Green-Rainbow Party about advocating for non-profit single-payer public health insurance.


"What is Dennis Kucinich going to do to give us single payer health care?" a brusque, somewhat raspy, imperious male voice belted out from the other end of the line, prefacing the words with no greeting or introduction.

Briefly taken aback and quickly woken up, I realized that the press release I had issued about the Kucinich For President office that I had opened in Lenox (back in that Democratic Party presidential primary winter) must have been published, prompting the call.  The press release had provided my phone number as contact for the office.

The conversation that followed back then has provided me with additional insight into why the United States still does not have the kind of public/non-profit health insurance system that virtually every other wealthy democracy provides.  This, in turn, has assisted me in thinking about what the Green-Rainbow Party can do now, as we approach 2011 and future elections to promote quality public health insurance.

In my opinion, the effort is not primarily about  preparing more fact sheets to assist legislators and voters in changing their minds.  Nor is it in holding more round table discussions or rallies.  Our members and candidates are often part of these efforts, but there are plenty of other groups who have taken the lead on those actions.  The Green-Rainbow Party plays secondary roles in these efforts.

The leadership that we can provide is to grow our political power by increasing membership, fielding more candidates, and securing more partisan votes in favor of politics and policy-making that is free from the influence of corporate contributions, including of course freedom from the dictates of those contributions from the health insurance industry that the two ruling parties gladly accept.

scott_laugenour :: Ringing In For Health Care
The phone conversation of three years ago continued with my response to the caller's curt question:

"Dennis Kucinich's support of single payer health care is one of the reasons I'm supporting him in his presidential bid.  'What's he going to do,'  you ask?  Well, he argues for it in every speech he gives, he finds a way to bring up the subject even when interviewers and debate moderators do not raise it, he  is a sponsor of HR 676.  The issue is central to his presidential campaign.  Is there anything more that you suggest he do?"

"Well, it's just so important that we get it!  Every other major democracy in the world delivers health care with a single payer system and it works so much better.  The system we have puts people into bankruptcy and financial ruin when they get sick.  It's outrageous.  Something must be done.  We need single payer health care.  I want to know that Dennis Kucinich is going to do everything that he can possibly do about it!"

"I totally agree with you about the need for it and I'm glad to know that it's important to you, too.  I'm sure that Mr. Kucinich will do all that he can and would welcome suggestions.  What do you suggest?"

"I don't really know.  But it's so important."

"By the way, what are YOU going to do?"

"Me?  What can I do."

"Are you going to vote for Dennis Kucinich in the primary?"

"Vote for Kucinich?  I can't possibly do that!  I have to vote for Obama so that Hillary doesn't win."

"Well, neither Obama nor Hillary will promote the enactment of single payer health care.  There are strings attached to the contributions from the health insurance industry that both of those candidates accept.  If taking part in the battle between Hillary and Obama is a higher priority for you and for other voters than single payer health care is, then I suppose that's a reason that this country doesn't have it."

This caller probably knew more about the ins and outs of 'single payer health care' than I do.  He did not need any more facts and figures from me.  I suspect that his support for the issue was an abstraction rather than a personal urgency (meaning that he himself had coverage that he was reasonably happy with).  No argument that I could have made to him about the benefits of non-profit public health insurance would have convinced him to cast a vote for the only candidate in the Democratic Party's presidential primary of 2008 that did not accept health insurance industry contributions, who cared as passionately about the issue as he himself seemed to.

I don't think the caller believed, either, that presenting any further facts, figures, and rhetoric to Obama and Hillary would change those candidates' minds.  Obama and Hillary know all that they need to know about the issue.  Their campaigns also knew that they did not need to support 'single payer health care' in order to get the votes of such supporters.  Indeed, any candidate who supports a 'single payer' health care system surely knows that the health insurance industry will not contribute to his or her campaign.

When I posted a blog item on 'single payer health care' during my campaign for state representative, I made note of Kucinich's capitulation to a vote in favor of Obama-care this year despite Kucinich's having made many eloquent and fervent arguments against the bill.  My comments were viewed by some as anger directed at a presidential candidate whom I had once supported.

I was never angry with Kucinich because of his vote.  It was disappointing given that the reversal came abruptly in a matter of days.  It was not unexpected, though, because Kucinich chooses to remain in the Democratic Party.  His party leadership accepts contributions from the insurance industry that profits from the status quo.

If the Massachusetts model is an indication of what is to come, the industry is poised to profit even further with the implementation of Obama-care.  Higher profits equate to more effective lobbying to further protect the companies' shareholder interests.  In the meantime, the number of uninsured Massachusetts residents is once again growing, and those with insurance plans remain as unprotected from financial ruin as they have ever been, and costs to individuals, towns, and businesses are as high and increasing as much as ever.

Our model for health care remains the one which the rest of the world wisely avoids.

I cited Kucinich's capitulation to demonstrate that there are limits to bucking ones own party.  There are other examples in Washington and in Boston of junior Democrats who drop their formal support of public health insurance as they move up into positions of greater power within the legislative branches or within their party.  Co-sponsorship of a bill is in reality a very fickle form of support.  I've also argued that co-sponsorship can be a ruse.  Dennis Kucinich may have had some spunk and spine on this issue, but he is in the wrong party to make any further advance beyond what he has done already.

Even though opinion polls indicate that support for public health insurance is strong - in the 4th Berkshire District the 'single payer' ballot question received over 72% of the vote this November - this will not automatically translate into a political force that is strong enough to enact it.  In my opinion we will never have a public health insurance system remotely resembling in quality any of the more successful examples in the world as long as the political leadership of candidates for whom we cast votes accepts the lavish contributions from the industry.

I never heard back from the fellow who woke me up with that phone call three years ago, but I am sure from the way our conversation closed that the next time he looked into the mirror he was able to identify one of the major reasons that this country doesn't have the health care system he desires.  I wish I had saved the number that displayed on my caller ID so that I could reach out to him again.  If he still lives in the area perhaps he voted for me in my State Representative race this year.  Let the Green-Rainbow Party continue to grow, organize, and attract candidates who are united with their party leadership on this issue so that we can more strongly offer voters the example to vote for.

So if any of us do participate in panel discussions or in rallies or in signature-gathering our party affiliation should be part of our public identity.  We should use these opportunities to register more members and attract more candidates to run as part of our party.

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