How to Get Universal Health Care

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say they believe in giving Americans universal health care. I don’t believe them. Anyone who takes the time to understand universal health care should conclude that only a simple single payer system will reform the current outrageous system that benefits the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

The contorted plans from Clinton and Obama are not sufficient reforms. And what John McCain has proposed is sheer nonsense and by itself should cause any conscious American to avoid voting for him.

Fights for health care system reform are centered in Congress, as if legislators will do what they have never done before: achieve true, major and systemic reforms that only serve the public interest, not lobbyists and campaign contributors from business sectors.

Both Clinton and Obama believe that Americans have a moral right to universal health care. If this is correct and if this is what you believe, then achieving universal health care that covers absolutely everyone by making health care affordable to absolutely everyone, as it is in many other nations, requires a different kind of government action. What exactly?

We must expand the Bill of Rights as embodied in the US Constitution to include the right to affordable universal health care. The time has come for the public to conclude that the right to universal health care is as important and necessary as the right to free speech and all the other beloved constitutional rights. Common sense says that health care is a right, not a privilege.

After all, what good are our current constitutional rights if you are ill or dying prematurely because of a lack of good health insurance? Certainly the pursuit of happiness cannot be successful when individuals are suffering from poor health because of inadequate health care.

Why would sensible, caring Americans be against a constitutional right to universal health care? Are there people who would stand up and publicly condemn the right of all Americans to have first rate health care? The only ones I can imagine doing this are those now benefitting financially from the current unjust system, those blocking necessary congressional actions.

What Obama and Clinton should explicitly and loudly advocate is a constitutional amendment that makes universal health care a nonnegotiable right of all Americans.

Why has no member of Congress submitted legislation to get Congress to propose such an amendment for ratification by the states? Clearly, the only rational answer are the many business interests that have corrupted Congress and that benefit from the current system. The Constitution provides an alternative.

Article V provides an option never used in the entire history of the US, because Congress has refused to obey the Constitution and respect state requests. The Article V convention option was put in the Constitution because the Founders and Framers believed that one day Americans would lose trust and confidence in the federal government. With 81 percent of Americans believing the nation is on the wrong track and with so many millions of Americans lacking good health insurance and care, that day has surely arrived. And with abysmally low levels of confidence in Congress and the president, an Article V convention – a temporary fourth branch of the federal government – is clearly the right path to obtaining a universal health care amendment. A convention of state delegates could debate such an amendment and if they agreed to propose it, then the standard ratification by three-quarters of the states would still be necessary.

Yes, this would probably take a few years. But it would be worth it. The prospect of Congress, even with Clinton or Obama as president, achieving universal health care without business-friendly loopholes faster than the amendment approach is not good. The process of pursuing such an amendment, moreover, would help keep pressure on Congress to do the right thing.

If this sounds reasonable and necessary, then learn the truth about the Article V option and start talking up a universal health care amendment that Hillary and Obama should support.

Joel S. Hirschhorn was a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association; he has authored five nonfiction books, including Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. Read other articles by Joel.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Jerry D. Rose said on May 2nd, 2008 at 9:33am #

    Superb idea, when do we start? In addition to a “right” to health care, how about a “right” to have elections free of the corrupting influence of excessive campaign expenditures and contributions?

  2. John Wilkinson said on May 2nd, 2008 at 11:26am #

    “Anyone who takes the time to understand universal health care should conclude that only a simple single payer system will reform the current outrageous system that benefits the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.”

    Obviously, the writer did not take the time, otherwise he wouldn’t be mindlessly repeating the mantras, but presenting hard facts. Yes, we all should have universal health care. Yes, the insurance part of it is a scam. But the root cause are the astronomical costs, and it’s not just the insurance (tip of iceberg) or pharma industries, it’s the whole med establishments, suppliers, etc. There’s no competition, and this is ensured by the monopolistic power of AMA and resulting collusion of arm-wrestled state licencing boards. Those of us who’re uninsured live this every day, and it’s really laughable how ignorant bullshit is being repeated over and over. The health care — routine care included, is unaffordable, and since I don’t have insurance, they are not the cause of this, except indirectly (by abdicating responsibililty — the big players like Medicaid, Medicare, etc. to hold the med establishment to account for outrageous charges which bear no relationship to cost). Actually, the uninsured, when visiting a doctor or being in a hospital, pay FAR MORE than the insured — how is private insurance to blame for this?

    Next time look at your med bill — and notice all those double charges which slip under the radar, and then question why the most simple things cost so much. Please no bullshit about malpractice and such, bad doctors should pay for their misdeeds, not their patients — what about individual responsibility?

    Next time do a little research be4 writing on something you know nothing about — except if you want to vent, like you did here, about the lack of this basic right, in which I support you. But the single payer silver bullet is bullshit. Yes, constitutional convention to take back our country — theoretically a good idea, but even if it did happen, it would be dominated by the powerful, just like congress, and those paid for, so again, bullshit would come out of it.

  3. John Wilkinson said on May 2nd, 2008 at 11:30am #

    single payer: yes, if you don’t look beyond your nose. who do you think will end up paying for these outrageous med costs — aliens from outer space? It will come out of our taxes, and there will be even less cost accountability than now.

  4. John Wilkinson said on May 2nd, 2008 at 11:32am #

    … just like now it comes out of your paycheck — indirectly, so it’s not “free” even if you’re insured.

  5. Arch Stanton said on May 2nd, 2008 at 11:33am #

    “Why has no member of Congress submitted legislation to get Congress to propose such an amendment for ratification by the states? Clearly, the only rational answer are the many business interests that have corrupted Congress and that benefit from the current system. The Constitution provides an alternative.”

    The Constitution? You mean white house toilet paper? That’s a letter to Santa Claus and you know that.

    “The process of pursuing such an amendment, moreover, would help keep pressure on Congress to do the right thing.”

    Congress doing the “right thing?” When is that going to happen? Right after Christmas or just before The Conversion of the Jews?

  6. evie said on May 2nd, 2008 at 11:50am #

    Don’t worry. You are going to get “universal health care” soon enough. And you will pay for it one way or another. There will be one more payroll deduction for healthcare – and if your job history is unsteady or your income unreachable on a regular basis, your share to the national health payments will be deducted from your tax refunds, tax liens, garnishments, rebates, disability checks, SS checks, etc. etc.

    Big business is already coming on board for “universal health care,” for they know Big Daddy as major payor and enforcer equals more dollars in their pocket. We have Medicaid and Medicare millionaires – and coming soon will be Affordable Healthcare Millionaires.

    Call it a “different kind of government action” if you will but it’s the same game and same players.

    Years ago employers, large and small, provided healthcare benefits. It was affordable. Imagine that.

    Of course, that was before the nation had eaten and drugged itself into epidemics of obesity, diabetes, bad backs, and ADHD, ADD, OCD, SAD, PMDD, and a hundred other acronyms for which – lo and behold – there’s a prescription.

    Until and unless (for starters) we are completely rid of lobbyists and big business buying access to politicians and legislators, and pass congressional term limits – it will always be the big boys orgy – bending you over, while you yell you want it b/c it’s your “right”. Keep clamoring about it. The government is going to give you your “right” – good and hard.

  7. Jerry D. Rose said on May 2nd, 2008 at 11:56am #

    Oh ye too-clever-by-half naysayers, give the kid a chance willya? What Wilkinson says about cost containment as the only effective way to establish a health care “right” is exactly on target. And what Stanley says, that the Constitution has been largely reduced to toilet paper by congressional and executive abuse is oh so true. But, really, doesn’t anybody start to get the feeling that ONLY by citizen-initiated action like the “Convention” are we going to have any chance to retain (or resurrect) that constitution? As Doug says on Queen of Kings when he doesn’t like a proposal: “what ELSE you got?”

  8. evie said on May 2nd, 2008 at 12:31pm #

    Turn off your TV and write a new constitution.

  9. Joel S. Hirschhorn said on May 2nd, 2008 at 2:52pm #

    Actually, John Wilkinson is seriously ignorant; here are some key facts:
    We have a hugely successful single payer government system in Medicare; every study has shown that the administrative costs in Medicare are a tiny fraction of the administrative costs (that ordinary people pay for) in the entire private medical insurance industry sector. There simply is no cheaper way of delivering quality medical care than through a single payer system. In addition to the truth about Medicare, all the data on foreign single payer universal health care systems show two paramount facts: they all cost much less on a per capita basis than the US private system and they all deliver BETTER health care than our system – YES, that’s right on virtually every statistical measure of good health care the US system stinks; of course, wealthy Americans can absolutely terrific health care, but not the vast bulk of the public with or without health insurance. You can not have genuine, cost effective and high quality universal health care unless you have a single payer system. And please remember that, as with Medicare, such a government single payer system only refers to payment, NOT delivery of health care – which remains totally in private hands with Medicare – and of course Medicare like all government single payer systems gets lower prices from the medical establishment; the one BIG problem with Medicare is its Subtitle D prescription drug program that absolutely sucks BECAUSE the pharmaceutical industry spent many millions of dollars lobbying Congress to produce an absolutely awful system — unlike foreign single payer systems, Medicare is not allowed to negotiate really low cost prices for prescription drugs. I, like zillions of other Medicare people, order drugs from foreign sources for a fraction of what it costs in Medicare after the initial coverage ends and you enter the donut hole insanity where you must pay full normal costs.

  10. ashley said on May 2nd, 2008 at 4:36pm #

    From the Article V site, the preamble:
    “Are you aware that We The People are being denied our constitutional right to an Article V Convention to make amendments, despite 567 applications by the state legislatures of ALL 50 states?”

    This is definitely the way to go – as Gravel has been promoting/arguing for some time, and for those who have forgotten he was involved in getting those Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg released.

    However, as someone posted above, the entire medical ‘industry’ is fundamentally corrupt, both institutionally and methodologically. No amendment is going to change that, in fact it could make it worse since once something is mandated, it becomes ipso facto monopolistic and therefore more or less untouchable. So I don’t think universal healthcare should be a ‘right’ rather a policy decision. With checks and balances.

    Clearly it is the way to go and clearly Obama/Clinton plans are just a more creative way of pandering to the medical industry whilst seemingly delivering on what most of us agree: that healthcare should indeed by universal.

    The old Chinese had a good model. In the pre-modern days, I have been told, a patient would pay his doctor about $30.00 a month to keep him/her well. Then, if they got sick, they would stop paying until they were better. ‘Coverage’ featured quarterly check-ups, usually around season-change time when weakness crop up, at which point the doctor would give treatments – mainly herbal concoctions – to keep their patient balanced and healthy.

    That is probably an overly simplistic description in terms of what happened in practice, but as a model it is the correct one. However, we have no preventative (“wellness”) tradition in our current medical methodology and therefore we are stuck with a deeply flawed allopathic model. That is the root problem and that is not addressed with the above suggestion – except that an Article V sponsored government initiative could mandate such a shift in emphasis which would take many decades to effect.

  11. evie said on May 2nd, 2008 at 4:41pm #

    Have you read any studies by Mark Litow on Medicare?

    Have you studied the stats on “foreign single payer universal health care systems” where for instance the 5 year survival rate of breast cancer in UK is 64% compared to 85% in the US – a difference simply b/c of the “free” treatment provided?

    The quality of care for Joe Blow will be similar to the VA system – and we see how well that works.

    Single payer will be Medicare for all. Medicare has more problems than just Subtitle D. Ask the hundreds of thousands of old folks having needless tests simply b/c the procedures are Medicare covered. Mammograms for 95 y/o semi comatose nursing home patients, etc.

    Government control/payer, like everything else the government does, will raise cost and degrade quality, and you will sit down and shut up b/c it was, after all, what you wanted.

    Who are the lobbyists for single payer healthcare?

  12. Giorgio said on May 2nd, 2008 at 6:10pm #

    Ron Paul offers by any stretch of one’s imagination the BEST universal health care…where is the support for him?
    YOU will rue the day for having not supported him!
    DumbAsses !!!

  13. DavidG. said on May 2nd, 2008 at 8:48pm #

    Anyone with any brains knows that the way to get proper health care in America is to move to Sweden!

    The medical industry doesn’t care about your prostate or anything else you might have. Its purpose in life is profit!

    P.S. Hugo should be the next U.S. President. Details on my blog.

  14. FrankM said on May 3rd, 2008 at 7:00pm #

    Medicare can’t be the universal answer – it has a 75 year liability of $50 trillion (net present value), according to the GAO – 6.2% of GDP in 2081 – ($8.1 trillion for the drug benefit alone). Ron Paul says to make all medical expenses tax deductible, allow Health Savings Accounts without tying them to a health insurance policy, and allow physicians collectively to negotiate with payers. Another innovation would keep the uninsured from being charged more than the insurance companies pay for the same procedures. I have lost two internists to retirement because Medicare reimbursements are too low to continue working for.

    If something is free, a lot of it is used. Medical care, affordable housing, higher education all must have an access cost.

  15. dan e said on May 4th, 2008 at 2:19pm #

    Let me list a few krypto-reactionary trolls who post regularly on this site, who I’d guess are the same individuals who earlier called themselves “Neal” and “Jaime” but seeing that nobody was buying their overt zionism and reactionary rethuglicanism, have taken to posing as “progressives”, even giving lip service to a few “Liberal Values” in order to sugar-coat the bs they hope some will be dumb enough to take seriously:
    1. “Michael Kenny”, an old Francisco Franco aficianado: “John Wilkinson”, the re-incarnation of John Wilkes Booth; “Evie”, ditto of Eva Braun; 4: “Giorgio”, whose hero Ron Paul would be the reincarnation of Il Duce Benito if only he was better looking:)

    Frank M is by comparison refreshing: while he does torture the facts a little, no more than customary on the Primetime News, he makes no bones about being a reactionary dinosaur.

    The articles on this site continue to enhance DV’s reputation for excellence — but the appended comments only get worse. Guess the solution is “read the articles, ignore the Trolls”.


  16. evie said on May 6th, 2008 at 5:55am #

    Oh my, dan e – the old “you’re either with us or agin’ us” lockstep argument? Hey, I know! Let’s all think alike and call it “progressive.”