Healthcare Advocates: Time to Bury the Hatchet | The Nation

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Beware of partisan deception

Wendell Potter essentially tells the single-payer movement to stay silent when it comes to criticizing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act for fear of “helping the industry’s Republican friends to take back Washington.”

As a single-payer advocate who joined with fifty doctors in filing an amicus brief against the mandate and one of those who stood outside the court protesting that aspect of the law (or as Potter falsely says, “alongside the Tea Partiers on the steps of the Supreme Court”), I continue to oppose the insurance mandate as it further entrenches health insurance dominance of healthcare in the United States.

Potter correctly begins in his area of expertise, criticizing the profit-driven insurance industry, its corruption of government and its lack of care for improving healthcare in the United States. He is right: this already weak law will be corrupted further by the industry. Indeed, the law‘s primary drafter, Liz Fowler, a former executive for WellPoint who worked on the Senate Finance Committee, now works for President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where she is implementing the law. The law has become weaker as HHS granted over 1,000 waivers to insurers and others to allow them to avoid the law’s requirements and HHS told states that they can narrow the coverage provided to poor people under Medicaid.

What Potter and others who support the ACA want to avoid is an evidence-based discussion of what actually works. Our amicus brief primarily focused on evidence that single-payer works in the United States, comparing the insurance-dominated market system with Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration as well as evidence from around the world. The bottom-line: unlike the ACA single-payer would provide healthcare to everyone in the United States, control costs and improve healthcare outcomes. That is what the evidence shows.

Potter really goes off track when he gets out of his area of expertise and talks about how to achieve single-payer. The single-payer movement has a strategy: education, organization and mobilization. We have already built overwhelming public support for single-payer: two-thirds of Americans support single-payer, despite minimal or negative media coverage. Even polls that inaccurately describe it as socialized medicine find more than 60 percent support. Majorities of doctors and nurses support single-payer. In the Democratic Party, 80 percent support single-payer. To continue to build a movement to enact single-payer, we need to stand clearly with the super majorities of Americans and demand single-payer—not compromise in order to re-elect President Obama.

With that clear goal in mind the single-payer movement can make compromises, but only with laws that go in the direction of a national health insurance that covers everyone. The ACA sends the country in the opposite direction—rather than removing the unnecessary middleman of health insurance it entrenches the industry further. Not only does the mandate force tens of millions to pay a penalty or buy insurance, it also provides $500 billion in subsidies for the insurance industry between 2014 and 2019. With that kind of money they will have lots of money left over to buy politicians after paying their executive salaries and overhead.

Wendell Potter should stick to his analysis of the insurance industry, in which he worked in for twenty years until he finally found he “didn’t have the stomach to be a part of yet another deception-based effort to undermine reform.” Sadly, I expect in a few years he will look back on his current work and find he has substituted insurance industry deception for partisan deception. Healthcare is not about advancing a political career or political party. It is about providing good quality healthcare to everyone in the United States.