Once Congress finishes mandating that we all buy private health insurance, it can move on to requiring Americans to purchase other defective products.

A Ford Pinto in every garage?

Lead-painted toys for every child?

Melamine-laced chow for every puppy?

Private health insurance doesn’t work.

Even middle-class families with supposedly good coverage are just one serious illness away from financial ruin.

Illness and medical bills contribute to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies — a 50 percent increase since 2001. And three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had insurance, at least when they first got sick.

Coverage that families bought in good faith failed to protect them. Some were bankrupted by co-payments, deductibles, and loopholes. Others got too sick to work, leaving them unemployed and uninsured.

Now Congress plans to make it a federal offence not to purchase such faulty insurance.

On top of that, it’s threatening to tax workers’ health benefits to meet the costs of simultaneously covering the poor and keeping private insurers in business.

President Obama's plan would finance reform by draining funds from hospitals that serve the neediest patients. His other funding plans aren’t harmful, just illusory. He’s gotten unenforceable pledges from hospitals, insurers and the American Medical Association to rein in costs, a replay of promises they made (and broke) to Presidents Nixon and Carter. And Obama trumpets savings from computerized medical records and better care management, savings the Congressional Budget Office has dismissed as wishful thinking.

The president’s health plan can’t make universal, comprehensive coverage affordable.

Only single-payer health reform — Medicare for All — can achieve that goal.

Single-payer national health care could realize about $400 billion in savings annually — enough to cover the uninsured and to upgrade coverage for all Americans. But the vast majority of these savings aren’t available unless we go all the way to single payer.

A public plan option might cut into private insurers’ profits. That’s why they hate it. But their profits — roughly $10 billion annually — are dwarfed by the money they waste in search of profit. They spend vast sums for marketing (to attract the healthy); demarketing (to avoid the sick); billing their ever-shifting roster of enrollees; fighting with providers over bills; and lobbying politicians. And doctors and hospitals spend billions more meeting insurers’ demands for documentation.

A single-payer plan would eliminate most insurance overhead, as well as these other paperwork expenses. Hospitals could be paid like a fire department, receiving a single monthly check for their entire budget. Physicians’ billing could be similarly simplified.

With a public insurance option, by contrast, hospitals and doctors would still need elaborate billing and cost-tracking systems. And overhead for even the most efficient competitive public option would be far higher than for traditional Medicare, which is efficient precisely because it doesn’t compete. It automatically enrolls seniors at 65 and deducts their premiums through the social security system, contracts with any willing provider, and does no marketing.

Health insurers compete by NOT paying for care: by seeking out the healthy and avoiding the sick; by denying payment and shifting costs onto patients; and by lobbying for unfair public subsidies (as under the Medicare HMO program). A kinder, gentler public plan that failed to emulate these behaviors would soon be saddled with the sickest, costliest patients and the highest payouts, driving premiums to uncompetitive levels. To compete successfully, a public plan would have to copy private plans.

Decades of experience teach that private insurers cannot control costs or provide families with the coverage they need. And a government-run clone of private insurers cannot fix these flaws.

Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein are associate professors at Harvard Medical School. They co-founded Physicians for a National Health Program, a nonprofit research and education organization of 16,000 physicians, medical students, and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance. For more about the group, go to www.pnhp.org. This piece was distributed by the Progressive Media Project, an affiliate of The Progressive magazine. To subscribe to The Progressive, for only $14.97, click here.

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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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