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Both Parties are Hurting Our Health

Conversation with David Himmelstein

(This interview reproduced from Labor Party Press, Sept, 1997.)

David Himmelstein of Physicians for a National Health Program has been in the forefront of the fight for the kind of single-payer health care plan the Labor Party has endorsed.

How do you view the role the Democrats and Republicans have played in the debate over health care reform?

Well, right now, both parties are pushing for increased sub-contracting of Medicare to HMOs, even though HMOs have thus far increased Medicare costs by $2 billion per year. Both parties are saying we're going to get more efficiency and the savings we need in Medicare by contracting to HMOs, even though their own data people are telling them that we're increasing costs by doing that.

The Democrats, for the first time since the Truman administration, did not put national health insurance into the Democratic platform in 1996. We had a protest at the Democratic convention about that. The platform called for universal coverage, but not for national health insurance, which has been in the platform since 1948.

We think that the Democrats were basically giving business a signal that investment was safe in the health care sector (that it wasn't going to be nationalized.) The Republicans were always ready to guarantee health care investments.

What about the Kennedy-Hatch Act, which is supposed to provide health insurance to some of the children who don't have it?

That's supposed to be the great savior of the period, but in reality the proposal is structured as a subsidy, basically, to private employers. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would only cover between 500,000 and a million kids, which is about the rate that the uninsured have been increasing each year. So if this thing is passed, all it would do is make sure there was no increase in the number of uninsured for one year, and then the numbers would start going up again. And they're going to spend between $16 and $24 billion to do that.

The reason it's so expensive is that most of that money is just replacing coverage that private employers are currently giving with public funds - so it's basically a subsidy to employers.

What do you think are the prospects for rebuilding a movement for a publicly controlled health care system in this country?

I think actually that the field is about to open back up again for a discussion of national health care. We're seeing among doctors and nurses an enormous upswelling of dissatisfaction, and that's forcing a reopening of the debate. At this point there's a very wide consensus that what we're doing is going in the wrong direction, and there's also a growing consensus on banning for-profit ownership and investment, and there's more willingness to debate other solutions, including public control.

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Last revised January 31, 1998