By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org
As the nation enters the third week of the Obamacare health exchange implementation, it’s worth taking a second look at some interesting comments made in August by one of the chief architects of the law.
In short, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., never really thought the exchanges would work.
He just sees the Affordable Care Act as the first step to a fully government-run health care system, something that could be easier to achieve after the glitch-riddled, problematic opening of the federal health insurance exchanges this month.
During an appearance on a Las Vegas PBS program in August, Reid said he sees a national single-payer health system as the natural next step for health care in America. Reid said the nation had to “work its way past” insurance-based health care, according to a recap provided by the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.
“What we’ve done with Obamacare is have a step in the right direction, but we’re far from having something that’s going to work forever,” Reid said.
The so-called “single-payer system” essentially would do away with private health insurance and would allow the government to become the sole provider of medical costs (though all costs would actually be picked up by the taxpayers, of course), similar to the socialized medical systems in Canada, Great Britain and elsewhere. The benefits of a single-payer system, from the government’s point of view at least, is that it does away with one of those pesky Obamacare problems — having to get people to enroll in the exchanges through their own free will.
Before passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, both Reid and Obama were on the record as preferring the so-called “public option” — basically a small-scale single-payer system for the uninsured. But there was not enough support for that in Congress, in large part because the major insurance companies happen to be major campaign donors and have powerfully lobbyists.
Instead, the Affordable Care Act keeps private insurance companies at the center of the equation through the exchanges to offer insurance for those without coverage.
Reid said that just wouldn’t cut it in the long run.
According to the Sun, when Reid was asked if he meant ultimately the country would have to have a health care system that abandoned insurance as the means of accessing it, Reid said: “Yes, yes. Absolutely, yes.”
Some on the right have proposed that Obamacare is designed to fail, giving the government an opening to justify moving to a single-payer system. But most observers have suggested that is not the explicit intention of the Obama administration or Congress, particularly after the difficulty involved in passing the Affordable Care Act.
Still, problems with Obamacare’s implementation could grease the skids for a move to a single-payer system, particularly if Congress decides it has to “do something” about the law’s shortcomings.
“If single-payer is seriously on the table in the next decade or so, it will almost certainly be because of problems, and public dissatisfaction, with Obamacare,” wrote a prescient Peter Suderman for Reason.com in August.
But Suderman ultimately concluded that Reid’s comments shouldn’t be overl -analyzed. He likely was just throwing progressives a bone by suggesting Obamacare could get them closer to the single-payer system they truly desire.
Regardless of whether Obamacare succeeds or fails in the eyes of the public, there is little doubt that progressives will continue to make their case for the single-payer system.
On Sept. 30, the day before the health-insurance exchanges went online, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., who is as progressive as they come in the halls of Congress, penned an op-ed to The Guardian newspaper calling for a move to a single-payer system.
The Affordable Care Act, he said, was “a start,” he wrote, echoing Reid’s words from a month earlier.
“The only long-term solution to America’s healthcare crisis is a single-payer national healthcare program,” Sanders wrote. “The American people understand that our current healthcare system is not working.”
After the changes implemented by Obamacare, more people may think the existing healthcare system does not work. Then the question must be asked: What comes next?
Boehm is a reporter for Watchdog.org and can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org. Follow him on Twitter at @EricBoehm87