The Common Good
November 2008

Time for Single-Payer

by Claudia Detwiler | November 2008

The article by Elizabeth Edwards (“Heal Thyself?”) raises troubling questions regarding the path to a just system of health care in this country.

The article by Elizabeth Edwards (“Heal Thyself?”) raises troubling questions regarding the path to a just system of health care in this country.

After so wonderfully defining the problem, Edwards stops short of following her own call for a just system. The caring and powerful language becomes the language of caution and compromised goals. Edwards says we should not “abandon our principles”—but this seems to refer to her call to “make our present system work.” It is difficult to understand how someone so well aware of the abuses of the present system, and of the political and financial power of the private insurance industry, could end her compassionate challenge with the suggestion that we could—or should—waste precious time and additional billions trying to “reclaim the concept of insurance” through our present system.

Edwards ends the article with a strong call to “universal health care.” Unfortunately, this call is compromised by her language implying reform of the present system, a system whose incentives are for profit and power, not caring for sick people. The call is further compromised by the fact that the phrase “universal health care” generally refers to approaches to pay the insurance industry even greater amounts of public dollars to take care of the people they have chosen not to care for in the first place.

Only a publicly funded, privately provided system—one that exists solely to care for all people without exclusion—can bring us the type of just system that she, and I, envision. This is what single-payer health care will do. There are many models to study in dozens of other countries. Families, and the governments, pay a fraction of what we now pay for our insurance industry-driven approach. Edwards’ compassion and commitment to social justice is evident. We all need to be clear about where the call leads.

Claudia Detwiler, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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