Health Care

Time for Single-Payer

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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Sojourners Magazine November 2008
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Hard Questions

There is a reason we don’t have universal health care, and it’s not because we lack compassion for the sick. What’s stopping us is the lack of good answers to hard questions, such as: “How will we coerce physicians who do not want to participate in a government-run universal health care program to do so?” “How will we avoid a two-tier health care system in which those with money purchase better medical care while those with less money are restricted to government care?” “How do we hold people accountable for their own health decisions (wearing motorcycle helmets, ceasing obesity-producing behaviors, no smoking, etc.) rather than enabling behaviors that undermine good health?” We would do better to shift the debate from a focus on health insurance to health care. Insurance doesn’t treat anyone; medical care does.

Tony R. Nester, Sioux City, Iowa

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Sojourners Magazine November 2008
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