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Finding Common Ground Between Public Option Advocates and Single Payer Advocates

July 30th, 2009 | Ian Welsh

A heated argument is going on about the right health insurance model between those those who believe in a public option and those who believe in single payer.

Or perhaps I should say between those who are willing to take what they can get: public option; vs. those who want to hold out for what they consider the best option: single payer.

By way of reconciling what differences can be reconciled, let me ask a question of each side.

A Question for Public Option Advocates

Do you want to eventually have a single payer or a comprehensive system like the French have?  If not, why not?

A Question for Single Payer Advocates

Are you willing to fight for a public option which could eventually lead to single payer or a comprehensive system like the French one? If not, why not?

At this point what I'm seeing is both sides retreating into moralistic screaming.

The public option folks are saying: “It is better to save some lives than none, and if you single payer purists don't support a public option which will save even a few lives, you're responsible for those deaths.”

The single payer people are saying: “The public option is so watered down that all it will do is discredit real public reform, aka single payer.  You public option folks are settling for so little that the few lives you might save are outweighed by all the lives you won't save and the damage to the chance at real comprehensive health care reform.”

Both sides are assuming the other side is operating in bad faith.  The public option folks assume the single payer folks just want to be pure rather than saving lives, the single payer that the public option folks are just sell-outs shilling for a bad bill.

But what I'm seeing, as someone with a foot in each camp, is that both sides are (mostly) sincere.

Now there is one group that can't be reconciled.  People who want a public option so weak it either won't survive, or can't be used as the basis for a comprehensive system.  The usual suspects like Insurance company executives, for example.  But also some people in the Obama administration, such as Health Secretary Katherine Sibelius, the health secretary, who said that the plan would be drafted specifically so that it could never become single payer.

But for everyone else, for those acting in good faith, there should be some common ground from which we can work together. Let's start by recognizing that the battle over public option vs single payer is a distraction away from what we could accomplish if we worked together.

United we stand a chance.  Divided, we will lose our chance at health care reform.

(Minor edits made 3 am July 26th for clarity and style)

Ian Welsh: Ian Welsh has been blogging since 2003. He was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in Pogge.ca and BlogsCanada. He is a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

This article was originally posted at Open Left on July 27, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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