Much of the controversy surrounding filmmaker Michael Moore’s lambasting of the American healthcare system in his recent documentary SiCKO has revolved around his analysis of healthcare costs in America as compared to costs in other Western countries. Moore and CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently debated some numbers on Larry King Live after Gupta suggested that some of the information presented in the film was misleading and even flat-out inaccurate. Regardless of whether or not Moore fudged some data in the film, his fundamental critique of our healthcare system cannot be disputed. Americans pay much more for healthcare than citizens of other nations while receiving lower quality care. The single-payer, government financed healthcare in these nations provides a high-level of care without wasting money on administrative overhead and without generating nauseatingly enormous profits in the private sector. Gupta and Moore’s data on healthcare costs may have been conflicting, but both sets of data reveal this truth.
Moore goes on to suggest that the major barrier to implementing a single-payer system is the size of the healthcare lobby in Washington. Politicians, including presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton, the leader of the failed 1993 effort to implement sweeping healthcare reform, depend on the support and financial backing of the healthcare industry. It’s not surprising that she and the other “first-tier” presidential candidates are not advocating a single-payer system. Insurance companies would have no role in a single-payer system and, to protect their livelihoods, are throwing money—the real thing that wins elections in the U.S.—at all the major candidates. Even if they were not so dependent on the industry for campaign dollars, the candidates would likely still balk at promoting a single-payer system for fear of the ruinous “socialist” label that would come along with it.
For obvious reasons, Republicans, typically the pro-business party in our two-party system, are overwhelmingly opposed to a single-payer system. But if they were to take a step back for a moment and consider the impact of lower-quality care on the American workforce, they might become the stronger advocate for single-payer. One of the most cited reasons for their support (albeit, sometimes lackluster and/or misguided support) of public education is that it pays of financially in the long-term. Educated people accomplish more and are more productive than uneducated people. Famed economist Adam Smith, hero of the Reagan administration when it sought smaller government, even posited the benefit public education provides to the economy. Taking this sentiment to the next step, wouldn’t better healthcare lead to higher worker productivity? In the long run, wouldn’t a healthier, more productive workforce lead to a healthier and more stable economy? Moreover, if a single-payer system lead to lower healthcare costs overall, wouldn’t new investments stemming from those healthcare savings grow the economy?
I think the answer to these questions is yes. Perhaps a single-payer system would be pro-business in the long-term. Unfortunately for us, politics in this country is rarely concerned with the long-term. As Niccolo Machiavelli realized a half-millennium ago, the most important goal of those in power is to do whatever it takes to stay in power. No serious presidential candidate will support a single-payer system until that breaking point when support from the for-profit healthcare industry does not translate into enough campaign cash to buyout the votes of an American electorate too fed-up with our increasingly dreary system of healthcare. I’m not going to get my hopes up, but maybe SiCKO will get a rise out of us.