By Ernest A. Canning on 8/23/2009, 11:09am PT  

Guest Editorial by Ernest A. Canning

Appearances by single-payer advocates on corporate mainstream media are few and far between --- all the more reason that when a golden opportunity arises, single-payer advocates must take care to appropriately frame the base-line issue of health care reform.

While there can be no doubt that a single-payer system, which President Obama concedes, provides the only means by which every American can be "covered," is the most cost-effective, the issue is really more basic.

It's about the immorality of treating the health of our people as a commodity; that those who seek to perpetuate a system designed to create obscene wealth for a few insurance company CEOs and their Wall Street investors are advocating nothing less than a death sentence for more than 18,000 Americans each year...

The appearance by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on MSNBC's Good Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough (video below) produced a classic colloquy.

WEINER: The problem that we have here is that we’re trying to…rig this system so that insurance companies continue to make healthy profits. Why? …Insurance companies take about $230 billion a year out of the system in profits and overhead. The real question is why we have a private plan?

SCARBOROUGH: Now you’re sounding like you want the government to take over. You say ‘why do we have insurance companies in the health care business because…we believe in free enterprise.

WEINER:...What is the value? What are they providing?

SCARBOROUGH: Well, what’s the value of Wall Street companies making money?

WEINER: …Forty percent of all Americans get their health care from a single-payer, government-funded, government-administered plan. Medicare…Department of Veteran’s Affairs…So they have a pretty good experience of a low overhead thing…I’m not here to advocate for the profits of insurance companies, I’m here to advocate for health care.

SCARBOROUGH:...Well, it sounds like you think there is no need for us to have private insurance….

WEINER: I’ve asked you three times: What is their value? What are they bring to the deal?

SCARBOROUGH: …I’m astounded by your question because your question is suggesting that there is no need to have a country that is run on free market principles. …

WEINER: But this isn’t a commodity, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: You think that health care is different….

WEINER: What are health insurance plans doing to produce health care? Just tell me.

SCABOROUGH: I don’t even understand the question, other than it’s you trying to make the point that we don’t need private industry involved in health care at all. You are advocating a complete takeover…

WEINER: When you say “takeover,” only as much as the federal government took over health care for seniors 44 years ago.

SCARBOROUGH: But you want to expand that for all Americans…

WEINER:…So they get a 4% overhead, they get efficient reimbursement, there’s no profits being taken by the insurance companies

SCARBOROUGH: Your position is what is scaring a lot of Americans…Those people who are showing up, who say the federal government wants to take over health care. Those people are scared of your position.

Weiner's effort to get through to the rather thick Scarborough was appropriate. But there were two points I wish he had driven home.

First, the ideal response to Scarborough's "free market" mumblings would have been:

I'm talking about a health care system that kills 18,000 Americans each year simply because they can't afford coverage, Joe, and you're response is "free market" ideology? This isn't just about money. It's about whether we value life more than profits. It's about basic morality. Are you so wedded to the concept of a "free market" that you are prepared to perpetuate a system that amounts to an annual death sentence for more than 18,000 Americans?

Second, when Scarborough launched into "those people are scared of your position," it would have been an ideal time for Weiner to bring out the fact, covered by some of Scarborough's MSNBC colleagues --- Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow --- that "those people" consist of under-informed individuals who have been bused to and handed scripts to follow in disrupting the town halls. Olbermann, for example, described the town hall disruptions as a "carefully orchestrated campaign funded by people like Jack Abramoff’s former money launderer Tim Philips and disgraced former Columbia Health Care boss Rick Scott."

It would have also been an ideal time to point to a June 2009 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 76% of all Americans support a "public option." A Feb. 2009 New York Times/CBS News poll [PDF] revealed that 59% of all Americans favored a national health care system. A Feb. 2009 Grove Insight Opinion Research poll [PDF] found that 60% of all Americans favor Medicare for All, the single-payer concept embodied in H.R. 676.

Of course, I hope this piece is not construed as unduly critical of Weiner's performance. It's a great deal easier for someone to review and analyze the Weiner/Scarborough colloquy having the luxury of time than it is to provide on-the-spot responses during the course of an interview. But, this points to the need for better preparation by single-payer advocates, especially since their opportunities on MSM are so few and far between.

At every chance, single-payer advocates need to frame the real issue --- obscene profits for the few vs. the health and very lives of our citizens. In the final analysis, that is the core of health care reform.

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Scarborough did pose one intriguing question. "What’s the value of Wall Street companies making money?"

Good question given the recent history of a potential $62 trillion debt created by the unregulated, credit default swap market.

One article, entitled "Capitalism on Trial", suggested an answer:

No one could possibly claim that Wall Street's high-stakes casino contributed anything to the good of society as a whole. The entire world of credit default swaps, hedge funds, collateralized debt obligations and the rest of the alphabet soup concocted by Wall Street in this latest boom was directed toward one thing --- make a tiny group of people rich beyond most people's wildest dreams.

The financial catastrophe unfolding on Wall Street is the product of blind greed and arrogance. And now that the house of cards is collapsing, the U.S. government's series of rescues carry another lesson: The bigger the bet and the wider the potential damage if it loses, the more likely the Feds will have to come to the rescue to stop the whole game from coming to an end.


Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).

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