How We “Blew It” On Obamacare

Democrats blew it on Obamacare. That’s according to retiring Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who told The Hill today that he regrets that his party didn’t go far enough back in 2009 and 2010 when it was trying to push the Affordable Care Act through Congress

Pointing out the massive filibuster-proof majorities that Democrats had in the House and the Senate during that time, Harkin said about Obamacare that, “All the prevention stuff is good but it’s just really complicated. It doesn’t have to be that complicated…. [We should have enacted] single-payer right from the get go or at least put a public option would have simplified a lot. We had the votes to do that and we blew it.”

Harkin is right, and not just about how Democrats probably had the votes to pass truly progressive healthcare reform.

That’s because for all the very good things Obamacare does - things like expanding Medicaid access to the working poor and requiring insurance companies to accept people with pre-existing conditions - Obamacare still doesn’t go far enough. The biggest flaw in Obamacare, of course, is that it is centered around for-profit insurance companies.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a doctor or a drug company making a profit off a job well-done or a life-saving medicine, but there’s absolutely no reason why anyone in the private sector should get rich off paying - or refusing to pay - medical bills, which, ultimately, is all insurance companies really do. They're just fancy banks. The fact that insurance companies do get rich off allowing or denying health care payments, though, is at the core of what’s wrong with our healthcare system. It’s the reason why we spend so much more on healthcare than any other developed country in the world, and it’s the reason why people continue to get screwed over by their insurance companies despite the new protections in Obamacare.

Take Malcolm MacDougall, for example. In a piece published in The Daily Beast just days before he died of cancer, MacDougall wrote about how his health insurance company, Health Republic/MagnaCare, refused time and time again to pay for his treatment, even though he always paid his premiums and made sure that all of his specialists were covered under Health Republic/MagnaCare.

This type of horror story still happens every day America, and it will continue to happen even with Obamacare as long as the profit motive remains at the core of our healthcare system. That’s why Tom Harkin’s comments about Democrats “blowing it” on healthcare reform ring so true.

If Democrats had gone ahead and pushed for real reform - aka a single-payer component, even if it was just a public option - no one would ever have to worry about dealing with a greedy for-profit health insurance company ever again. Instead, we’d be like Canada, which puts people over profits with its world-class single-payer healthcare system.

Oh, and in case you’re one of those people who’s scared of “socialism,” consider this: we’ve had single-payer healthcare here in the U.S. since the 1960s. It’s called Medicare, it’s never missed a check, and is doing just fine, thank you very much.

If Congress just lowered the Medicare eligibility age to 0 so all Americans, not just seniors, were in the program, then voila, we’d have single-payer health insurance for everyone right here in the United States. Every year, Congressman John Conyers introduces legislation to do just that, and has been for years.

Unfortunately, Republicans refuse to let Congress actually do its job, which is why in this era of the Caucus Room conspiracy, our healthcare system getting really and truly fixed is about as likely as Sarah Palin teaching college geography. But there is hope, and, ironically, it’s thanks to Obamacare.

Starting in 2017, Vermont, one of my home states, will begin offering all its residents single-payer coverage through a program called Green Mountain Healthcare. The brainchild of Governor Peter Shumlin, this program owes its existence to a special part of Obamacare that allows states to experiment with any type of healthcare system they want after 2016 as long as it meets the basic standards put into place by the Affordable Care Act.

My guess is that as soon as Vermont’s system gets up and running, other states will realize what a good deal it is and follow suit with their own single-payer programs. This, after all, is exactly what happened in Canada after Saskatchewan became the first province in that country to pass single-payer healthcare.

Democrats may have wasted an opportunity to pass truly progressive national healthcare reform back in 2009 and 2010, but thanks to Obamacare and progressives in Vermont, they’ll get another crack at it at the state level in just a few years. Let’s just hope they don’t get bushwacked by the Republicans on that opportunity.

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