Although it has been irritating at times to have to listen to Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton in the Democratic nomination debates, I will miss them if they withdraw from the race. At least they keep me from falling asleep when I listen to Senators Kerry and Edwards.
Kucinich and Sharpton speak to a recurrent but mild anxiety attack I have. I worry that President George Bush not only could wreck the economy; he could mess up the entire world. I really don’t know for sure, but I worry.
We are told to believe that the economy is on the rebound. May it be so. The president’s take on this is that if we only give more tax breaks to the super-rich and corporations (expecting the middle class to spend more of its own crisp new $100 bills), jobs will trickle down. And jobs, it must be admitted, are trickling down. Thanks to outsourcing, instead of being a steelworker you can trickle down to become a street-cleaner. Instead of becoming a computer technician, you can become a receptionist. Now, I think these are honorable occupations, but there are only so many openings.
The pontiff of power finance, Alan Greenspan, recently announced that we are in economic trouble. This is the same man who was at first only mildly favorable toward the reckless tax-cut proposals of the newly elected President Bush. Now he opines that we should cut back, not on the tax boondoggle, but on Social Security and other programs.
Let’s get this straight. A tax cut that few, even among the most wealthy, were demanding drained almost $2 trillion from what would have been our national treasury. After the terrorist atrocities of 9/11, mounting homeland security expenditures, the war in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraqall of which contributed to the transformation of a huge surplus into a $500 billion debtmore tax cuts are proposed. In 10 years’ time that will increase our national debt another trillion and a half. And what are we to sacrifice while we pursue our wars and wealth? Social Security and Medicare.
Medicare. The thought of it makes me hope Kucinich never quits the race. Gephardt, Mosely-Braun and Sharpton have touted the desirability of universal health care, but only Kucinich has proposed extending Medicare to everyone in the country. This single-payer system for the elderly is more efficient, with less overhead cost, than most for-profit plans. As Kucinich points out in his universal health care plan, Right now, private companies are charging about 18 percent for administration, while the cost of Medicare administration is only 3 percent. He wants to redirect the money spent on paperwork, profits, excessive executive salaries, advertising and sales commissions to actual treatment in a system directed by patients and doctors.
As a spokesperson for the Commonwealth Fund noted in testimony before Congress last year, the United States has far and away the costliest health care system in the world, both per person and in terms of total economic resources. While our rates are increasing faster than those of other countries, we are the only major industrialized nation that does not have universal coverage; and even for those covered, the benefits are less comprehensive than in other countries. Although the fund estimates that the cost of the Kucinich plan would be $6 trillion over 10 years, Kucinich points out that current government spending, present employers’ coverage and improved national health would largely cover the cost: The American people are already paying for universal health care; they’re just not getting it.
There are other costs to a nation that has as many as 43 million uninsured, of which 8.5 million are children. As recently as last January, the Institute of Medicine, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, observed that eight of ten uninsured persons are members of working families. They just cannot afford insurance (just as some doctors cannot afford their insurance costs). But neither can the country afford it. The uninsured, whether young or old, are less healthy and die sooner than those with insurance. Lack of preventive care, delayed care, use of emergency rooms for primary care and countless other dysfunctions of the present system all cost the economy in the long run. Even uncompensated costs of charity care are ultimately borne by taxpayers. If everyone were covered, poor health, premature death and long-term disability of uninsured workers would be lessened to such an extent that the savings would more than compensate for the additional costs. The institute’s report asks the American people: Can we afford not to cover the uninsured?
This is the question that Kucinich continually poses. He agrees with over 7,000 physicians who have called for a single-payer approach: Proposals that would retain the roles of private insurerssuch as calls for tax-credits, Medicaid/CHIP expansions, and pushing more seniors into private H.M.O.’sare prescriptions for failure.
One can guess that insurance executives are cool to the idea. But at a time when our economy is threatened, Social Security and health care are at risk, and a president is unwilling to suggest how his own programs will be financed as he urges more tax cuts, a candidate like Kucinich has been unafraid to utter the outrageous. If steel-workers and computer technicians have had to adjust to new economic realities, what about our insurance companies and politicians? Without Kucinich in the race, will anyone dare debate the issue?