At a time when the Affordable Care Act, our current imperfect system, is subjecting Americans to fewer options, higher premiums and deductibles, and less control generally over their insurance choices, the need for reform is clear. That’s doubly true when you consider that the Republican alternative, the AHCA—should it pass through the Senate in anything like its current form—would cost more than 20 million citizens their health care, raise costs even further, and make finding even expensive insurance difficult for those with pre-existing conditions—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for a truly punitive piece of legislation.
In this grim reality, stuck between a rock and a hard place, it’s no wonder that many Americans are pushing for a single-payer, government-run system, of the kind that exists in almost every other country in the western world. Such a system would be paid for with increased taxes, but would essentially eliminate private health care costs. The degree to which the expense of the former would be offset by the savings of the latter is a matter of ongoing debate, but the benefits to the health of sick Americans—particularly those outside the top ten percent—are not.
Single-payer is one solution, and you might expect that Mother Jones, a liberal rag with truly progressive origins, to support it. Instead, trotting out Iraq War-supporter, Clinton apologist, Sanders-hater, and crypto-conservative millennial-hater Kevin Drum, the mag has a slightly different take. Here’s the headline:
Health Care is Expensive. Deal With It.
I mean…can you imagine being caught dead writing something like that, even if it’s what you believed in the coldest depths of your corporatist heart?
“There’s a systemic problem that is costing Americans their money, their homes, and their lives, and it’s only getting worse…so just accept it, poor people, because fuck you.”
Now, Drum may argue that his point is that he’s not arguing against single-payer, but rather just stating the plain facts of the matter—that we should accept the increased costs. But the blog post that follows is full of classic concern trolling, and even distorts the increased cost in California, a state that is attempting to pass such a system. So to paint this piece as anything but a tacit endorsement of the status quo—especially considering there’s no part where Drum writes about how it might be worthwhile, despite the expense—is a non-starter.
Drum’s piece is short, but it’s incredibly callous and stupid. After making the argument that a single-payer system might cost money, as though that’s the only thing that could possibly matter, he offers this real-life example from California:
There was a lot of surprise today about an estimate that a single-payer plan for California would have a net additional cost of about $200 billion. But California has 12 percent of the nation’s population, and 12 percent of $1.5 trillion is $180 billion. So that estimate is right in the ballpark of what you should expect. Short of some kind of legislative miracle, there’s really no way around this. Health care is expensive.
But here’s what the source article he cites actually says:
Of course, the shift to a single-payer system should reduce current spending on health insurance by employers and workers, so those savings could offset some of the new taxes, the analysts said. The report estimated that employers and employees in California spend $100 billion to $150 billion a year now on health insurance and medical care.
“Total new spending required under the bill would be between $50 billion and $100 billion per year,” the report said.
So aside from quadrupling the actual additional cost to employees and employers—and theoretically quadrupling the national estimate, leading him to that $1.5 trillion number—Drum pulls the classic trick of all single-payer opponents, which is to pretend that increased taxes won’t be offset AT ALL by the elimination of private expenses that such a system would entail. Instead, he promotes his half-assed cocktail-napkin calculations as truth, when in fact it’s nothing more than an example of embarrassing amateur economics. In reality, as Ryan Cooper notes, the U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other country, and there’s strong evidence that “administrative bloat” accounts for this unnecessary cost. It would be impossible for someone like Drum to calculate how much we’d actually save, unless he looked at similar models used by other countries. Which he didn’t, because then he’d have to conclude the obvious—we’d spend less money on health insurance than we do now. Seriously, look:
Beyond the financial component, it’s also noteworthy that Drum gives no space to the radical idea that maybe, just maybe, a slight increase in tax expenses might be morally acceptable if it means that lives will be saved, diseased will be prevented, and those who suffer from serious illnesses don’t have to endure the extremes of debt and poverty if they have the temerity to try to stay alive. Instead, like any good conservative, he believes that taxes are the greatest evil known to man, and that increasing government spending is a greater sin than the suffering of that government’s people.
Instead of indulging the ethical side of the equation, Drum and Mother Jones continue to embrace the role of corporate centrists, and to stump for the ugly neoliberalism that cost Democrats the presidency in November. It’s gross.