There’s an interesting set of six letters about Krugman’s article in the NY Times. One of the letters is way off base, suggesting that Medicare limits what doctors can and can’t do. Well I suppose compared to a cash paying gazillionaire that’s true, but anyone who knows anything about private health plans know that they are much tougher on limiting access to different types of care and different drugs than Medicare (not that it’s done without good reason sometimes, but as my other post this morning shows sometimes there may be no good reason). The writer wonders whether Teddy Kennedy would want to be on Medicare. Unless I don’t understand Senators’ health plans, I assume he already is, and Krugman surely will be if he doesn’t get assassinated by the loony right. It beggars belief how the Times can publish that sort of uninformed tripe which contains not one iota of evidence, but then again it never published my brilliantly argued rebuttal to a letter from AHIP’s President about a previous Krugman column.
But one of the other letters is rather more interesting. It says"
I find Paul Krugman’s column disturbing. If 72 percent of Americans want a national health insurance program but insurance companies have the power to override that majority, what does that say about the health of our democracy?
Where can we get insurance for such an ailment?
Glenn Alan Cheney, Hanover, Conn.
Basically Mr Cheney is right. People like his namesake the VP have proved time and time again that access to power can be bought by moneyed special interests — after all we still don’t know and probably never will exactly what went on in those meetings about the energy bill, but it’s pretty damn certain that Enron execs were writing US energy policy up until the moment that they just had to be repudiated.
However, I do have to take issue with the numbers quoted. Essentially Krugman is quoting a number that has stayed relatively constant in various surveys, and crosses party lines. The number is basically those who would in theory support universal health insurance. These numbers are though not very important. A much better number is those who answer the three part question Harris has been asking for 20 odd years. That question adds in the other part to "supporting universal insurance" by asking about the amount of change required in the system. The three answers are broadly a) very minor change required, b) substantial reforms required, and c) complete rebuilding required.
The important answer is how many people are looking for a complete rebuilding. Because if there isn’t a substantial group in favor of that, none of the reforms required to get to universal insurance can happen. That number tends to hover between 20% and 30% (and by the way it’s way higher here than in any other English speaking country, which gives the lie to those saying that foreigners dislike their systems as much as Americans dislike ours). During the early days of the Clinton Administration, the "completely rebuild" number got up to over 40%. More recently it also got into the higher 30s. But for an Administration or Congress to have the will to defeat the special interests on health care, that number needs to be in the 40s or even 50s and stay there for a while. We haven’t seen that, which is why we haven’t seen real reform.
It will come, but the question is, how long will it take for things to be bad enough to drive enough Americans into the "completely rebuild" camp?