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If the policy is right & the politics are wrong, change the politics!

Newsletter Opinion
The New York Times
August 3, 2021
By Paul Krugman

When you’re a wonk trying to be a pundit — or for that matter any kind of technocrat who wants to have real-world influence — it’s usually not helpful to push for policies that you believe would be right in principle but have no political chance of becoming reality.

The prime example for me has been health insurance. If our goal is to make sure that everyone has adequate, affordable health care, why not just pay for everyone’s care? On policy grounds, I’ve never disagreed with the proposition that we should have Medicare for all; there’s even a pretty good case for direct provision of medical care along the lines of Britain’s National Health Service. Why bother with a Rube Goldberg device like Obamacare, which uses regulations and subsidies to nudge private insurers into covering most people?

But the politics are impossible, and not just because of special interests: You’d have to persuade the 170 million Americans with private insurance to accept something completely different. Even though most of them would probably be better off, that’s too heavy a lift. So incremental reform, possibly evolving over time into single-payer, is how it’s going to have to be.

Virchow at 200 and Lown at 100 — Physicians as Activists
By Salvatore Mangione, M.D., and Mark L. Tykocinski, M.D.
New England Journal of Medicine
July 22, 2021

Current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in 2019 about the need for physicians to be guardians of integrity: “People will accuse us of being political, but if people accuse you of being political because you’re standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, then you should do it anyway, because that is at the heart of our profession.”

Comment by: Don McCanne

Anyone who has studied the subject realizes that a well-designed single payer system would provide equitable, high quality health care for everyone at a price that each of us could afford, paid for with progressive taxes. In principle, the concept is the moral imperative, but it does not mesh with the politics.

So what do we do? Like Paul Krugman, who represents the intellectuals who do understand, do we say that it is too heavy a lift? And then do we move on to insufficient and unsatisfactory tinkering? No, that is not right. The only right course is the one that accomplishes our goal of health care justice for all.

If the policy is right and the politics are wrong, you change the politics, not the policy. That would move us into the realm of politics, but, as Vivek Murthy said, since we’ll be standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, we should do it anyway. It’s simply the right thing to do.

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