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Democracy and Single Payer

July 4, 2021

Comment by Jim Kahn

On the 4th of July, my thoughts turn to our system of governance, as it relates to health reform.

Our democracy is under siege. First, the President who lost his re-election bid tried to retain power by claiming he won and fomenting a coup. Crisis averted, barely. The vast majority of GOP officials still support this “big lie” about the election. Then, in June, a Democratic Senator – Joe Manchin of W. Virginia – published an op-ed declaring his fealty to the filibuster (anti-majority) and bipartisanship (a myth) over voting rights. This would allow GOP-controlled swing states to selectively disenfranchise Democrats, especially poor people of color living in big cities. Subsequently, Manchin expressed support for a scaled-back but still strong voting rights bill. Encouraging. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld state laws that manipulate voting rules in ways that will likely selectively disenfranchise blacks, relying on a 6-3 conservative majority enabled by Mitch McConnel’s abandonment of long-standing norms regarding Supreme Court appointments. Worrisome. The future of voting bills and rights – with implications for 2022 Congressional midterms and Biden’s ability to govern – will play out later this month. These events are thoroughly and thoughtfully chronicled by Heather Cox Richardson in Letters from an American. I also recommend Paul Krugman’s forceful take-down of the GOP’s thorough abandonment of reality in favor of ideology and self-interest. Dire challenges loom for democracy.

So what does this have to do with single payer financing of health care?

A lot, actually. The parallels are numerous. For today’s blog, I offer a list. If you care to suggest others, please reply to the email or add comments on the website. In future posts, I’ll delve into specific issues.

Democracy and single payer …

  • Both honor human rights, highlighting human dignity – the ability to participate in collective decisions, and the right to healthcare and health.
  • Both foster equality – everyone is treated the same. No preferential voice, no preferential care. Nobody excluded.
  • Both reflect and strengthen community values – society working collectively to address important decisions and solutions.
  • Both honor majority rule – fair voting to maximize the right and ability to cast ballots, and adoption of a health care financing approach favored by most Americans.
  • Both use simplicity to achieve performance & efficiency – one straightforward, unconvoluted set of rules for everyone, simplifying and maximizing access.
  • Both reduce manipulation of the system for gain by those in control – by requiring neutral voting rules and eliminating exorbitant profits from the provision of health.
  • Both recognize that some societal functions are most efficiently and effectively accomplished by government agencies –e.g., fairly designed and enforced voting, and financing for essential services like health care.

I think I always knew intuitively that single payer is profoundly democratic. Now I’m beginning to understand the details.

Finally, the day-to-day struggles for both causes are linked:

Empowering the maximum number of people with the vote will bolster the prospects for single payer. Because voters – especially those the GOP is trying to exclude – support single payer. And achieving single payer will build commitment to progressive, democratic values, and showcase the advantages of a benevolent government. Linking the battles may prove synergistically enabling, helping achieve both worthy causes.

Enjoy the holiday weekend, and next week let’s all dig in again to fight for justice in democracy and health care.


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