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Functioning Democracy: A Prerequisite for Single Payer

August 2, 2023

Comment by: Jim Kahn

On Tuesday, a Washington DC grand jury handed down four indictments of former President Donald J. Trump for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. This reflects the investigation led by special prosecutor Jack Smith, guided by the Congressional Jan. 6 hearings. It is a historic moment – holding to account a US president whose conspiratorial actions threatened a pillar of democracy: that the vote should determine the election outcome.

In my view, it is far more than symbolic. Many voters in the general presidential election will be swayed by the evidence of Trump’s malfeasance presented at trial, and by convictions. This will shift votes to the Democratic candidate, likely Joe Biden. Thus, the pursuit of justice may be a deciding factor for who is the next president, and by extension the country’s future.

The implications for single payer are also vast. A Trump presidency would be a large step toward fascism, with dire consequences for progressive political action. Our political challenges in achieving single payer are well-acknowledged. Indeed, many Democratic leaders oppose single payer. But at least in a functioning democracy we have the freedom to work toward change, to translate broad popular support for public funding of universal insurance into legislative action. And thus to transform our health system.

As discussed previously in HJM, I believe that single payer is fundamentally democracy-enhancing. It fosters our highest democratic values– e.g., health, freedom, equality, and community. Our fragmented and profit-oriented system, on the other hand, deepens inequality, causes countless unnecessary deaths, constrains our choice, and divides us.

What a great day indeed when the tenets of democracy are enhanced, increasing the likelihood that the single payer movement can in the future return the favor. It’s the perfect healthy feedback loop.

About the Commentator, Jim Kahn

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Jim (James G.) Kahn, MD, MPH (editor) is an Emeritus Professor of Health Policy, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on the cost and effectiveness of prevention and treatment interventions in low and middle income countries, and on single payer economics in the U.S. He has studied, advocated, and educated on single payer since the 1994 campaign for Prop 186 in California, including two years as chair of Physicians for a National Health Program California.

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