In the Arena

Lieberman’s Health Care Coquetry

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I share Joe Lieberman’s opposition to making Medicare available to those in the 55-64 age range. It’s not that I don’t want health care made available to all; it’s that Medicare, as currently constituted, is an unmanaged financial sinkhole. I’d be in favor of Medicare for All if doctors were paid salaries–as the Mayo and Cleveland clinics do–rather than a fee for each service performed. That’s the sort of cost control measure this year’s health care bill needed, and we’ll eventually have to embrace, but which the doctors’ lobby blocked (and our sad, craven Congress didn’t even deign to consider).

But I disagree with Lieberman’s apparent decision–for the time being–to vote against health care reform simply because of this provision. The benefits of the bill far outweigh the problems with it. And the passage of the bill would be just the next step in what must be a continuing process of reform–toward what should be the next health care system: a single payer system with tightly-controlled private insurers (as in Switzerland) and medical personnel paid salaries instead of fees.

In fact, I think Lieberman’s games-playing here should put him in a very tenuous position with the Democratic Party. He was defeated in the Democratic primary and ran for reelection as an Independent 2006; he proceeded to actively support John McCain’s benighted presidential campaign last year. Harry Reid forgave and forgot, and forgot again, and allowed Lieberman to keep his seniority on crucial committees like Armed Services. But this should be a litmus test: if Lieberman doesn’t vote for this bill, he should no longer be considered part of the Democratic caucus; he should be stripped of his seniority and committee assignments.

On the other hand, if Lieberman gets his way and all hint of a public option is stripped from the bill–and several Republicans, like Snow and Collins decide to vote for it, I would still say the same principle applies: a yes vote is indicated. Extending health insurance to all, and ending the insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions etc, is just too important to vote against.