So we’re about a month in to the rollout of Obamacare, and wow, that could have gone better.
In fact, between glitches with the website and the fact the Obama administration promised that if you liked your insurance plan you’d get to keep it has been proven to be false (although this may be a good thing), the first real test of the president’s signature health care law has been a disaster.
I can’t imagine that in the long run the law will be a failure, but it will probably seem like it’s taking on water for a while to come. Republicans despise the law, so every second of downtime on the website, every insurance policy that is canceled because it doesn’t measure up to the law’s standards, and every glitch in the registration system will be a target. Plus, the federal Department of Health and Human Services seems bent on living up to every stereotype of a bloated, inefficient, unusable big government bureaucracy. But in the end, the law will do what it was supposed to do — people will be able to sign up for plans, and millions of people currently without coverage will have it.
This doesn’t mean our health care woes are solved, of course. We’re still spending a shocking amount of money for health care that frankly isn’t stellar. We’re also still stuck with the insurance-based system that will still, for most people, be tied to employment. Sadly, given how excruciating it was just to get what amounts to a very mild health reform passed and sustained, the federal government’s not going to move on health care for another generation.
That’s why the states need to step up and look at ways of providing quality health care that costs less. Vermont, as it turns out, is trying to do just that. It’s been Gov. Peter Shumlin’s ambitious quest to enact a single-payer health care system, like the ones in Canada, the United Kingdom, and other nations, in his small, liberal state by 2017.
What about here in Connecticut? We should also be looking beyond 2014 and the full implementation of Obamacare, and thinking about what kind of health care system makes sense for us. Should we move toward the kind of taxpayer-funded universal health care system Vermont is investigating?
There would be some major benefits if Connecticut went this route. There could be a single standard of care and everyone would be automatically covered, for starters. Employers also would no longer bear so much responsibility for employees’ health care, and access to health care wouldn’t be negotiated through a for-profit company. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, several studies at the state and national level suggest that single-payer systems would actually save a fair amount of money in the long run by cutting administrative costs and eliminating waste.
But just because Vermont is doing it doesn’t mean it would work the same way here. Connecticut is a fairly liberal state, to be sure, but there’s a divide between liberal and more moderate-to-conservative Democrats in the legislature who could be a stumbling block. Connecticut also has a larger, more diverse population than Vermont, many more hospitals and other providers, and is the home of several insurance giants.
Also, any single-payer proposal would have to fight through the thicket of myths and propaganda that have been floating around for ages concerning universal health care systems. A lot of what people say about Canadian health care, for instance, is simply not true. There aren’t massive wait times for care, the middle class doesn’t want to flee the country because of it, businesses seem to work fine with it, and care is actually better than it is here in many cases.
There’s also the fact that people don’t trust the government to do, well, anything at this point. This might be the most damaging ramification of the Obamacare launch bungle, a further erosion in the public’s trust in the institutions that represent them. Any new big government program, or even just an expansion of Medicare to cover everyone, would have trouble getting past a very thick and sturdy wall of skepticism.
Still, it is worth a serious investigation. As the federal government continues to be utterly dysfunctional, the states will have to innovate. Connecticut should join Vermont in planning a better health care system that both works for everyone and is cheaper to run, and lead the way for the rest of the country.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.