Barney Frank Says He Agrees with Obama that Single-Payer Health Care Systems Have Worked Well
June 18, 2009 - 5:35 PMHouse Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) agrees with President Barack Obama that a government-run, single-payer health care system works well in some countries, and Frank named Scandinavia as a good example.
In a speech before the American Medical Association on Monday, Obama said, “I’ll be honest, there are countries where a single-payer system works pretty well.” While Obama did not name a country where he thinks government-run health care works well, Frank told CNSNews.com on Thursday that he agreed with the president.
It works in “Scandinavia,” said Frank.
As prime minister of Britain, “Margaret Thatcher considered it a great attack on her when people said she was trying to pick apart health care,” said Frank. “Britain goes way beyond a single-payer. That’s socialized medicine. Scandinavia, much of Western Europe,” have a single-payer system that works.
While the White House insists that its “public option” health care proposal is not designed to introduce a single-payer program, many analysts and Republican lawmakers say that what the president is proposing will lead inevitably to a single-payer system and that Obama is not being honest about the issue.
The "public option" is a government-owned health insurance company that Obama's reform proposal would create in order to compete with private health insurance companies in a market where all Americans would be required by federal law to buy health insurance.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who doubts the president’s sincerity on the matter, told CNSNews.com: “The single-payer plan is the natural result of his policies, and whether he’s willing to admit it or not, I think it’s deceptive to say that.”
Smith also thinks the president is wrong to say that single-payer has worked well in any country.
“Unfortunately for the president, history and the experience of other countries contradict his words,” Smith said. “European nations, as well as Canada, have all experienced frustrations with a single-payer system. A single-payer system has resulted in care rationing, where particularly the elderly don’t get the care they need. It has resulted in lengthy waits for necessary medical procedures, and it is not saving the money that was being claimed.”
The House is awaiting action from the Senate, which is mulling health care reform in the Senate Finance Committee. Though the committee was supposed to release draft legislation this week, the committee announced it would wait possibly until after July 4.
The Congressional Budget Office released a report this week that said health care reform as proposed by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) would cost at least $1 trillion by 2019 and still leave 37 million people uninsured.
After Obama’s speech on Monday, CNSNews.com asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what countries President Obama was talking about when he said a single-payer system works. “I don’t know exactly the countries," said Gibbs. "I think if you talk to the people in the countries that have that system, they think their health care is pretty good.
“I assume Canada, Britain, maybe France,” said Gibbs. “I don’t know the exact countries, but again, I don’t think the president is going way out on a limb that some people in other countries have a health care system that they like. Just as some Americans like the health care system that they have.”
Concerning the White House’s honesty about “public option” vs. single-payer, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, told CNSNews.com: “To quote the president: ‘He’s simply not telling the truth.’ It’s not only a slippery slope; it is the first step in the process to a government-run, government takeover of health care.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said a government-run option would not replace the private insurance market.
“We will have a public option coming out of the House of Representatives,” she said at a Thursday press conference. “It will be one that is actuarially sound, administratively self-sufficient, one that contributes and adds to competition, not eliminate competition. It may not be called a public option, but it will be a level playing field.”
“We will have a public option in the House that will be real,” Pelosi said. “If it is not real, then it won’t be worth doing. This does not drown out the private sector. This is to provide the American people with choices – and that is better served with a public option.”
Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is reviewing health care legislation, said he has a strong interest in seeing that the private market is not shut out.
“I’m a strong proponent of a public option, but I come from a district with a lot of private health insurance companies,” Murphy told CNSNews.com. “So, I have both a policy and parochial interest in making sure that the public option doesn’t crowd out private insurance. My interest is in a public option that forces insurance companies to compete and bring down costs.”
In regard to other countries, Murphy said that reviewing their systems can be a constructive but not a definitive factor in crafting health care reform in the United States.
“Our health care reform effort is going to create a uniquely American system,” Murphy told CNSNews.com. “I think it’s worthwhile to look at the experiences of other countries but not worthwhile to expect that we’re going to import a Canadian or British single-payer system.
“I think what other countries show us is that the amount of money you spend on health care is not related to the quality of outcomes,” he said. “That’s what we have to keep central to our health care effort – that as we reduce the amount of money we spend on health care, we can actually improve outcomes.”
Ed Feulner, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, issued a letter Thursday criticizing the “public option” plan being pushed by the White House and many Democrats.
“The inclusion of a public option is nothing more than a Trojan horse,” the letter said. “The architects of the president’s proposals, and the sponsors of his proposals on Capitol Hill, know that once a government plan is in place, private insurance companies will be eventually run out of business. The government already owns a major bank and auto company; we shouldn’t hand over the medical industry as well."
"We not only believe that we are alerting the nation to potentially catastrophic consequences when we point out pitfalls in his plans, we think that some proposals being made by the White House are advertised on false premises," the letter added.