Conyers Resurrects $2.5 Trillion Govt-Run Healthcare Bill in House

Matt Cover | June 10, 2009 | 5:44pm EDT
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Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)

Washington ( - Representative John Conyers (D-Mich) brought his annual government healthcare bill back to the table Wednesday, saying that if the government were to spend the same amount as individual Americans -- $2.5 trillion – universal healthcare could be a reality, adding that the current privatized system was “broken.”
“Our broken private insurance system burdens our business community and allows many of our fellow citizens to die,” Conyers told the House Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions subcommittee.
Conyers’ bill, H.R. 676, The United States Health Care Act, would establish a publicly funded, government-administered healthcare system similar to those established in Canada and Great Britain. Known as a “single payer” system, Conyers’ plan would transform Medicare from a government program reserved for retirees to one that would replace private health insurance companies with a new government program.
For Conyers, the key to a successful government system is cost, or price, controls. The long-serving Democrat said that if government could control costs, a government-run plan would be fiscally sustainable. Conyers said it would cost no more than the $2.5 trillion Americans already spend individually.
“If we deliberately hold down costs with a cohesive public-private partnership, we can afford to provide true universal healthcare with the $2.5 trillion we already spend each year,” Conyers testified before the subcommittee.
Under Conyers’ plan, the government would use taxpayers’ money to fund an expansion of Medicare that would extend health coverage for everyone in America.
Proponents of such a plan say it is superior to the Obama administration’s proposed foray into American healthcare, arguing that without the government to control costs Obama’s proposals are doomed to have the same problems as Medicare.
Doctor Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, said that while Obama’s ideas might improve care, they would not reduce costs. Conyers’ plan, she said, should be the national model.
“Initiatives such as electronic records, disease management, preventive care, and comparative effectiveness studies may improve care, but experts agree that they’re unlikely to save much money,” Angell told the subcommittee.
“The only way to provide universal and comprehensive coverage and to control costs is to adopt a nonprofit, single-payer system like that called for in HR 676,” she said.
Currently, Medicare is projected to go into the red this year and faces a $34 trillion actuarial deficit over the next 50 years, according to the 2009 annual report issued by the program’s trustees. An actuarial deficit means that Medicare will pay more out in services than it collects in payroll taxes.
Geri Jenkins, co-president of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee, told Congress that the current system trades money for human lives, adding that only the government could guarantee coverage for all.
“Right now we are the only nation on earth that barters human life for money,” Jenkins said. “We need a guaranteed single standard of high quality care for all.”
Dr. David Gratzer, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, disagreed, telling the subcommittee that his experience as a Canadian doctor convinced him that a government-run system was not the best way forward.
“I grew up under socialized medicine,” Metzger explained. “I understand why people would believe in a single-payer system. I’ve changed my mind because I saw the reality in Canada, in Britain and across Europe. To say that we’re going to solve this with a government solution is a terrible mistake.”
The mistake, according to Conyers, was that Canada and Great Britain do not spend enough money on their systems.
“It is true that Canada and the United Kingdom have had waits for elective procedures, but that is because they spend 60 percent and 33 percent less than we do on health care,” said Conyers. “A single-payer system will allow us to cover everyone without spending any more money than we do now.”
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) told that any government-run healthcare system would only give people a right “to get in line,” saying that every such system restricts choice and costs the public more money.
“If you look historically at any nation that has adopted a single-payer, universal healthcare system, the right to healthcare that individuals have in those nations is a right to get in line,” said Price. “So, it’s not a right to healthcare, it’s a right to wait to either die or not get your test, or not be seen by the doctor.”
Price, a private physician, said that the reform proposal that he will be introducing soon would extend universal coverage to everyone through the tax code and make it so individuals own and control their health insurance.
“I would provide for universal coverage through a system of tax reforms that would make it so it’s financially feasible for everybody to have health coverage,” he said, adding, “and I would make it so that that coverage is owned and controlled by the patient and his or her family, so that the system is responsive to patients, not politicians or government.”
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