Monday, June 08, 2009

Taxing Our Health - Can NPR Say "Single Payer?"

In The Risks and Rewards of Taxing Health Benefits this morning, Scott Horsley discusses ways of paying for health care reform without mentioning Single Payer.

Horsely lays out the arguments in favor of a new tax on health benefits pretty much as they are described by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities who argue that

(1) the exclusion provides the greatest benefit to those with the highest income.

(2) the exclusion encourages costlier coverage

(3) "the White House has announced that it will insist that health reform legislation be fully paid for. Congress will likely find it difficult to meet this objective unless the bill includes a cap on the exclusion as a significant source of financing. As a result, attaining universal coverage may depend on including a cap in the legislation."

The CPBB claim that the health insurance tax exclusion is "the nation's most costly tax subsidy," estimating it at about $145B/yr. But elsewhere, the CPBB estimates that the tax subsidy affected by lowering taxes on capital gains and dividends costs $148B/yr, thus contradicting themselves?

During the presidential campaign, Obama derided the tax on benefits claiming that

John McCain’s health plan would tax health benefits for the first time ever — imposing a trillion [$] tax increase on working families and leaving millions without heath [sic] care.

We didn't hear about that in Horsley's report - nor the comparable benefits of letting the dividends and capital gains tax cut expire. Instead we get a lame comparison with crass consumerism:

"Just like for anything else, if you got 30 percent off on your next car purchase, you'd probably buy a bigger car," said Leonard Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
Coincidentally, 30% are the estimated savings were we to go to Single Payer.

Now Leonard Burman is, no doubt, very intelligent and knowledgeable in these matters, but health insurance is not a commodity like a car and the analogy does a disservice to listeners. Without going into the arcana of the health care debate, suffice it to say that the words "Single Payer" did not pass through NPR's Horsley's lips, nor any of those he chose to interview.

According the GAO (as cited here) a Single-Payer type plan would save $150B/yr (2002 dollars) in administrative costs and you'd have "everybody in/nobody out."

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL–CIO has weighed in on this recently, and to his credit, Horsley does bring in Gerald Shea from AFL-CIO, but Horsley undercuts Shea with a swift boat slash saying, "academic arguments [aren't] very persuasive to union leaders." As if you wouldn't expect union leaders to be well-educated (Shea is a graduate of Boston College.)

Of course, Shea doesn't much support single payer either. He is quoted here commenting on the health benefit tax exclusion:

That would be a radical change. If you’re going to go that far, you might as well go to a single payer system. I’m flabbergasted that you would even consider it.
So what was really excluded was the option that about 60% of Americans favor: Single Payer. It's interesting to note that a NPR search for "Single Payer" yields 157 hits over the last 13 years, but a review of the last 10 or so shows that most hits are from reader's comments, not the article itself.


Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in seeing the "NPR playbook" that dictates which policies will get covered and how and which will be ignored or "dismissed".

This stuff (PREFERRED COVERAGE of some things and non-mention of others) is all too well orchestrated to just happen by chance.

There is a killer story in this for some NPR reporter who is tired of sucking up to management and would like to see Public radio given back to the public.

I'd bet it would win a Pulitzer if some insider actually exposed NPR for what it has become.

Who at NPR is going to be a REAL journalist?

mjs said...

This stuff (PREFERRED COVERAGE of some things and non-mention of others) is all too well orchestrated to just happen by chance.

Precisely. Coincidence goes out the window when every slant favors the corporate position. It goes out the window and flies over an open field, where a conservative hunter shoots it down.

Where is the mention of the 30% cut (google Nader Health Insurance--regardless of what one thinks of Nader his position on Single Payer is rational,yes?) that insurance companies receive from the Premiums Pie? And where is the chart that shows how an empty hospital bed is more profitable than one with a live human being in it?

p.s Thank you for this site. I do a lot of driving and NPR has become a rather annoying ghost in the machine.


jaytingle said...

Steve was obliged to cover the Shell murders this morning, because of the cash settlement. Needless to say, there are still two sides to every story at NPR.

Anonymous said...

The real question is "Can Obama say 'single payer'?

or more precisely, can he still say "single payer" now after saying it so many time in the past in order to get elected?

It is quite clear that Senator Baucus' recent refusal to even consider single payer comes from "On High" (from Obama himself)

Obama aparently believes that if he has Baucus do his dirty work for him (taking single payer off the table before it is even on it), he can still look like the good guy who has the public's desires at heart. It's just those damned maverick Senators.

But Obama is only fooling some of the people.

The whole Baucus charade was pathetic and thoroughly dishonest.

Obama makes me sick (full disclosure: I have no health insurance)

As on so many other issues (bank bailouts, drone bombings in Pakistan, more troops to Afghanistan, etc), this is certainly not the change I voted for.
Obama is CLEARLY bowing to the will of the health insurance industry. It's campaign payback time.

If there is one thing that i can not stomach it is people who pretend to be someone they are not.

At least we always knew where we stood with Bush (against him).

With Obama, you thinks he's with you when he's really against you.

Obama used to support single payer (and I quote):

"I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program...I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that's what I'd like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House." - Barack Obama, 2003

Obama for Single-Payer Before He Was Against It.

By David Sirota, Open Left. Posted May 11, 2009.

jaytingle said...

Argh! I had intended for my comment to go with the Nigeria post which preceded the single payer posts. Oops.

WarOnWarOff said...

Pushing stuff through the memory hole is what NPR does best!

Anonymous said...

"there are still two sides to every story at NPR."

yes, that would be the far right side and the 'center' [sic] right side" , as exemplified by CEI and "Holy Joe" Lieberman [sick].

Oh, and if you look at your radio in a mirror while you are listening to NPR, you will see that NPR also has a left (virtual) side.

Virtual balance is better than none at all, right?

Anonymous said...

"Pushing stuff through the memory hole is what NPR does best!"

technically speaking, what they really excel at is pushing stuff up a much darker (and stinkier) hole.


Excellent take down of Pentagon cheerleader or is it stenographer.

I can't wait for NPR report about how the US "had to destroy that village, to save it".

P.S. Congrats on Glenn Greenwald's shout out to you.

gopol said...

I've just noticed the "here" link in the article was bad, so I've fixed it.

It's a link to Physicians for a National Health Program - Health Care is a Human Right where they claim that

The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $7,129 per capita. Yet our system performs poorly in comparison and still leaves 45.7 million without health coverage and millions more inadequately covered.

This is because private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume one-third (31 percent) of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $350 billion per year, enough to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.