By Eric Zorn
Chicago Tribune
Friday, August 07, 2009

Nice poker play last week by U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner.

As the House Energy and Commerce Committee was marking up health-care reform legislation, the New York Democrat offered up an amendment to abolish Medicare.

His point? Not to get rid of the program that provides insurance for America’s seniors on the 44th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Medicare Act of 1965, as he explained in his speech. But “to clarify one of the great, enduring mysteries.” Where do “my Republican friends stand on the issue of government-run health-care?”

Members of the GOP do carry on quite a bit about how awful it is, he observed, quoting several of them arguing that publicly funded health plans such as those now being proposed will lead to inefficiencies, rationing and the breaking of the doctor-patient bond.

But Medicare — along with comprehensive coverage for active military, veterans and American Indians — “is not only government-run health care, but it’s remarkably efficient,” Weiner said. Imperfect in some ways, of course, but “a pretty darn good model of what a public plan [covering everyone] might look like.”

His voice moist with sarcasm, Weiner addressed Republicans on the committee: “This is your opportunity . . . to eliminate the Medicare Act. Once and for all, stamp out the scourge of public, government-run, government-administered, single-payer health care. This is your chance. . . . I dare ya. I double dare ya. Vote ‘yes’ on this and then go home and explain to your constituents, how you’re so philosophically opposed to publicly funded health care that you voted to eliminate Medicare.” (Read or watch his whole five-minute speech here)

Lacking a triple-dog dare, the Republicans on the committee — along with the Democrats — unanimously voted no on Weiner’s amendment.

See, Medicare, despite its faults, is an extremely popular and entrenched program. I could find no public opinion polls in the modern era that have even bothered to ask if it should be abolished and grandma and grandpa dumped back into the private health-care insurance market. Similarly, I couldn’t find any recent polls in Canada that asked Canadians if they wanted to abandon their national health-care program in favor of an American-style system.

A Harris-Decima poll released last month showed 82 percent of Canadians prefer their nation’s health-care delivery system to ours.

A June, 2008, poll commissioned by the Globe and Mail newspaper and the CTV Television Network found 91 percent of Canadians saying the same.

An Ipsos/McClatchy poll last month found 65 percent of Canadians (and 49 percent of Americans) tending to agree with the statement “I currently have access to all of the health-care services I need without it costing me more than I can afford.”

Admittedly, that same poll found 74 percent of Canadians (and 53 percent of Americans) saying they had to “wait a long time for an appointment when . . . referred to a specialist.” Few would deny that there are gaps and delays in Canada’s system, and a Health Council of Canada report on public perceptions found 54 percent of Canadians in 2004 saying the health system north of the border needs “some fairly major repairs.”

Yet an unscientific Canadian Broadcasting Corp. poll taken that same year named Tommy Douglas — who led that nation’s fight for universal health care in the 1960s — as the Greatest Canadian of all time.

What this suggests is that if, somehow, the Democrats overcome the well-funded campaign against significant health-care reform and create a Medicare-style program for everyone, it, too, will eventually become untouchably popular.

Forty-four years from now, to prove a point, some wag in Congress will raffishly, ironically rise to propose a return to the pre-2010 health-care system in which more than 40 million Americans were uninsured and those who were fortunate enough to be covered had private bureaucrats standing between them and their doctors.

His proposal will go down to unanimous defeat. And some other wag in what used to be called a newspaper will praise him for his poker play.

Posted at PNHP.

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