Editorial cartoon (6/9/10)

There’s no doubt that an overwhelming number of Americans will be better off with the new health care law, which after one of the country’s most contentious debates will now be phased in over the next decade.

The fact that 30 million more Americans will have health care coverage is reason enough to celebrate.

To be sure, there will be some loud voices complaining about anecdotal glitches that will most certainly attract over-the-top media attention. But any time you can extend health coverage to tens of millions and stop some of the awful insurance practices that have savaged so many people’s lives, it’s a big step in the right direction.

Some aspects of the new health care law are confusing and there are questions about whether it will hold down costs as much as it should. Some small-business owners say the new law is a godsend in helping them maintain coverage for their workers. Some big corporations insist they’ll have to spend more because they won’t get the tax breaks they’ve been receiving.

Nevertheless, as most Americans get used to the new provisions and the safeguards that they contain, they’ll come to like it, just as they grew accustomed to Social Security and Medicare.

But what’s still so befuddling is that health care reform could have been so much better — and easier for everyone to understand.

In fact, following the 2008 presidential election, the opportunity to finally get the United States to adopt a universal single-payer health care system seemed at hand.

Many of the Democrats who had been swept into office that fall had campaigned for single-payer and there were strong indications that the congressional leadership was ready to introduce legislation that, in effect, would reduce the eligibility for Medicare from age 65 to 0.

People were beginning to understand that there’s enough administrative waste in the existing system that extending health coverage to every American from birth to death could be accomplished without substantial added cost. Yes, the Medicare payroll tax would need to be increased, but that increase would be more than offset by the elimination of insurance premiums for both employers and employees.

Further, single-payer isn’t some kind of experimental, untested idea. It’s working all around us, has been for years. For decades the Canadians, the British, the French, the Germans and countless other so-called advanced countries have had a universal health care system that covers all of their citizens.

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Yet by the time Congress fiddle-faddled its way through a bunch of meetings and pro-insurance company legislators were placed in key positions to come up with a bill that would somehow appeal to Republicans as well as so-called Blue Dog Democrats, single-payer didn’t even make it to first base. The entrenched interests -- those with money to throw into campaign coffers and into lobbying -- succeeded in shoving it aside.

So now we have a much watered-down health care law without even what was supposed to be a sop to single-payer, the much ballyhooed public option. Nevertheless it is better than doing nothing, which would have allowed insurance companies to cancel policies for virtually any reason and left some 45 million Americans without any coverage at all.

Perhaps this start -- and it is a start -- will lead to something bigger down the line. Let’s hope so.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com