Shortly after I was discharged from the Army Air Forces in 1946, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan introduced the first national health care bill ever to come before Congress. Sixty-four years after Rep. Dingell’s bill was defeated (despite President Harry Truman’s support) Dingell’s son, Rep. John Dingell Jr., continues to believe that every American should have access to good medical care and that it’s the responsibility of the federal government to make it happen.
Dingell Jr. is 83. He has held his dad’s old seat for 55 years — and has in-troduced a universal health care bill most every one of those 55 years.
After Massachusettts voters elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate last Tuesday, a reporter interviewed Dingell. Was he disappointed? Yes, but he didn’t think health care was the deciding issue.
Dingell set the scene: Massachusetts has a health care bill of its own. More than 96 percent of the state’s population has coverage. Republican Governor Mitt Romney signed the bill into law. Scott Brown, who was in the Massachusetts state senate then, voted for it. The people of Massachusetts didn’t vote against health care reform.
So what should happen now?
“ … We ought to take this bill to conference and stand the Republicans up in the baleful light and (make them) oppose this legislation before the public. They’ve been whining that it’s not been open enough. Let the people see it,” Dingell said.
“So you’re saying there should be a televised conference committee to make clear who’s being constructive and who is not,” the reporter asked.
“You betcha,” Dingell replied.
That isn’t likely to happen. The House doesn’t seem likely to pass the Senate bill so that it can go to conference. President Obama seems ready to rework the legislation, make it less comprehensive, tailor it to attract some Republican votes.
Still, Rep. Dingell surely is right to counsel his party members to stick to their guns on the issue. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial writers agree that the health care status quo isn’t sustainable. Health care costs keep rising even in a recession that has forced most other prices down. Health care is eating 17 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Medicare is in the red. Medicaid is the fastest growing element in many state budgets. Despite all that spending, 46 million Americans are without coverage.
To add to this preposterous picture, the United States pays almost 50 percent more for health care than any other modern nation and is the only rich country without universal care. Despite far lower costs, there are 23 nations that secure better health care outcomes for their citizens.
So, yes, Congress and the administration should go back to the drawing board and come up with health care legislation that covers all of us and reduces costs.
WHAT WOULD such a health care system look like? Maybe like one of those that have been working well in Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and so on down a long, long roster. Successful models abound. Let us persuade our decision-makers to accept instruction from the nations that solved the health care delivery problem many years ago. That would let us cut our costs by half a trillion dollars a year, balance our budget and move on down the road.
It would also bring a smile to Rep. Dingell Jr.’s face and let him retire in peace.
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