One of the most surreal items on the Web today is this interview by Ezra Klein of Sen. Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota and member of the infamous “gang of six” holding up the Senate health care reform bill in order to chase some phantom of “bipartisanship.”
What comes across all too painfully is that Conrad has no idea what he’s talking about. Conrad recently read T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America, and this is what he took away from it: Conrad thinks the health care system “in France, Germany, Japan, Belgium and Switzerland, is not government-run. That doesn’t mean there’s no government involvement. But it’s not a government-run system. They have largely private insurance, with employers contributing.”
This is, um, not true. Ezra tries to explain: “In France, for instance, the insurance really is government-run. The vast majority of people are on public insurance, and there’s private supplementary insurance atop that. So too with Japan. They’re not confined to simply subsidizing the poor.”
But Conrad comes back and says “But it’s not government-run. The doctors and hospitals are private. You’re right that in France there’s more of a government involvement beyond providing money for those who can’t afford coverage. There’s a regulatory involvement in terms of what’s required by the plans. But the plans themselves, the mutuals, are not government.”
To this last statement Ezra has supplied a footnote: “The French mutuals provide supplementary private insurance. Basic insurance is provided by a program the French call Social Security.” My understanding is that the French have a public insurance system that covers all citizens with the option of purchasing private supplemental insurance if they want to.
Quoting Steve Benen:
Matt Yglesias noted that in Germany, consumers are required to purchase coverage from one of many non-profit “sickness funds” that are regulated by the government. “It’s true that this meets a technical definition of ‘not government-run.'” Matt explained. “But the extent to which the Germany system isn’t government run doesn’t extend to dealing with any of the concerns of private industry. Which is fine by me, but nothing in Conrad’s talk of co-ops and such has suggested that he’s serious trying to put for-profit health insurance out of business, which is exactly what the German model does.”
I see a whole lot of semantic noise around the term “government-run.” On the one hand, Conrad seems to want to define “government-run” health care as a system like Britain’s, in which doctors in the National Health Service are government employees. However, a system in which tax dollars are paying for citizens’ health care via some kind of government administration, but in which government is not actively involved in managing health care, is not government-run. That’s fine, but for Conrad that definition only applies overseas. As you read on, you see that he defines the proposed public insurance option for the U.S. as “government-run health care.”
And what’s even more stunning is that Conrad seems to have only recently noticed that nations other than Canada and the UK have national health care systems.
Meanwhile, there’s a new New York Times poll in which a majority of respondents “were confused about the health care argument and that Mr. Obama had not done a good job in explaining what he was trying to accomplish.” 46 percent said they didn’t know enough about the President’s health care proposals to support or oppose them. Of the remainder, 30 percent mostly support and 23 percent mostly oppose. I assume the remaining 1 percent don’t know what “health care” is.
However, as Josh Marshall points out, the same poll asked:
“Would you favor or oppose the government offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans?”
Interestingly, according to the poll, support for a public option has jumped 5 points since late August and opposition to it has dropped 8 points.
This suggests to me that a large majority of Americans would favor the President’s proposals if they knew what they were. And yes, President Obama could have been more assertive throughout the summer at pushing back against the insanity spewing from the Right. But I think the larger blame for public confusion has to go to the Right, for its aggressive disinformation campaign, and news media for passively reporting the disinformation.