That’s the conclusion of single payer advocate Dr. Quentin Young, national coordinator for Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), in his just released autobiography – Everybody In, Nobody Out: Memoirs of a Rebel Without a Pause.
“Had I been in Congress, I would have unequivocally voted against Obamacare,” Young writes. “It’s a bad bill. Whether it’s worse than what we have now could be argued. We rather think because of its ability to enshrine and solidify the corporate domination of the health system, it’s worse than what we have now. But whether it is somewhat better or a lot worse is immaterial. The health system isn’t working in this country — fiscally, medically, socially, morally.”
Young rejects the idea that President Obama should have compromised on single payer in the face of industry opposition.
“I don’t have any sympathy for the idea that the president had to compromise because his opposition was strong,” Young writes. “Winning is not always winning the election. Winning is making a huge fight and then taking the fight to the people — re-electing people who are supporting your program and defeating those who aren’t.”
Young first met the young Barack Obama in the mid-1990s at social gatherings.
At the time, Obama was lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School and practicing law.
“We did not become bosom buddies after a few of these social gatherings — I just viewed him as a nice, bright guy living in the neighborhood,” Young says.
When Obama ran for the Illinois Senate, Young supported him.
“I was happy with his views on health care,” Young writes. “He recognized that major reform was necessary and indicated support for a single-payer approach. No blushing friend, I took every opportunity to solidify his position. While not an official adviser, I tried to influence him as much as I could. My colleagues and I sent him notes touting the advantages of single-payer and the form it might take and talked with him and his staff about it whenever I had the chance.”
“I felt I did influence him,” Young said.
When Obama ran for the Senate in 2003, Obama told the Illinois AFL-CIO:
“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.”
But just a year later, Obama had flipped and came out against single payer in Illinois.
“I was very disappointed by his move to the right to keep the insurance companies in command,” Young told the Springfield State Journal Register in 2004. “I’m not accusing him of lying or misconduct. I’m accusing him of a lack of courage.”
But despite Obama’s “lack of courage,” Young supported Obama in his run for U.S. Senate and later for president. Young was just setting himself up for more disappointment.
At a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in August 2009, Obama was asked whether he supported a universal health care plan.
“First of all, I want to make a distinction between a universal plan versus a single-payer plan, because those are two different things,” Obama said.
“A single-payer plan would be a plan like Medicare for all, or the kind of plan that they have in Canada, where basically government is the only person — is the only entity that pays for all health care. Everybody has a government-paid-for plan, even though in, depending on which country, the doctors are still private or the hospitals might still be private. In some countries, the doctors work for the government and the hospitals are owned by the government. But the point is, is that government pays for everything, like Medicare for all. That is a single-payer plan.”
“I have not said that I was a single-payer supporter because, frankly, we historically have had a employer-based system in this country with private insurers, and for us to transition to a system like that I believe would be too disruptive. So what would end up happening would be, a lot of people who currently have employer-based health care would suddenly find themselves dropped, and they would have to go into an entirely new system that had not been fully set up yet. And I would be concerned about the potential destructiveness of that kind of transition.”
“All right? So I’m not promoting a single-payer plan,” Obama said.
In March 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — by a narrow margin.
“PNHP’s policy experts did a line-by-line examination of the bill and, while acknowledging that it contains some modest benefits that make changes around the edges of our existing system, basically gave it two thumbs down,” Young writes. “To this day, much to the chagrin of many of our friends who wanted reform, I remain adamant in my rejection of Obamacare.”
“Why? We want a system that excludes the private insurance companies,” Young writes. “ We demand such exclusion not because these companies are good or evil (although we think they’re pretty evil). Rather, the reason to exclude them is that they don’t address the needs of the American people.”
Young also rejects the idea of a “public option,” pushed by Democrats such as Howard Dean. A public option “would not have made any significant difference on the overall impact” of Obamacare “contrary to the view of many progressive who believed that it would,” Young says.
“Since WWII, we have learned a lot about disease and certainly have had dramatic improvements in what we can do,” Young writes. “I’m talking about surgery of the heart, vaccination, nutrition issues. All these things have been largely defined in the last half-century. We’ve had something approaching a 12-year life expectancy rise just from scientific intervention.”
“We have all this knowledge, all these options, but we have a very backward financing and delivery system and the result is a great deal of human suffering,” Young says. “And that’s why we remain opposed to the Affordable Care Act. We think we have a winning proposition despite the reality in Congress. Polls repeatedly vindicate our position. A solid majority of the public and 59 percent of doctors support the single payer approach.”
“President Obama could have made it happen,” Young says. “He could have stuck to all the virtues of single payer. And I won’t deny he may have been defeated in the first round. There’s no question that this fight has been dirty and it’s going to get dirtier.”