by John Nichols
The initial progress came at the provincial level, led by the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation's Tommy Douglas when he served from 1941 to 1960 premier of Saskatchewan. The universal, publicly-funded "single-payer" health care system that Douglas and his socialist allies developed in Saskatchewan proved to be so successful and so popular that it was eventually adopted by other provinces and, ultimately, by Canada's federal government.
For his efforts, Douglas would be hailed in a national survey as "The Greatest Canadian" of all time. But Douglas' regional initiative also offers a lesson for Americans.
Those of us who know that the only real cure for what ails the U.S. health care system is a universal public plan that provides health care for all Americans while controlling costs recognize the frustrating reality that there are many economic and political barriers to the federal action that would create a single-payer system. This makes clearing the way experimentation at the state level all the more important.
And, remarkably, the forces of real reform have won a congressional victory on that front, a victory that ought not be underestimated.
By a 25-19 vote, the House Committee on Education and Labor on Friday approved an amendment to the House's health-care reform bill allowing states to create single-payer health care systems if they so choose.
"There are many models of health care reform from which to choose around the world – the vast majority of which perform far better than ours. The one that has been the most tested here and abroad is single-payer," explained Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who proposed the amendment. "Under a single-payer system everyone in the U.S. would get a card that would allow access to any doctor at virtually any hospital. Doctors and hospitals would continue to be privately run, but the insurance payments would be in the public hands. By getting rid of the for-profit insurance companies, we can save $400 billion per year and provide coverage for all medically necessary services for everyone in the U.S."
Votes for the amendment came from progressive Democrats who favor single-payer -- such as Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lynn Woolsey, of California, and Raul Grijalva, of Arizona -- as well as conservative Republicans who have no taste for single-payer but want states to be able to set their own agendas.
Opposition to the amendment came mainly from Democrats such as committee chair George Miller, of California, who have resisted moves to create more flexible, innovation-friendly legislation.