Rethinking Healthcare

Was Grover Cleveland a socialist?

Posting in Technology

Today we depend upon health insurers, just as we depended then on railroads. What was left of the health reform act that probably died Tuesday was federal regulation of the insurance industry, which is now regulated only at the state level.

Republicans don't think so.

Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th President in part because he tried to cut taxes, specifically tariffs on imports. He was what we now call a free trader.

What brings this up? The same year he inveighed against tariffs, Cleveland signed the Interstate Commerce Act. This created the Interstate Commerce Commission, America's first regulatory agency.

Stop me if you've heard this before. A powerful industry (railroads in this case) on which Americans are dependent, is running roughshod over small businesses with rising prices meant only to maintain profits. It has only weak state regulation. The ICC created a federal role.

Today we depend upon health insurers, just as we depended then on railroads. What was left of the health reform act that probably died Tuesday was federal regulation of the insurance industry, which is now regulated only at the state level.

In this there is no silver lining.

The results today are like those Cleveland faced. In many states a single insurer dominates the market. There is no real competition, and no incentive to cut costs.

Even the idea of a health insurance ICC went by the boards this week, while the President who endorsed the regulation plan was branded a "socialist," a "fact" the press and bloggers dutifully reported. And their supporters dutifully repeated, here and elsewhere.

The President who dared regulate industry was Stalin, was Hitler, was Mao Zedong. Break him.

Oh, the present bill wasn't state-sponsored health care, but it was part of a "slippery slope" leading inevitably to an evil, single-payer system, we were told. Look, some supporters of the plan want single-payer. Single-payer is pure socialism, it's evil, it doesn't work.

Like the Veterans Administration doesn't work. Ask a veteran. Wouldn't they really rather be at the mercy of the "free" market?

The idea that single-payer doesn't work, like the idea of regulation as socialism, is factually incorrect. No other industrial country pays more of its gross domestic product for health care as we do. None covers a smaller percentage of its people, either.

Canadians, Europeans, Japanese, every business competitor we have is laughing at us, because they're getting a better deal.

That sucking sound you hear is American retirees moving to Mexico because it has better health care than we do. "No limits, no deductibles, free medicines, tests, X-rays, eyeglasses, even dental work — all for a flat fee of $250 or less a year," reported USA Today.

Meanwhile 44,000 people each year die in this country due to lack of access to care, caused by lack of insurance. That's nearly 15 9-11s every year, one every three and a half weeks.

If this were a foreign enemy killing our people we'd be jumping up and down, Republicans and Democrats, demanding action, demanding war. How many men and women have died in Iraq since 9-11? Not just Americans, not just allies, how many Iraqis? How many in Afghanistan? We'll bear any burden for that.

But when the enemy exists among us, when it's rhetoric and lies and political polemics on behalf of industry that's killing us, silence. Anyone who seeks to end the carnage is a socialist.

Like Grover Cleveland.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure