The Globe’s op-ed page neatly runs down the implications of Wal-Mart & Friends’ recent calls for universal health care, with this bottom line: It’s going to take more government involvement, and therefore more tax money.
It’s fascinating to see the calls for reform going in two completely different directions: One towards supposedly more employer responsibility through a Massachusetts-style system, as demonstrated in John Edwards’ plan and separately, Sen. Ron Wyden’s plan; and the inevitable endgame of business, which is to externalize the cost of health care entirely. I don’t think Wal-Mart wants a “play or pay”, in the end.
So the question is whether business interests — and individuals — are willing to pay somewhat higher taxes in return for a bigger government role and hopefully, a break in premiums and real universality. It would make good sense for any business to stop paying x in health insurance in exchange for paying x-1 in health-related taxes. But Wal-Mart didn’t get to where it is by leaving money on the table: You know that eventually, they don’t want to pay for it at all.
So far, the success of the Massachusetts law has been in direct proportion to how big a role the state plays: For very low-income folks, the system is great, and they get great care, whereas before they might have only gotten expensive ER care. Where the law involves individual or employer responsibility … it’s made people very nervous indeed. So, in the end, it may be that more government is the most palatable option for a wide variety of interests. Will we be willing to let the government do the job — and provide the funds for it to do so?