Yeah, this paragraph on the coming health care debate is a non-sequitur:
economists[they're not economists, they're docs — how did I miss this?? Another mistake. — Charley] David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler have estimated the bureaucratic waste from private medical insurance is some $350 billion per year, or just under 2% of GDP. On these merits alone, enacting universal healthcare is worth it.
… and unfortunately, you're going to hear a fair amount of talk on the left that “universal [access to] health care” will in and of itself fix health care economics writ large. Under the Democratic plan(s) currently under consideration, a good chunk of that “private medical insurance waste” will stay in the system, unless it's somehow legislated away.
Himmelstein and Woolhandler are well-known single-payer advocates; that means they advocate government taking over all financing of health care (bye-bye insurers) — though critically, not delivery of care. Under their plan, docs would still be private, not employees of the state a la Great Britain.
The Democratic plans (Obama's, Baucus's) are not single-payer. Not even close. They are multiple payer systems; they preserve the private insurance industry. (Why some people insist on inveighing against single-payer, I don't know; they might as well focus on the great liberal plan to re-adopt the Fairness Doctrine.)
As I linked to yesterday, Maggie Mahar points out at some length that we could get a universal health insurance law that gets everyone covered (or “covered”), and still have mad-crazy costs and a mad-crazy under-insurance problem.
And again, that's one of the reasons why it's important to have a public option for health insurance. Public competition with the private sector has been very beneficial to the consumer in the area of student loans, for instance; it would also be a very good baseline for the newly revamped insurance market.
If government can do a better job than the private sector at providing certain things, then it ought to be allowed to do so. All else is free-market-fundamentalist cant, which obscures the role of moneyed interests in trying to keep government out. Give us the choice — ironically, let's let the market decide if government can do a better health plan.