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The Post Is Upset: If Only Public Plan Advocates Had Supported Single Payer, then the Post Could Have Ignored Them

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October 26, 2009 by  

One of the Post’s basic journalistic principles in covering the health care debate is to ignore proposals for a single-payer, Medicare for all type system. The Post almost never mentions these proposals, even though there is far more grass roots support for a universal Medicare plan than for any other proposal on the table.

Given its journalistic principles, it is understandable that the Post would be outraged that supporters of a public plan — which could lead to a single payer type system — had the audacity to advocate a public option, rather than an explicit single-payer system. By taking this position, the Post was forced to take them seriously and violate its journalistic principles.

Fred Hiatt, the Post’s editorial page editor, complained that: “the plan [the public option] uses government power to demand lower prices from hospitals and drug companies, those providers may lower quality or seek to make up the difference from private payers. Private companies would have to raise their rates, so more people would choose the public plan, so private rates would rise further — and we could end up with only the public option and no competition at all. Single-payer national health insurance may be the best outcome, but we should get there after an honest debate, not through the back door.”

Long time Post columnist Robert Samuelson had almost the identical complaint:

“a favored public plan would probably doom today’s private insurance. … Private insurance might become a specialty product.

Many would say: Whoopee! Get rid of the sinister insurers. Bring on a single-payer system. But if that’s the agenda, why not debate it directly? It’s not insurers that cause high health costs; they’re simply the middlemen. It’s the fragmented delivery system and open-ended reimbursement. Would strict regulation of doctors, hospitals and patients under a single-payer system provide control? Or would genuine competition among health plans over price and quality work better?

That’s the debate we need.”

If we can ignore the suspicions of plagiarism, we can all sympathize with the Post’s outrage. Imagine slipping a discussion of a system that could end up with universal Medicare into the pages of the Washington Post.

[Thanks to FAIR for catching this.]

–Dean Baker

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