One of the worst problems with the deficit hysteria that has swept Washington, DC is that it is also accompanied by deficit solution blinders–blinders so powerful they allow the “serious people” to pretend the simplest solutions to our deficit problem literally don’t exist. The latest example is David Leonhardt of the New York Times:
We have come to believe a story about the deficit that is largely not true.
It’s a comforting story, to be sure. It holds the promise of a painless solution, because it suggests that the country’s huge looming deficits are not really our fault. Instead, they seem to stem from weak-willed politicians, wasteful government programs that do not benefit us and tax avoidance by people we have never met.
Leonhardt goes on to explain how we will “need” to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits and/or raise taxes.
In fact, though, the “comfortable story” is basically right. Our deficit really is a problem of weak-willed politicians–or, more technically, a very corrupt political system that protects huge inefficiencies from which a few big donors profit .
The main cause of our long-term deficit is our absurdly inefficient health care system that costs nearly twice as much as anywhere else in the world. If politicians honestly looked for a simple solution to this problem, within five minutes they would find out almost every other industrialized nation on Earth has it. It is single payer, or at least a government rate-setting all-payer system of non-profit insurers. If we simply adopted a single-payer health care system, roughly as efficient as France, Finland, Norway, Australia, Denmark, England, or New Zealand, we wouldn’t have a deficit.
To his credit, Leonhardt at least makes vague, indirect reference to this fact while, of course, avoiding the phrase “single payer” or the true scale of the problem. That is more than most “serious people” say when they talk about the deficit.
Even Medicare and Medicaid don’t look intractable. After all, every other country in the world, including some that get medical results as good as ours over all, spends far less on health care than we do. It is possible.
There is a simple “magic bullet” (to use a term with its roots in medicine) for our deficit problem: Adopt a single-payer system modeled of any of a dozen other countries and our deficits goes away. It actually is that simple.
Dr. William Hsiao’s single payer draft proposal for Vermont is just the latest evidence that we can give everyone insurance on par with what they have now but for roughly 25 percent less.