Al Gore Wants a Single-Payer Nation

Published November 19, 2002

Former Vice President Al Gore is back from hibernation seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the Presidency in 2004.

In a November announcement, Gore says he favors single-payer health care. He promised to unveil a health care overhaul that would rival Bill and Hillary Clinton’s infamous attempt to socialize medicine in the United States. Like the failed Clinton plan, the Gore proposal likely will require a massive change in how Americans access and pay for health care.

Greg Scandlen, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and an assistant editor for Health Care News, was quick to respond to Gore’s news. “I’m afraid Mr. Gore’s support for single-payer means he is afraid he won’t get the Democratic nomination otherwise. He is throwing a bone to the Far Left of the party to secure the nomination, and he is hoping once he is nominated a miracle will get him elected.”

At a synagogue in New York during his November book tour promoting Joined at the Heart, Gore warned, “I think we’ve reached a point where the entire health care system is in impending crisis. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we should begin drafting a single-payer national health insurance plan.”

The former Vice President believes the money that pays for health care–including insurance premiums and tax dollars–should be collected by a single government agency, which would then pay for comprehensive health care coverage for all Americans, in a fashion similar to the health care systems of England or Canada.

Scandlen told Health Care News, “It’s a Hail Mary pass. Al Gore surely knows the countries that already have single-payer are in no better shape than we are–worse in fact. The people in Canada and the UK are no happier with their health care systems than Americans are with ours. Doctors and nurses are fleeing those systems, they don’t have decent equipment or facilities, and people are dying while waiting to get services.”

Gore’s comments were first reported by ABC News’ Internet political report “The Note” and were confirmed by Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera, who said any details would come in a future speech on health care.

CNN News reported that calling for a single-payer plan would be a dramatic change for Gore. During the 2000 primary campaign, Gore attacked Democratic rival Bill Bradley’s single-payer health care plan, calling it too expensive and not expansive enough to help poor people afford full coverage.

NAS Urges Pilot Projects

In a report delivered to the Bush administration on November 19, the Institute of Medicine, associated with the National Academy of Sciences, agreed with Gore’s conclusion that the U.S. health care system is in crisis. It refrained from recommending Gore’s federal-level overhaul, however, calling instead for state-level tests of possible solutions.

Pointing to insurance premium increases, a growing number of uninsured Americans, and the tens of thousands of deaths caused every year by medical errors, the NAS report outlines five areas in which demonstration projects could be used to test strategies aimed at solving the nation’s most pressing health care problems. A 16-member NAS panel suggested three to five states experiment with universal insurance coverage, either through tax credits or by expanding such government programs as Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP); medical malpractice reform, perhaps by encouraging patients to waive jury trials in exchange for quicker compensation; plus community health centers, better treatment for chronic illnesses, and improved computer technology.

Not Gore ’04

Top Republican Dick Armey (R-Texas) saw the Gore promise of a health care overhaul as a purely political move, one he welcomed. Armey told the media, “I would love a rematch with Al Gore. I would see nominating Al Gore as tossing in the towel.”

Only about one-third of Democratic Party insiders think Gore should run for President again. According to a Los Angeles Times poll, 312 Democratic National Committee members–roughly three-quarters of the committee’s total membership–say none of the top possible candidates stand out as having particularly broad support.

In a separate poll released by Time and CNN, just over a third of Americans think there is a Democrat who can defeat President Bush in 2004. Half think there is not. Among Democrats and those leaning Democratic in the general population, only 36 percent in the Time-CNN poll favored Gore, while 26 percent said they would support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, also a well-known advocate of single-payer health care.

Getting Attention

Merrill Matthews Jr., director of the Council for Affordable Health Care (CAHI) and a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, doubted whether Gore’s new plan would succeed where others failed.

“Since Gore didn’t win the Presidency, he has been trying to get the public’s attention–and this certainly got mine,” Matthews said. “He tried a government-run health care system before, calling it universal health care. When Gore and the Clintons tried to impose universal health care upon the American people they practically destroyed it!”

Matthews continued, “With all the discussion about Democrats needing new ideas, this certainly is not one of them. This tired idea goes back to the days of Harry Truman! For many Democrats, the only solutions to rising health insurance premiums and the growing number of uninsured are more price controls, more government interference, and more bus trips to Canada.”

Linda Gorman, senior fellow at the Independence Institute, agreed, telling Health Care News, “Single-payer systems have been tried in a number of countries. In every case, government control of care has resulted in higher costs, lousy patient care, and slow technological innovation.

“Government systems in the United States, notably the Veterans Administration, military health care, Medicare, and Medicaid have the same problems,” she continued. “These problems are inherent to the way all government systems operate. Mr. Gore does not have a magic wand.”

Recommends CAHI’s Matthews, “If Al Gore truly wants to improve the American health care system he should look at insurers like Aetna, Fortis, Destiny, and Vivius, which have created new and innovative ways to get affordable health insurance to those who need it.

“These insurance companies,” said Matthews, “and the American people need a free and open marketplace to take advantage of affordable health insurance. More government regulations will only make things worse.”

Conrad Meier is Managing Editor of Health Care News.

For more information contact Heartland Public Affairs Director Greg Lackner, 312/377-4000, 773/489-6447 (evenings), [email protected]