Let me start by pointing out something serious health economists have known all along: on general principles, universal health insurance should be eminently affordable.The problem now is the "centrist" Democratic Senators. That and the fact that Senators as a group are not the brightest bulbs in the box. They react to the people who actually get in touch and talk to them, preferably to donate money. Can they actually learn that their older attitudes will no longer protect them in office the next time they run for election? Can Harry Reid get aggressive with them?
After all, every other advanced country offers universal coverage, while spending much less on health care than we do. For example, the French health care system covers everyone, offers excellent care and costs barely more than half as much per person as our system.
And even if we didn’t have this international evidence to reassure us, a look at the U.S. numbers makes it clear that insuring the uninsured shouldn’t cost all that much, for two reasons.
First, the uninsured are disproportionately young adults, whose medical costs tend to be relatively low. The big spending is mainly on the elderly, who are already covered by Medicare.
Second, even now the uninsured receive a considerable (though inadequate) amount of “uncompensated” care, whose costs are passed on to the rest of the population. So the net cost of giving the uninsured explicit coverage is substantially less than it might seem.
Putting these observations together, what sounds at first like a daunting prospect — extending coverage to most or all of the 45 million people in America without health insurance — should, in the end, add only a few percent to our overall national health bill. And that’s exactly what the budget office found when scoring the HELP proposal.
[...] [Krugman explains specific provisions of the plan together with costs, and compares it to the costs that America is currently on looking towards having to spend under the current system.]
So fundamental health reform — reform that would eliminate the insecurity about health coverage that looms so large for many Americans — is now within reach. The “centrist” senators, most of them Democrats, who have been holding up reform can no longer claim either that universal coverage is unaffordable or that it won’t work.
The only question now is whether a combination of persuasion from President Obama, pressure from health reform activists and, one hopes, senators’ own consciences will get the centrists on board — or at least get them to vote for cloture, so that diehard opponents of reform can’t block it with a filibuster.
Those are the remaining roadblocks to America having a semi-modern health care system.