Babycare, WILPF, and Corporations vs. Democracy

by James Allison—August 2, 2015

Medical experts agree that Americans pay the highest price in the world for medical care that can only be called mediocre at best. They also agree that the major cause of this lamentable state is a system designed to deliver not medical care to We the People, but corporate profits to private insurance companies. The result is a country whose people are too often unable to afford medical care at all, or forced to spend a disproportionate share of their income on inferior care. The same experts agree that American government has already created a system that, if made universal, would reduce the cost and improve the quality of care. This extremely efficient system, called Medicare, achieves much of its efficiency as a non-profit with only a small fraction of the administrative costs, and none of the profits, of private insurance companies. It is presently limited to citizens aged 65 years and older. The system recently adopted by Congress, widely called “Obamacare,” would offer private medical insurance to many presently uninsured, but would leave many others uninsured, and do little to rein in the escalating cost of medical care. This situation may seem daunting, but it also offers an interesting opportunity for WILPF—especially for members who want to do something concrete about the corporate threat to our democracy.

“Babycare” is a means of enrolling all U.S. citizens in Medicare. It does not do so all at once, and thereby avoids the shock of instant universal medical care. Rather, it enrolls them gradually, over a long period of time, by automatically enrolling every newborn citizen in Medicare. By the time universal coverage arrives on the scene, the nation’s medical facilities will have had time to adapt to the requirements of universal medical care.

Babycare would be implemented by an act of Congress approved by the President. The act would be relatively simple, as it would require only the extension of an already existing program—Medicare—to newborn babies. In answer to those who might claim that the measure would be too costly, the measure should include a proviso that empowers Medicare administrators to negotiate the price of medicines with pharmaceutical companies. Such negotiation would be an important step toward the reduction of the cost of medical care in the U.S. (a step already permitted to those who administer Veterans Administration

How could we persuade our politicians to support such a measure? By the usual way: A massive show of support by the public, backed up by the power of the ballot box. What segment of our population will clamor to be at the forefront of this political pressure? The segment with the greatest self interest, parents with young babies—parents who are themselves mostly the youth of America, mostly potential voters. A force this big could not be resisted. And it might soon be joined by older citizens, not yet 65, eager to share in the benefits themselves.

What should the politicians hear from constituents who advocate Babycare? They should hear that their constituents want Babycare, and are willing to pay their share of the cost. That it is the constitutional duty of the House of Representatives to figure out how to pay for the program. That their constituents are perfectly willing to forego, if necessary, a nuclear aircraft carrier; a failed F-35 tactical fighter program; the officers’ clubs and the golf courses on Okinawa and other U.S. military bases around the world; or the domestic surveillance programs conducted and financed by the NSA. That they hope their Congress-person will support Babycare, but stand ready and able to replace said person with another one who will.

Why should WILPF embrace Babycare? Aside from its intrinsic benefits to the common good, it could facilitate the recruitment of younger citizens to the ranks of WILPF. To adopt Babycare does not look like Mission Impossible: The adoption requires legislative and executive consent, but not the Sisyphean slog of a constitutional amendment. It would focus attention on what benefits accrue if we break corporate power over government policy. It could purge Congress of those unwilling to support quality medical care for all at reasonable cost–a standard already achieved in many countries less wealthy than ours, less bound by devotion to private profit. Past and present members of the Corporations v Democracy committee will note that Babycare would deal the fatal blow to a gigantic block of corporate power, the corporations that now control U.S. health insurance. They will also note that Babycare could rein in our pharmaceutical corporations, which typically charge Americans the highest world prices for the same drugs.

Finally, such a purge of the U.S. House of Representatives will likely have salutary effects on the decisions emanating from the Supreme Court of the United States. But that is another story.*

*Harvey, Anna (2013). A Mere Machine: The Supreme Court, Congress, and American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.