Some political pundits have portrayed former Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT) as a wacky liberal caricature, whose online supporters spam blog comment sections in favor of single-payer health care. But during an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress, Dean described parts of his own health care philosophy as conservative.
Rather than advocating for a broad overhaul of the health care system, for instance, Dean argued that we can build on what works in our current system and reform health care by giving Americans the choice of keeping their existing insurance plan or enrolling in a new public option.
Dean predicted that more Americans would chose a public plan, but he ultimately argued against a single-payer proposal:
The American people will preferentially choose Medicare, but not all of them will choose Medicare. So we will have a hybrid system. Many more people will be in a public sector because it will probably be better for them. But they will only be in the public sector if they want to be, and they can get out of the public sector if they choose to try something different later on. That seems fair to me. I don’t think we should impose a single payer on everybody, but I do think we should give Americans the choice of having one if they like it. If it works for them, that’s what they’ll choose; if it doesn’t work for them, they’ll choose the private sector. But I don’t buy that the private sector has a right to compete and be more inefficient. I don’t think anybody has a right to serve people worse than somebody else just because they’re private sector.
Dean proposes an interesting framework for opposing critics who argue that progressive plans would result in a “government-take over” of health care. At their core, progressive proposals compliment true conservative values of personal freedom/choice and business competition, and push back against those who want a monopoly of private sector options.
Obama, for instance, establishes a government framework within which private insurers can compete with a new public plan on a level playing field. The key here is ‘regulated competition.’ Health care system can’t function in a real free market. Free markets require informed consumers and plenty of comparison options. But when we get really sick, we don’t really challenge professional medical opinion or haggle over the price of a given procedure. We put our trust in our doctors and hope for a speedy recovery.
Ultimately, health care is like no other consumer good: it’s about life and death not likes and dislikes. Obama is trying to re-orient the system so that it competes on the quality of care, not the quantity. He’s applying free-market principles, but he’s staying away from the extremes. It’s something Dean’s critics may also want to consider.