What do President Donald Trump, Germany’s Chancellor Bismarck, and the Kuomintang government of 1995 Taiwan all have in common? They all are the leaders of a conservative leaning government faced with competition from a rising progressive tide which some quick-footed deal making could head off at the pass.
In the late 1800’s, as socialists were on the rise in Europe, Bismarck wanted to impede their progress. In 1883, he decided to beat the socialists at their own game by passing the world’s first national health insurance system.
About a hundred years later, after Germany and most of the other industrialized nations (except the U.S.) had created various forms of universal healthcare, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan, after lifting martial law, was facing opposition in their first direct presidential election from the rising Democratic Progressive Party, who were pushing a European-style social welfare platform.
With deal making worthy of Bismarck, the Kuomintang gathered healthcare experts and academics and studied various international health systems. There were the insurance-based systems still used by countries like Germany, the national health systems like Britain’s (where the healthcare is government delivered) and the “single payer” model used by Canada, where health delivery is privately owned and managed, but the government pays the bills.
Seeing that the Canadian model could be created quickly and efficiently, they selected it and were moving the system into place by the election of 1996. Whether creating a national health system or a military crisis brought on by missiles fired by the People’s Republic of China were the deciding factors, the 1996 presidential election was won by the Kuomintang’s Lee Teng-Hui and not the Democratic Progressive or other candidates.
So fast forward to President Trump facing the “blue wave” in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election not that far away. After repeated attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare it has become clear that a majority of Americans oppose tossing tens of millions of folks off their healthcare. Recent polling indicates growing support for a “Medicare for All” type national health system. And a growing crop of Democrats, from the California gubernatorial race to Congressional seats nationwide are explicitly supporting single payer.
Meanwhile, many unlikely suspects are entering the debate on a national health system. Both business owners and conservatives are beginning to support a major change from the status quo. These are folks who President Trump might listen to in terms of making his next moves on healthcare.
Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries, a $200 million a year corporation in Pennsylvania is, almost single handedly, building a nationwide movement of business owners pushing for universal healthcare. Double digit annual increases in his company’s health insurance costs led him to researching and filming a documentary on the impact of health costs on American business owners. This film, "Fix It: Healthcare at the Tipping Point," has now been screened for hundreds of general public and business audiences around the nation.
The film, which features dozens of international healthcare experts, contrasts the challenges faced by American business owners in the U.S. system with the health systems in Canada and Taiwan.
In the film, Dann Konkin, President of AMPCO Manufacturers in British Columbia, outlines his view of business and healthcare: “I am a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. We stand for removing waste, being more efficient and finding ways to grow our own businesses and one of the ways we can grow our business is to reduce cost. That is why we embrace the Canadian healthcare system. What I don’t understand is why my fellow conservatives in the United States tend to fight this.”
Another speaker in the film, David Steil, former Republican Representative (PA) and President of Micro Trap Corporation, speaks for the U.S. business point-of-view: “Business when they look at the single payer model, will come quickly to the conclusion that it is the least expensive and most supportive of a free market and will have the most direct effect on their cost of operations. As a business owner and as a former Republican legislator I have said conservatives should be supportive of single payer because it costs less.”
But if President Trump isn’t convinced by the testimony and analysis in "Fix It: Healthcare at the Tipping Point," perhaps he should listen to fellow billionaire Warren Buffet, of Berkshire Hathaway, who has said that government run health insurance is probably the best system because it would control escalating costs. Or Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chair Charlie Munger, who predicts the next time the Democrats control all 3 branches of government, we will get single payer medicine in America.
As our Dealmaker in Chief, President Trump may want to take a lesson from Chancellor Bismarck and the Kuomintang and strike while the iron is hot.
Lee Mercer is currently President of Health Care for All Oregon-Action and on the Executive Team (and former Director) of the Main Street Alliance of Oregon. For the previous 18 years he has done legislative advocacy, outreach and education on poverty, hunger, and economic issues with Main Street Alliance, Oregon Center for Public Policy and Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County (California). Before entering the nonprofit world, Lee was a business owner for 20 years, owning and operating movie theaters in California and Nevada. He is also a writer and has done video and film production.
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