Conrad’s message to the left

CONRAD’S MESSAGE TO THE LEFT…. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the Senate Budget Committee chairman and a member of the unsuccessful Gang of Six effort, raised a few eyebrows this week with a message for his “progressive friends.”

Conrad, a consistent opponent of the public option, wanted liberals to know “government-run programs” aren’t necessary to lower costs and expand access. He explained that he’d finished reading T.R. Reid’s “The Healing of America” over the weekend, and learned Germany, Japan, Switzerland, France, and Belgium are doing just fine. “[A]ll of them contain costs, have universal coverage, have very high quality care and yet are not government-run systems,” Conrad said.

It was an odd thing to say, and reflects some important confusion about these international systems. As Ezra Klein explained, “In France, for instance, the government provides all basic insurance coverage directly. In Germany, insurers aren’t permitted to make a profit. In Japan, health insurance is publicly provided, and private insurance is available only to ease co-payments or cover services that the government leaves out.”

Zaid Jilani added, “France has had a public insurance system that covers all of its citizens since 1945. Known as Securite Sociale (social security), their public insurance program accounts for nearly 75 percent of total health expenditures in France, and people have the option of buying complementary private health insurance if they’d like. In its most recent ranking of health care systems, the World Health Organization concluded that France has the best health care system in the world.”

Matt Yglesias noted that in Germany, consumers are required to purchase coverage from one of many non-profit “sickness funds” that are regulated by the government. “It’s true that this meets a technical definition of ‘not government-run.'” Matt explained. “But the extent to which the Germany system isn’t government run doesn’t extend to dealing with any of the concerns of private industry. Which is fine by me, but nothing in Conrad’s talk of co-ops and such has suggested that he’s serious trying to put for-profit health insurance out of business, which is exactly what the German model does.”

But I think Kevin Drum was perhaps the most succinct in summarizing the problem with the senator’s remarks.

This has been sort of rattling around in my head ever since I saw it, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I wanted to say about it. But then I figured it out: it’s completely, 100% batshit crazy. I mean, is this actually breaking news to Conrad after (excuse me a moment while I google) 22 years in the Senate? WTF?

Believe me: Conrad’s “progressive friends” would be punch drunk with ecstasy if the United States adopted the healthcare system of (take your pick) Japan, France or Germany. It would be beyond our wildest dreams. Does Conrad really not know this? Did he only find out this weekend that those other countries have terrific healthcare systems that contain costs, provide universal coverage, and boast very high-quality care?

Conrad’s efforts to impress the blogosphere will have to wait for another day.