How to Build an Alternative Health Care System

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Ben Cohen
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If Obama and the Democrats fail to pass meaningful healthcare reform in the next few months, the long term prospects for fixing the disastrous system are pretty awful. The Republicans and insurance companies will re-wage war on reformers, and whatever is left will be so meaningless it will hardly be worth doing.

The Democrats negotiated away single payer before they even started, failed to provide an adequate defense of a public insurance option, let go any hope of expanding medicare, and gave negotiating control to corporate Democrats who had no real interest in reform. They have failed to control the message, failed to explain to the public what their bill was about, failed to stop the screaming nonsense spouted by Republicans and insurance companies, and generally cocked up the process in a manner reminiscent of George Bush's occupation of Iraq. It has been an unmitigated disaster, and after getting hammered in Massachusetts, will require some very bold action to turn it around.

It is entirely possible that Obama has finally got the message and will do whatever it takes to pass a decent bill (and he certainly has the means to do so).

But if he doesn't, and the Democrats bungle it again, it is time for progressives to start thinking outside the box.

The power now wielded by ordinary folks to organize has been amplified massively by the web. Rallies can be organized with military precision, money can be shifted around the country in a blink of an eye, and ideas can gain traction within days. I takes a click of a button to spread a message to millions of people, and that power can be utilized to do great things. Just look at the election of Obama, who raised an unprecedented amount of money online and essentially won the election through the net roots community.

So what is to say that people cannot set up their own networks of non profit hospitals? If we can move our money from big banks to small banks, why can we not send funds to organizations that provide health care for free? With a mass organizing effort we could create our own national healthcare system, whether it be insurance based or access based. It wouldn't be great to start with, but if a working example was built, it could be replicated all around the country.

If Dr. Ernest Madu, who runs the Heart Institute of the Caribbean in Kingston,
Jamaica, can offer world-class healthcare in the developing world with little money, careful organization, and advances in technology, why can't Americans do it for themselves?

If Cubans can build a world class health care system in a deeply impoverished country, why can't Americans do it too?

There are thousands of doctors who would donate time to build a sustainable system (and already do in part time free clinics around the country), and in time, could get a real, free health care model off the ground. Doctors would be paid properly, and hospitals could be built or taken over in time.

Keith Olbermann organized a series of free clinics around the country as a form of protest, but who is to say the model couldn't be replicated on a full time basis?

If the government won't build a proper health care system for its people, perhaps it's time for the people to build one themselves.