Joseph Q. Jarvis: Biden won’t move Democrats away from marketized medicine

Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Berlin, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Joe Biden is right. His candidacy is a battle for the soul of something. This fight will be about the soul of his political party.

We’ve already seen the demise of a major party. The Republican Party, conceived in reaction to slavery and first led by Lincoln and Grant, was brought into the 20th Century by Teddy Roosevelt, the then leader of progressivism and champion of a “Square Deal” for the average citizen. Mid-century, it was Dwight Eisenhower who created American infrastructure, federally enforced civil rights and first exercised American international leadership in a divided world. Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush later realized the fruition of the international strength Ike built. The GOP had a soul, something sacred and beyond partisanship. It’s what attracted me to it as I came of age.

But I left the GOP when Donald Trump became the nominee. Aside from his many personal failings, so aptly characterized by Mitt Romney, Trump is the symbolic end of any meaningful Republican Party ideals.

I believe the GOP lost its soul to powerful corporate interests, most especially to the medical industrial complex. The pretense that market forces will solve all health system troubles is the hollow core of Republican domestic policy. Year after year, Republicans have voted to tax Americans heavily for health care. Today’s total annual public funding for health care is greater than $2 trillion, including Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Obamacare supplements, military and civil service health benefits and the tax credits for employer health benefits, plus an acronym soup of other state and federal health programs. Americans are the most taxed citizenry in the world for health care, and yet the middle class can’t afford to care for their families when sick or injured.

Fittingly, Trump, an empty suit, now leads the zombie remnant of the GOP. Yes, Trump is quite popular among remaining Republicans, but it is a Pyrrhic victory.

Biden, should he be nominated, would also be the symbolic end of a party. He doesn’t have the egregious personal failings of a Trump, though he has weaknesses enough. Rather, Biden’s nomination would kill any pretense that the Democratic Party is anything other than enthralled to corporate interests, especially the medical industrial complex.

Health system reform is the sentinel domestic issue of our time. Massive governmental spending on health care threatens the fiscal solvency of our nation. The opportunity cost of that massive spending has eroded public education and our national infrastructure. Poor quality health care threatens our lives, as preventable injury to hospitalized patients prematurely kills 400,000 Americans annually and the preference for sales over care enslaves millions more to medications, addictions and unnecessary surgeries and other interventions.

Obamacare, which Biden famously and vulgarly called “a big deal,” makes all that is bad about American health care worse, because it, too, worships the false idol of marketized medicine. Democrats, like Republicans, have for decades voted to satisfy any demand from the medical industrial complex at the expense of American families and patients.

That this is a violation of what historically mattered to Democrats seems obvious to me, though I view it from outside the party. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman both proposed universal health care, and Lyndon B. Johnson led the nation to Medicare and Medicaid. Jimmy Carter, the legitimate spokesman for the soul of the Democratic Party, has said that single-payer health system reform is the future of American health policy.

Progressivism is no longer a Republican concept. Whether health care progress is in the soul of the Democratic Party is on trial. Should Biden succeed and win the nomination, he will take the Democratic Party further down the corporate rathole and thereby lose the support of millions of progressive party members. Another Pyrrhic victory.

Joseph Jarvis

Joseph Q. Jarvis, M.D., MSPH, Salt Lake City, is a public health physician and author of the book “The Purple World: Healing the Harm in American Health Care”.