Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health Care Reform: An EasyYolk Recap

You know, we have more people who are uninsured in this country than the entire population of Canada. And that if you include the people who are underinsured, more people than in the United Kingdom. We have huge numbers of people who are also just a lay-off away from joining the ranks of the uninsured, or being purged by their insurance company, and winding up there. And another thing is that the advocates of reform or the opponents of reform are those who are saying that we need to be careful about what we do here, because we don't want the government to take away your choice of a health plan. It's more likely that your employer and your insurer is going to switch you from a plan that you're in now to one that you don't want. You might be in the plan you like now. But chances are, pretty soon, you're going to be enrolled in one of these high deductible plans in which you're going to find that much more of the cost is being shifted to you than you ever imagined.
Wendell Potter, former executive for CIGNA Health

If Medicare has been such a success, why not extend it? Why not have single-payer plans for 55-year-olds? Why not have one for young citizens who just left their parents or college coverage? If Wal-Mart can pool its customers to be able to offer the $4 prescriptions, why shouldn't the federal government drive the same hard bargain on behalf of the tax payers so they too get the best prices under Medicare? I pose this exact question at every town hall meeting I attend and if my colleagues and the President did the same on Wednesday night, they would mix good policy with good politics. Instead we have watched a puzzling dance as policymakers have effectively limited the savings we would find in the enormous drug expenditures that are a fixture in our current system. Is it any wonder citizens are confused?
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.
Warren Buffett

"Public Option," Bart Stupak," "Single Payer," "Cloture," "Reconciliation," "Tort," "Trigger," "Pre-Existing Conditions," "Obama-Care," "Rising Premiums," "Ram-It-Through," "Death Panels," Blah, Blah, Blah...It sure has been an interesting, jargoning, enlightening, year-long journey through the ins and outs of the American health care quagmire, but then again, I actually have health insurance. Easy for me to sit in my IKEA bouncy chair with a cup of Peets on the end table next to me, while 45,000 Americans go on dying every year only because they lack basic medical coverage. It surely can't be said enough, that as I sit and type and drink my Peets this evening every Canadian and Brit has guaranteed medical treatment while 47 Americans do not have have what should be a humane, dignified right in 2010.

The Democratic Party has utterly failed this fight. We can only speculate what possible obstacles were in their way, seeing that they enjoyed a dominating presence in the House, a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and a fresh wind of "hope" and "change" in the White House for the entire first year of the Obama Presidency. Perhaps they were simply pummeled in the propaganda game, eventually too weak to get up after being called "socialists" and "fascists" by the conservative pundit superstars and fear-mongered by the GOP congressional leadership (folks like John Boehner who called health care reform "the biggest threat to freedom I have seen in the 19 years I've been here in Washington"). Or maybe it is what we all fear most: that these Democratic congressional leaders are too well-funded by the private insurance companies that would ultimately become less important and less profitable if Americans actually had access to cheaper and cheaper insurance.

However, the Democrats never seriously considered single-payer (despite its success in Canada and Britain, not to mention our own VA, Medicare and Medicaid programs). They settled on the Public Option until it, too, became too much baggage for Senators seeking re-election bids. Now we have a 2,000+ bill that mandates every American acquire basic coverage (just as all drivers must have auto insurance) and will not likely drive down costs (no real mechanism for competition), while subsidizing our poorest citizens and making it illegal for health insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. And according to the CBO, it will actually decrease the deficit.

The Republicans and their media watchdogs like O'Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter and Hannity have offered very little despite whining incessantly to the President that he didn't take their ideas seriously enough. The GOP plan championed the free market, an interstate insurance market, tort reform and personal responsibility. It would save a lot of money (only $61 billion over a decade compared to the Dems $1 trillion+ plan), but its expected outcome was wretched: the number of Americans without basic medical coverage was predicted to rise from 47 million to 52 million in 10 years (according to the nonpartisan CBO).

And while Americans continue to die from lack of coverage (could you imagine if 45,000 Americans died in Afghanistan this year?), the national horror turns to the rising deficit which set a record for growth at $221 billion in February alone! This sticker shock has inevitably led so many political leaders--Republicans and Democrats--to proclaim that "now is not the time" to pursue health care reform. It is a kind of "discretionary" throwing up of the hands that can only be compared to a father telling the kids that the family can't afford to buy salad this year because the alcohol, cigarettes and soda are taking up too much of the budget and, meanwhile, mom and dad are both working part-time jobs.

But those of us who adhere to our own family budgets know that there are two key ways to stay within our means: cut spending and increase revenue. Targeted tax increases (for the wealthiest 1% among us with the best health care plans) after 30 years of Reaganomic obsession would be the best medicine for both our staggering national debt and wheezing health care system in the long run. We must recall that the marginal income tax rate for the wealthiest bracket has been reduced by 50% since the day Reagan stepped foot in the Oval Office. And with that an income gap on steroids between the rich and poor.

We cannot afford to continue watching the blood bath that is the American Health Care System. People are dying and being kicked off insurance plans and, all the while, costs are rising. These are American lives...and our current path is unsustainable. Other national paths are unsustainable too, like our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, our unquestionable support of Israel, our 800+ military bases, our food economy (seen Food, Inc yet?), our dependence on foreign oil and our underfunded, overtested Education system. Like Tiger and his women, these will all wield a club to the American way-of-life...unless we wake-up, confess and put these programs through 12-Step groups.

I'm still convinced that the American people are better than this. We are more creative and more hard-working and more willing to sacrifice than this. Too many of us have mediocre medical coverage, some of us have superb coverage and a whole caravan of us have nothing at all. I'm also convinced that the unfettered free market simply cannot and will not provide this for everyone. Of course, this is not a call for Marxist Revolution. That's not how the economic spectrum works. But in this one industry, we need to seriously consider how "economies of scale" (the same way Wal-Mart offers $4 prescription medication) can drive our health care costs down to manageable levels. This may mean that health insurance and pharmaceutical companies may not make the same levels of profit they have in the past, but it will mean that all our neighbors will have access to their services. That would be something that we could ALL be proud of. That would be really American.
If you haven't already, check out these more independent voices on the Health Care Debate: Glenn Greenwald, Wendell Potter and Margaret Flowers

--Theological Autopilot

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