All the media coverage around the public debate over health care reform seems to focus on the tea-bagging Right and its nebulous fear that the nation is sliding into socio-fascism (whatever the hell that is).
My friend, Dave Hauth, recently made note of a report in the media about one of the congressional town hall meetings being held all over the country during Congress' August recess, in which the cameras were trained on one of these "tea-baggers," an elderly woman holding a sign with the usual key words: "Fascism"... "Socialism"... blah... blah... blah. The cameras showed that one woman --that one particular woman waving a placard scrawled with frothing hyperbole --in a protesting crowd. But the rest of the crowd, which got no mention in the report, was holding up signs saying "Medicare for all" and "We want health care" and other quips in a similar vein.
The debate is being stifled.
One side, the health care insurance industry and its media shills, are getting heard loud and clear, while the other side, (the vast majority according to many polls) is not being heard at all. Rather than debate the merits of this or that reform alternative, all the public oxygen is being burned up blathering about "death panels," government health care for "illegal immigrants," and funding for abortions at the expense of senior citizens. These are all lies, of course, ginned up by media shills for the purpose of avoiding a serious discussion.
Reason #1: The obvious solution is being ignored
Public option? Well, yes, that could work. But the simplest, easiest solution to the whole brouhaha is this: expand the Medicare system to include all Americans.
Medicare is a huge success. It's immensely popular with the nation's elderly, even the tea-baggers. At a town hall meeting held by Representative Robert Inglis (R-SC), a tea-bagger stood up and told the congressman: "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" Uh... yes, well...
The Medicare system is in place, working as designed. There are funding issues, of course. But that's not the fault of the system itself so much as of Congress' irresponsible behavior vis-a-vis allotting funds dedicated to the system.
Right now, I pay $200 per month for health insurance coverage for myself and my wife. My employer kicks in the rest of the premium, which I think is around $400 per month. Every year, the premium rates go up. In fact, one study found that in Pennsylvania, health care premiums in the period from 2000 through 2009 rose 95.2%, or 5.4 times faster than worker earnings. I would gladly pay the same amount in federal taxes if it would mean that I could be guaranteed health care coverage for myself, and for all Americans. As it stands right now, if I lose my job, Maty and I must shell out the entire $600 to $700 every month for COBRA benefits, or go uninsured.
Reason #2: If they're not on the take, what do you call it?
According to OpenSecrets.org, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who is overseeing negotiations on health care reform, has accepted donations from the following "concerned citizen advocacy groups:"
- The Insurance Industry: $1,170,313
- Health Professionals: $1,016,276
- Pharmaceuticals/Health Products Industry: $734,605
- Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $541,891
- Health Services/HMOs: $439,700
But it's nice to know these entities are so interested in good government, eh?
Health insurance providers and their bought-and-paid-for congressional pets (I'm looking at you, Max) really don't want the debate to turn to a discussion of alternatives. If that happens, if Americans start really talking about the best way to resolve the health care crisis in this country, it will be the beginning of the end for private health care insurance companies.
Reason #3: F**ked up priorities
As peace advocate and beloved deejay Casey Kasem once asked: "Why is there never enough money for peace, but always enough money for war?"
The illegal invasion of Iraq has cost $3 trillion dollars over the last 8 years. Authorization for the war was rushed through Congress a month before the mid-term elections in 2002. There was minimal debate. Concerns about the cost of the war were put off with shrill (and bogus) protestations that we could not afford to wait... Saddam Hussein might at any moment send his unmanned chemical-spraying drones over the Atlantic Ocean to poison our cities and kill us all!
But universal health care, which is projected to cost $1 trillion dollars over 10 years, is somehow too expensive to be "rushed through" Congress (even though we have been looking for a health care solution for at least 60 years, when the Truman administration first made the attempt). Concerns about federal fiscal health have suddenly become important to the debate.
Could Senator Baucus or Senator Wyden please answer Casey's question?
What to do...
The idea of expanding Medicare is not even being considered by Congress. And, if they can get away with it, that idea will never be part of the debate. But I think the steam is running out of the tea-bagger protests. That vocal, uninformed minority will eventually lose its impetus and be overwhelmed by a swell of support for a real health care solution. In fact, it is already happening.
And when the media runs out of fake patriots waving around pictures of Hitler and Stalin, they'll have to turn the cameras on the rest of the people out in the streets --the union workers and the struggling middle-class families and the small business owners --all of whom are being slowly throttled to death by health care costs.
We can move the process along, too. I urge you to contact your congressional representatives and demand a single-payer health care option along the lines of those that exist in every other industrialized nation. Here's a couple phone numbers:
- Oregon Senator Ron Wyden:
202-224-5244 Washington DC office
503-326-7525 Portland office
- Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley:
202-224-3753 Washington DC office
503-326-3386 Portland office
- Washington Senator Patty Murray:
- Washington Senator Maria Cantwell:
Therefore, a health care solution is necessarily going to be a Democrats-only accomplishment. So put their feet to the fire! Let them know that having a "D" after their names doesn't mean a damn thing if they're in the same corporate pockets as the Republicans.
If a creature like Max Baucus will sell his vote to insurance companies, he'll sell it back to us for the right price. And the currency we have to offer is his continued employment as a US Senator. And that goes for Ron Wyden and all the rest, too.
Call them up and demand a single-payer solution!