Monday, August 24, 2009

Health care debate: there are good reasons to be angry

Tea-baggers: always good for a laugh!
I smell a rat.

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.

Why is this woman's opinion important...
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.

...but these people's are not?
But there are good reasons to be angry. Very good reasons.

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, 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
And Oregon's own Senator Ron Wyden who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, enjoys the --er --"support" of BlueCross/Blue Shield to the tune of $22,400, Pinnacle Healthcare for $14,400, and Prestige Senior Living, who kicked in another $14,400. Chickenfeed compared to Senator Baucus' rake, but then again, Ron ain't holdin' a chairman's gavel.

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:
It's important to note that this mess is almost completely the making of Democrats. Republicans are displaying what, for them, passes as integrity: they refuse to cooperate with anything.

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!


Ridwan said...

Very informative post brother. Thank you for writing.

Sitting here afar as I do it amazes me just how similar the debate over healthcare is in the US and in South Africa.

I am fully employed and permanently so yet my employer does not offer me healthcare!

The premiums are just too expensive so the offer a life insurance instead.

There are employers who offer subsidized premiums but of late it has become clear that medical runs out by mid-year for most folks.

Costs are prohibitive.

So folks are often forced to pay out of their pockets or go to very bad state hospitals, or worse, suffer without any help!

The government is proposing a National Health Initiative (NHI) that will look like what they have in Britain.

The jury is out and the issues are many.

That said, I pray most days that I stay as healthy as possible or it may become really ugly.

Sad sad state of affairs here and there.

Peace Dade.


Dan Binmore said...

The main reason to be angry is that 10,000 americans have died because they didn't have health care while this debate has gone on.

Dade, your health care costs are much higher than simply your premiums. That's simply the monthly cost to have some medical procedures partially supported by an insurer. There are almost certainly limits and large co-pays that go along with it.

What I don't understand is why the Obama government doesn't simply start off by saying that the French live longer, like their health care more, and pay half the amount of money. You cannot argue against that.