Monday, June 22, 2009

The lobbyists are about to beat us again

We the people are about to get kneecapped by the special interests yet again.

And Barack Obama is about to fail to deliver on the most important promise he made to the American people. Unless the American people get up off the couch, turn off the television and make their voices heard.

Support for a public option in health care reform – that is support for any real health care reform – is ebbing even among Democrats in Congress in the face of intensive lobbying and big-money bribery (in the form of campaign contributions) from the big insurance, pharmaceutical and health maintenance companies.

That’s despite the fact that more than 70% of Americans say they support a single payer, government option.

Which they should, because it’s the one way that the United States will cut its ridiculous health care costs, while insuring universal coverage. It’s the one way to force the insurance companies to get serious about cleaning up their own houses, if they are forced to compete with a public option, which is likely to be cost less and be run more efficiently.

Part of the problem with the health care debate we’ve been having in this country is that proponents of universal health care have presented the issue poorly. They’ve focused on the uninsured. Any reasonable proposal for health care reform will cover the uninsured as a matter of course.

But proponents of health care reform should be talking to the rest of us, the vast mass of the American public that is being cheated by our current health care system that benefits only insurance companies, Big Pharma and a few large health care providers.

They should be talking to those of us who have health care provided through our employers but every year we see premiums, deductibles and co-pays increase and coverage shrink.

They should be talking to the millions of Americans, many of whom think of themselves as middle class, who have to delay or forego needed tests or treatments because they can’t afford the co-pay. (If your insurance covers 80% of a $10,000 MRI that leaves you with a $2,000 bill. Not everyone has $2K on hand.)

They should be talking to the majority of the American middle class who live one catastrophic health issue away from financial ruin. Medical expenses are the single greatest cause of bankruptcies in the United States. (This surprised me – I would have thought it was divorce.)

And they should be talking to every business in the United States – big or small – that has to been in the insurance business as well as their own business. Our antiquated system of employer-provided health insurance makes our products more expensive and less competitive in the world market. Those insurance costs also hurt workers, because money that goes for benefits is money that can’t go to salary increases. How much would our economy be stimulated if money currently routed to insurance companies were put into Americans’ pockets to buy now more affordable products?

Proponents of health care reform also need to step up and take on the objections of those the insurance industry is paying to oppose reform.

The first is: It’s socialized medicine!

The response to this is: Um…okay, bring it on.

Look, I was a member of the United States Air Force. I had socialized medicine. It was a pretty sweet deal. If you got sick, you went to the doctor, they did whatever test they needed to do and prescribed you some medicine. No muss, no fuss, no bill. You’ll notice that nobody who has socialized medicine, the military, Congress, Medicare recipients, most of the civilized counties in the world, is eager to give it up and go to our backwards system.

The second objection is usually: Do you want a bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor?

This one is actually somewhat funny. Practically everyone in America already has a bureaucrat standing between them and their doctor. An insurance company bureaucrat – a guy who works for a company that wants you to die fast and cheap. The health insurance industry’s ideal client is someone who goes to work right out of college, pays insurance premiums for years and then dies instantly in a car crash at 50, before they actually have to pay for any health care. At least a government bureaucrat would theoretically be one your side, because he’d work for you.

The next objection is: You won’t be able to choose your own doctor!

I don’t understand the irrational attachment some Americans have for “their” doctor. I don’t have any more attachment to my doctor than I do to my car mechanic. I’d like him to fix what’s broken in the fewest visits possible.

I think part of the problem with our system of health care arises from our deification of doctors. My Dad drove a forklift for a living. But when we were sick a doctor came to the house. And nobody had to go into debt to pay him. Of course that’s back when doctors were just regular folks with a job just like you and me, before they became messiahs and before they all had to belong to the country club. Back when they worked for us, instead of us working for them.

That said, most Americans don’t have free choice of their doctors now. They have to pick one who participates in their company’s health insurance plan.

A public option, which required all doctors to treat patients using that plan, unlike the current situation with Medicare, would likely give you more of a choice in doctors, for what that’s worth.

The last objection is: This will ruin the greatest health care system on earth.

This is a favorite of the right-wing radio screamers. Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh must say this once a day.

Is it the best health care system on earth?

Well, it’s certainly the most expensive, based on the percentage of the Gross National Product we spend on health care.

Is it the best?

You can’t prove that by results. The United States ranks 45th in average life expectancy, behind a lot of countries with “socialized medicine” like, Japan, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Italy.

We’re plagued by epidemics of preventable diseases like congestive heart failure and adult onset diabetes. Why should insurance companies pay for preventative care? It’s a better business move on their part to gamble that you’ll get hit by a bus.

The United States health care system may be the best in the world – if you make the kind of money that Hannity and Limbaugh make. We are a Mecca for the world’s richest people to get their health care. That’s largely irrelevant to the type of care that you and I will receive.

Obama’s election and current public opinion represent the last best hope for significant change in America’s health care system. There are huge entrenched interests who will fight a public option tooth and nail.

But a health care reform plan without a public option is no health care reform plan at all.

Without competition, insurance companies have no incentive to treat their customers as anything more than premium-paying meat.

Without an entity large enough to negotiate, or in some cases dictate, prices, pharmaceutical companies and large health care providers have no incentive to price their products and service at a realistic level. If you don’t believe this, do some Internet research on how much less our friends in Canada pay for U.S.-manufactured drugs than we do.

It’s now or never. And it’s us against the lobbyists and the big-money campaign contribution bribers.

There are two ways to get a politician’s attention. The first is to wave money in his face, which is what the opposition will do. The second is to make him fear for his political life, which is what advocates of health care reform must do.

You don’t even have to get off the couch. Just pick up the phone or go to the computer. Let your senator or congressman know that if he or she won’t support a public option for health care, then you won’t support him or her.

Any politician who won’t support a public option should know that he’s signing his own political death warrant.

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