#128 – Dick Bernard: Health Care Reform. Death by a thousand cuts?

I have been following the Health Care Reform debate as carefully as any ordinary person reasonably can. I’ve written often about the topic in this space since about July 24 of this year (see the Index under categories.) There is a particular reason for this interest: when my first wife died of kidney disease at age 22 in 1965, we were basically uninsured, and without kindness of many local hospitals and doctors and, yes, public welfare, I would have begun my life as single parent of a year and a half year old son by going through bankruptcy. Ultimately the “crushing debt” of uninsured medical expenses was made manageable and my son and I could survive. (see July 26, 2009, post: Story #1).
Barbara’s two years of what turned out to be a terminal illness, and the time following for me, was not pleasant. One does not soon forget such a close call with catastrophe….
“As we speak”, through the magic of television, we are witnessing selective parts of the dirty business of making Law. Political Sausage Making has always been nasty business. Putting all of us within recliner-distance of somebody or other’s “spin” does not necessarily contribute to good policy. Just because the latest ad, or news conference, or talking head says it is so, doesn’t necessarily make it so. But we all make off-the-cuff, spur of our own moment, highly biased decisions on what we may know very little about. Hopefully there are adults somewhere, making some wise long-term decisions….
It seems consensus in the knowledgeable class (the medical community, for instance) that deep reform of Health Care is essential. This is not a “liberal” issue, and has not been a liberal issue for a long while. The status quo is an invitation to long-term disaster for people like ourselves.
As best as I can determine, when the 2009 Health Care Reform bill actually passes, however watered down it is, there will be, within it, a great number of positive, indeed essential, changes in public policy. They are found within those 2000+ pages that critics demand be read page by page (but which same people would never think of actually reading, much less trying to comprehend.)
The bill will squeak through with, likely, no Republican votes…or perhaps one or two. Whatever the Republican vote, it will be strictly a tactical one. We are guaranteed ten months of dishonest rhetoric that the bill is a disaster, the fault of Obama and the Democrats. There is everything, politically, to gain by defeat, or by enlisting outrage; ironically, outraged supporters have everything to lose from going back to the status quo that existed before the bills passage. but never mind that.
Too many people my age – the Medicare age – will lead the conservative charge against the evil of things like “public option”, forgetting what they take for granted – Medicare – our biggest “public option”, and forgetting that the same kind of sordid debate now happening took place when Medicare was passed in 1965. And forgetting that arguably the most efficient medical system America has devised, Veterans Administration Hospitals and Clinics, are entirely public. The critics of reform don’t want certain kinds of people – “those people” – to be publicly insured; or certain kinds of treatment available….
As a long-retired citizen, and union representative, I know that people like me are extremely vulnerable to the whims of private policy. We have excellent and affordable insurance – now. All it takes is a memo from somewhere to cancel what we have, or make it so expensive as to be unaffordable. This is not paranoia. The worst case examples are possible, and they can touch us quickly. That’s why strong government policy on public issues is essential.
Two particular examples (I have more) come to mind as I consider this issue:
1) Big Business, led by groups like U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the insurance industry and the profit sector generally, are the ones who have the truly big bucks to lobby against Reform. Their self interest is Profit, period. Ironically, their ‘base’ of support is the very people who will be most adversely affected by their whims and caprice. They are the ones who pay for those old and dishonest “Harry and Louise” and “crushing debt” ads. “Consumers” are, after all, the ones who generate “Profit”.
2) My supplementary insurance is through my wife’s company – she, too, is on Medicare. We have excellent insurance now. Recently the company has been urging people like us, and its active employees, to lobby against the Public Option. Less than a year ago, all of we retirees were summoned to an almost mandatory corporate meeting of retirees so we could be introduced to an array of – as I recall – 11 Private Options which we could elect if we wished. We stayed with the status quo, rather than deal with the vagaries of some new option which may be different than what we thought it was, or might turn out to be worse than what we had when we actually needed the insurance – an inevitability as one ages. Why lobby us about Private Options earlier this year, and lobby against Public Option now? The answer is pretty obvious to me.
Others with considerably less than the public interest at heart have their well-financed and finely tuned “oars” in the anti-reform and anti-public option “water” as well.
Caveat emptor. Keep the eye on the public interest.
Something will pass, likely soon. If it doesn’t, we will rue the day we celebrated failure.