Monday, June 29, 2009

Hold the champagne on health care

By Don Klein

Just about everyone in the country is looking forward to universal health care being enacted by Congress before the end of this year. There will be surprises in store for all. I wouldn’t pop the champagne corks just yet. In fact when the bill is finally enacted we might not want to celebrate at all.

As expected the problem is that many Democrats want a law that will protect the millions who cannot afford health insurance without too much concern for the cost to the taxpayer and the Republicans want a watered down version of the same thing, but on the cheap with particular emphasis on protecting the profits of big business.

It’s the same old sequence. Give the "Party of No" a half hour to think about it and they will come up dozens of reasons not to support a social program for the benefit of ordinary citizens. It is the same party that submissively passed one deficit-laced budgets again and again during the Bush era with no concern for the damage it would do to future generations. Now, suddenly, they are obsessed with frugality.

Wouldn’t you think that nearly 50 millions Americans without health insurance was reason enough to work for a solution? But the Republicans seem never willing to spend for the benefit of the needy unless that can filter the funding through the coffers of big industry for their profit.

Everyone favors industry making a profit. That's not the problem. But should that profit take precedence over the health of the nation? There seems to be enough in Congress, including renegade Democrats, who believe it should because they depend on gifts from big business to fund their reelection drives.

That is the pity of the American political system. The big money guys have taken over the government that used to be for the people. It is the fallacy of most Republicans -- and some Democrats -- that business cannot survive in this country without feasting at the public trough.

President Obama’s initial health plan now making its way through Congress is headed for a stonewall. GOP leaders in the House and Senate claim the bill as is will gather not a single Republican vote. There is no way to know if that is true, but if it is, the bill will undergo massive surgery before it comes out in the end as law. Recall the old saying about Congress: A camel is a horse designed by committee?

No one wants the health care reform "horse" to end up looking like a "camel." Most people do not want Congressional nitpickers debating whether health care should have one hump or two. More importantly, we don’t want it to end up blown out of size looking like a pregnant elephant. The public deserves a horse, a slick equine that performs resolutely.

We’ve had enough distortions foisted on the public by Congressional manipulation in the past. Just look at the Medicare drug plan offered the public a few years back.

"The Medicare drug benefit was a camel of a program. It mated a liberal proposition — expanding a government entitlement — with a conservative solution — having private insurers dispense the coverage and forbidding the government to negotiate drug prices," said Providence Journal columnist Froma Harrop, "The result was a complicated benefit that cost taxpayers a lot more than it had to."

Why, you might ask, are members of Congress deaf to the opinions of the Americans in support of universal health coverage as exemplified in poll after poll, and in particular, a government plan that competes with private insurance? Powerful Senate Democrats pretend not to hear and are squirming in the opulent executive chairs offering phony alternatives.

Why do they insist that the country can’t afford public health care and insist such a measure would not pass Congress when they haven’t even started the debate or listened to enlightened testimony? They say they only want to help secure Republican votes for the camel which will displace Obama’s horse.

"Indeed, many of the most intransigent Democrats don't bother to make actual arguments to support their position. Nor do they seem to worry that Democratic voters and the party's main constituencies overwhelmingly support the public option and universal coverage." columnist Joe Conason contends.
"Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has simply stated... that she refuses to support a public option. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has tried to fashion a plan that will entice Republicans, warns that the public option is a step toward single-payer health care ..."

They ignore the Obama point that we’ve been told of how efficient American private insurers are that he doesn’t believe anything government does will effect their business. They’ll just have to compete instead of collude on prices. Further, he asks the nay sayers why worry since they are forever claiming that government cannot do anything well.

Conason points out that "Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., feebly protests that her state's mismanagement by a Republican governor must stall the progress of the rest of the country. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says he has a better plan involving regional cooperatives, which would be unable to effectively compete with the insurance behemoths or bargain with pharmaceutical giants."

Obama would be right to conclude that with Democrat supporters like these who needs enemies. Consider Sen. Landrieu, who represents one of the poorest states with a working classes badly in need of health coverage. She has received nearly $1.7 million from medical interests including insurance companies and drug firms, according to the Center of Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

You can be sure that the cabal of medical interests will step up their financial involvement in senatorial contributions as the health care debate intensifies. Will political donors take precedence over constituents? They have in the past, so put away the champagne bottles. That’s the shame of Congress.


howard said...

You failed to connect this week's topic with last week's. Clearly the solution is to give free doses of Viagra to the republican congressmen as part of a special "health care for politicians" program. Then they will so busy having affairs that they will foget to vote against the legislation.

Howard Hammerman

irwinb said...

Enjoyed the blog.

I feel that your predictions for a meaningful National Health Reform are too pessimistic.

I believe there will be legislation that will address the issues of universal coverage (dealing with the uninsured), and there will be a public option (but not as strong an option as I would prefer).

I also believe that the bill will in some way deal with the taxing of "high end" insurance policies, as a way to satsfy the CBO, and conservatives worries about the cost of the program.

What concerns me is that the legislation will not deal sufficiently with the cost issue, which will require that we begin to rein in the costs of healthcare by doing something about "fee for service" method of delivering care.

I suggest that everybody read the article by Dr. Guwande in the June 1st, issue of the New Yorker.

I hope I am more right on this issue than you are. We must have health care reform.