Long Odds

President Obama wants to reform our dysfunctional health system.

 America doesn’t have a socialized system, like England, where doctors work for the government. We don’t have a single-payer system, like several European countries where medical care isn’t socialized, but health insurance is. And for better or worse, neither Congress nor the President proposes emulating either approach. Instead, Obama wants to control costs, crack down on insurance company abuses, and create a public insurance option to compete with insurance companies—much as Medicare competes with private coverage for older Americans.

Seems like a no-brainer. Thirty percent of Americans get their health insurance from government now, and government at all levels currently pays over 60% of all American medical costs. Curbing waste and instituting efficiencies would give taxpayers more for that money.

So why does reform face long odds?  

My son-in-law said it best the other night: there is too much money and power being deployed by those who are richly rewarded by the current system.

A couple of weeks ago, the Star ran an important investigative report about our own Senator Bayh, whose wife Susan raked in over two million dollars in two years for her “service” on the boards of several healthcare companies. The Senator seemed shocked—shocked!—that anyone might think this bonanza constituted a conflict of interest. (For those who believe it isn’t a conflict, or that this is an isolated case, I have some underwater land in Florida I’ll sell you…)

Public interest watchdogs report that insurance and pharmaceutical companies are spending huge sums to spread fear and disinformation about reform proposals. Since public understanding of these issues is thin, they’re making progress; the New York Times recently told of a man who screamed at a public meeting “the government better keep its hands off my Medicare!” Others evidently believe that reforms will include “death panels” to expedite killing off old folks. (Which does raise a couple of questions: if reform means killing us off, why is AARP supporting it? Why is the AMA? And haven’t the people who believe this nonsense ever heard of factcheck.org?)

Meanwhile, ironically, insurers profess concern that “bureaucrats” will get between you and your doctor.  Those are the same companies that list the doctors you can see, specialists you can consult and for what symptoms, and tests your doctors can or cannot perform for a given set of symptoms.

The lobbyists’ most recent tactic is sending angry mobs to shut down discussion at public forums. This is faux populism, sometimes called “Astroturf” because it’s meant to look like a genuine grass-roots movement. Leaked memos confirm that the intent is not to argue the merits of particular provisions, which would be both useful and legitimate, but to drown out discourse and intimidate lawmakers.     

It would be immensely productive to have an honest debate about how the actual reform proposals would work, and how they would affect our economy. Unfortunately, special interests are determined to hijack that debate.

If they succeed, we all lose.

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