06 July 2009

Health Care : Obama Must Channel Inner FDR

Unfortunately, throughout the Congressional debate about health care reform President Obama has not shown the clarity or leadership of a Roosevelt...
By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / July 6, 2009

My earliest memory of a presidential election was early in the Great Depression when Franklin D. Roosevelt challenged Herbert Hoover. Roosevelt was a product of privilege; nevertheless, he was an individual of courage and conviction.

I was reminded of this the other day when I came across a brochure entitled Keeping America's Promise, Strengthening The Middle Class. A well written, lucid account of Obama's promises to America, which I had picked up at the local Obama headquarters during the primary election. On page 34 is a detailed plan for health care for all in which he three times cites his support of a PUBLIC PLAN offering all Americans the same health benefits as incorporated in the plan 'members of Congress have.”

Unfortunately, throughout the Congressional debate about health care reform President Obama has not shown the clarity or leadership of a Roosevelt on this issue, but has rather enveloped himself with the special interests opposed to universal health care, avoided the organizations dedicated to universal health care, and maintained a deafening silence, save for a few offhand remarks at town meetings or press conferences.

Not once has he taken a firm stand, but rather has continued the absurd commitment to “bipartisanship” and has failed to face the fact that the Republicans in Congress are there to systematically destroy any progressive agenda rather than to work in the interests of the American people. Many individuals have encouraged Mr. Obama to show conviction and leadership, including Ralph Nader in an article in the Boston Globe on June 30.

On June 28 in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne, one of the few remaining honest progressive columnists, takes Mr. Obama to task for his silence. Mr. Dionne indicates that Obama has shied away from handing Congress his own plans on “stone tablets,” a phrase much loved by senior adviser David Axelrod, and instead allowed it room to legislate. Mr. Dionne continues to note the absence of substantial Republican support for comprehensive change.

Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has done practically everything short of making ethanol a reimbursable prescription drug to win the heart of his good Republican friend from Iowa, Chuck Grassley. This creates a terrible dynamic in which Baucus is pushed toward one concession after another. It's a setup for a sellout, and the compromise Baucus is likely to produce cannot be the final word. (Mr. Dionne, gentleman that he is, omits reference to the large sums of money lavished on Sen. Baucus by the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the AMA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.)

Dr. Paul Krugman, in an Op-Ed in The New York Times on June 26, he points outthat, when it comes to domestic policy, there are two Barack Obama's. On one side there's the Policy Wonk, whose command of the issues -- and the ability to explain those issues in plain English -- are a joy to behold. But on the other side there's Barack the Post-Partisan, whose searches for common ground where none exists, and whose negotiations with himself, lead to policies that are far too weak.

Further, the President is presented with another dilemma. On one side he has his Secretary of HEW, Kathleen Sebelius, urging needed health care reform. On the other hand his health care policy czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle, served as a director of corporations that faced scores of investigations, whistleblower lawsuits and other regulatory actions, according to government records reviewed by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Since leaving her prior government job running Medicare for The Clinton administration, DeParle built a lucrative private-sector career. Records show that she has earned more than $6.6 million since 2001, according to a tally by the Investigative Reporting Workshop.

Mcjoan, in an article on Daily Kos entitled "The Worst Health Care Money Can Buy," notes that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent more money lobbying since 1998 than any individual company, a total of $22.5 million to promote their interests. The contributions of the insurance industries and PhARMA have been well documented in my previous articles. AARP -- a major lobbyist, and major purveyor of health insurance -- has spent $4 million this year and $158.8 million since 1998. Individuals cited that we have not previously documented are Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia who has raised $69,000 and Sen. Harry Reid who has taken $78,800 for their PACs. Further, the Washington Times on June 13 provided financial links to the health insurance industry for Sen. and Mrs. Dodd, Sen. and Mrs. Rockefeller and Sen. Harkin

Where then, do we look for leadership in the Senate? Little can be expected from the jellyfish Harry Reed or from Sen. Baucus with his connections to the nation’s corporate leadership. Happily, there is one strong, dedicated, unimpeachably honest voice -- that of Sen. Bernie Sanders. In the June 29 Huffington Post,Sen. Sanders demands that Democrats commit to stopping a health care filibuster, something that became possible with the arrival of Al Franken to the Senate, even anticipating that the Democrats will lose 8-9 votes from among their numbers. Implied is the budget reconciliation process, or the so-called “nuclear option.” These would require crossing various parliamentary hurdles, and would be much easier with strong leadership from the White House. Sen. Sander's official Senate website contains a wealth of interesting material.

Another significant problem that has surfaced is in the House of Representatives. On July 1, National Politics and Policy reported that “Nineteen House Dems Plan to Vote Against Health Reform if Abortion Funding is Included.” Of course, this statement is a bit ambiguous; what is really meant is that these 19 Blue Dog Democrats, largely from the South or Appalachia, will not vote for a health care bill "unless it explicitly excludes abortion funding from the scope of any government-defined or subsidized health insurance plan.”

The abortion issue had never occurred to me in connection to universal health care. I believe that 99.9 % of the proponents of care had never considered that issue as we were consumed by the fact that 20,000 individuals in the United States die yearly for lack of insurance, and thus, of health care. We were aware that health care in the United States ranks 26th worldwide, and that we have the highest incidence of infant mortality, child poverty, and lack of pre- and post-natal care in the Western world. We, of course, were totally dedicated to the government having nothing to do with the relationship between the public and their physicians. (If there should appear to be the slightest connection the Republicans would shout "socialized medicine.” Although worldwide I know of no "socialized medicine" save that available through our Veteran Administration system, which was excellent care before being underfunded and professionally eviscerated by the Bush administration.)

Should Congress be diverted by calls for exclusion of certain kinds of care such as abortion, think where that might lead. Imagine that the Scientologists will demand that psychiatric care be excluded; that the crusaders against circumcision demand that that procedure be excluded; that the right wing, self appointed, ill advised opponents of smallpox and papilloma virus immunization desire their prohibition; or indeed that those other folks still mired in other 13th century thinking will wish to exclude antibiotic therapy in view of the fact that they disagree with Louis Pasteur's 'germ theory'.

The letter demanding that a woman and her physician be denied free choice of medical care included the following House Members: Dan Boren (Okla), Bobby Bright (Ala), Travis Childers (Miss.), Jerry Costello (Ill), Lincoln Davis (Tenn), Kathleen Dahlkemper (Pa), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Tim Holden (Pa,), Paul Kajorski (Pa), John Murtha (Pa), Marcy Kaptur(Ohio), Mike McIntyr (NC), Charlie Melacon (LA) , James Oberstar (Minn), Solomen Ortiz (Texas), Collin Peterson (Minn), Heath Shuler (NC), Bart Stupak (Mich) and Gene Taylor (Miss).

Many of these folks voted against the recent legislation to address climate change but, on the other hand, votde for the bill for additional war funding! They do exhibit a great amount of intellectual and ethical inconsistency.

The Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats still complain that universal health care is a budget breaker. This of course is folderol. In an article posted on Campaign for America's Future, July 2, 20089, Bill Scher points out that “The Public Plan Option Indisputably Saves Money”

The need for universal care is demonstrated quite graphically in a July 1 New York Times article. If anyone questions the need for universal care, and the need for the President to begin leading, and the people to really get to contacting their congresspersons and senators,read this article. This is intolerable in a supposedly advanced, supposedly Christian nation.

I had wanted to further address the question of possible legalization of marihuana, as there are encouraging developments, but space becomes short, and there is quite a lot of information developing; hence, once again, I will defer this for the next issue. However, I would like to address one light matter if I may, regarding the future of Sarah Palin... If I had to bet, at this time, I would guess that she could be in line for a multimillion dollar contract to do a program on Fox News in the 9 P.M. weekday slot. The "lady" has the insight, the knowledge, the feeling for the truth, and the ethical character to fit well into that forum!

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister, a retired physician who is active in health care reform, lives in Erie, PA. His previous articles on The Rag Blog can be found here.]

Larry and Claire Yurdin. Photo from NYT.
Also, please see Insured, but Bankrupted by Health Crises from the June 30, 2009, New York Times, about the amazing health insurance/bankruptcy story involving Larry and Claire Yurdin, formerly of Austin.
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