16 October 2009

Health Care Reform and the 'Independent Voter'

In the health care debate:
'Independent' usually means 'misinformed'

By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / October 16, 2009

As witness not of our intentions but of our conduct, we can be true or false, and the hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; however only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. -- Hannah Arendt, 1963
Last evening on MSNBC’s the Ed Show it was suggested that most “independent voters” do not appear to understand the essence of the health care debate. This statement gave me pause, for it suddenly occurred to me that I really have a very hazy perception of who those "independent voters” really are.

My first inclination is to think of a large group of citizens who are not party-affiliated but are independent thinkers. I believe that many in the educated, progressive community would have the same immediate response. Well, stop! It was largely the “independent voters” who voted against their own self interests and twice elected Ronald Reagan president. Time to slow down and reflect...

No doubt there are those who do not belong to a specific political party, or consider themselves Socialists or Greens; however, this is not the mass of the electorate. Who are we discussing?

The Democrat or Republican is moved by tradition or conviction to register as he or she does. In the health care debate most registered Democrats favor including a non-profit entity -- whether it be a true non-profit company, overseen by physicians and members of the community at large (universal single payer care as described by Physicians For A National Health Program), or a government agency like Medicare or the Veterans Administration.

Most Republican champion a “free market” neo-liberal economic theory, social Darwinism, in fact dominated by the insurance cartel and pharmaceutical giants Yet this does not account for the masses of the “independent voters” alluded to on the Ed Show.

We return to the so-called independent voters, the ones who voted for Ronald Reagan. These people were not well informed, as we might delude ourselves into thinking. These were the folks who were moved to vote for an actor, an actor they had seen on the screen as a soldier, as a cowboy, or a he-man. Many, as with Reagan himself, did not divorce his roll playing from reality. They did not consider that here was a puppet managed by a number of ambitious puppet masters from the world of the corporations and the military-industrial complex, who were the powers behind the throne.

These were the folks who were unaware that their trade unions were being undermined, their financial and social safety nets were being destroyed, and their jobs were beginning to be shipped overseas to increase the profits of the large corporate interests behind the Reagan presidency.

Certainly, a few “independent” voters are at home studying political trends, reading economic theory, trying to comprehend the geo-politics of the Middle East; however, most are watching Fox News, attending Ron Paul discussion groups, seriously considering the overtly absurd, corporate sponsored, anti-health care propaganda on television.

These are the people who chose their health care companies and part D Medicare insurance carriers from ads on TV; they are totally oblivious to the fact that the cost of TV advertising is tremendous and in the long run will be passed on to the consumer who has been suckered into purchasing the product. Lost with them is the old adage that you don’t get “something for nothing."

Unfortunately most of the "information" available to the average person is not information at all, but is misinformation provided by the corporations who control much of the print media, the preponderance of the TV stations, and nearly all radio. Yet there is a glimmering of hope. The October 12th Modern Physician reported that the American physician is much more satisfied in dealing with a government program such as Medicare than with private insurance companies. On a 1-5 scale, the 1700 physicians participating in the survey gave Medicare part B a score of 3.59, Aetna was second with a rating of 3.15, followed by Cigna 3.11, Coventry Health Care 2.99, Humana 2.92, Anthem 2.84, and United Health Care 2.45. Please note that Humana is probably the most widely advertised health insurance/hospital company on telebision!

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumers Reports, for decades, rarely makes a political statement.; however, in a Consumer Reports survey, republished by McClatchy Newspapers on October 9, showed that 51 % of Americans have “faced difficult health care choices in the past year.” The survey showed that because of costs 28% put off doctors visits; 25% have been unable to afford medical bills or medication; 22% put off medical procedures; 20% declined medical tests; 20% skipped filling prescriptions; 15% tool expired medication; 15% skipped scheduled dosages of medication. Jim Guest, Consumers Union president and CEO said, “Today health care costs too much. Many Americans are one slip or major illness away from losing their coverage.”

During the past week the insurance cartel has exposed its true face with its threat to Congress and the President that if proposed health care legislation (read "insurance reform") is not passed to their liking that they will raise rates throughout the insurance industry. And they are demanding that congress include a mandate requiring Americans to own health insurance, with a penalty as high as $3,800 a family to enforce it. Further, the insurance industry would be delighted if Congress includes tax-payer funding of private insurance company premiums, for those who cannot afford to buy the mandated private insurance.

In other words the health insurance industry is trying to blackmail our elected representatives, at least those that who are not already bribed, to provide more income to the insurance industry on the backs of the poor and the taxpayer. Thus, higher salaries for the executives – making possible larger mansions and more elegant yachts -- as well as increased income to the stockholders and the entire Wall Street establishment.

Of course this is merely the tip of the iceberg; the power structure in the United States is determined to create a two class society. This is well illustrated in an article by Mark Ames, distributed by AlterNet, entitled "8 Shocking Ways the Billionaires Have Schemed to Rob Us of Every Last $." It is time that the “independent voters" awaken and face reality, since most of this approach is based on lack of medical care to the average citizen. Note, for example, that there is now a policy among the private insurance companies to deny health care coverage to women who have had a Caesarian section, unless she is voluntarily sterilized thereafter.

I have had Medicare coverage for the past 18 years, and have experienced no denials or other problems in spite of treatment for cancer of the prostate and and (hold your hats) an idiopathic demyelinating periperal motor neuropathy that is gradually interfering with my walking. At no time has my physicians’ treatment, testing, or prescribing been challenged. At no time has there been evidence of a government bureaucrat interjecting himself into the process, and my final death-bed wishes have been purely private between my family and myself, and those I have informed, my physician and attorney. My main concern, and this MUST be addressed by Congress, is the fact that Medicare funding will become a real problem by 2017 unless the gross waste of billions of dollars poured into the Medicare Advantage Programs or The Medicare Part D prescription programs in not halted by Congress.

We have reached the crucial stage of health care reform.

I have faith in the House of Representatives; however, I am much concerned about the Senate, with its jellyfish-like majority leader, and its antiquated parliamentary rules -- with 100% of the Republican Senators, including those from Maine, as well as “independent” Sen, Lieberman, being totally beholden to the insurance industry. We also have the pre-paid group of 6-7 Democratic Senators, most a part of the Senate Finance Committee.

Unfortunately, in the face of the widely disseminated information regarding their acceptance of baksheesh, they show no shame. Only superhuman pressure from the public, including the “independents,” can alter this nearly untenable situation. It blows my mind that the United States, among all industrialized nations, citizens do not have decent, universal health care -- or even the prospect of having it -- as a moral imperative. Only in the USA do we see boxes in check-out lines asking donations to pay for a certain child's brain tumor surgery. Shame, shame, shame.

I have a bit of remaining hope that the President will rise to the task of demanding a TRUE public option, Medicare-for-all. A plan parallel to the current Medicare for the elderly, paid for by premiums collected from the insured, or with government subsidy for the poor. This would not be related to the current Medicare programs which have been paid for in advance by a 3 3/4% tax deduction from participants’ paycheck throughout their working years.

The Medicare-for-all would not subject to the rationing of care as is rampant among the private insurers, there would be no denial of insurance du to pre-existing illness, and no insurance company employees would be searching through your claims to find a reason to deny payment.

To date President Obama has not shown himself to be a person of strong conviction, when we consider the failure to establish regulations subsequent to the financial crises; his deference to the military, rather than the Middle East experts, concening Afghanistan; and his blathering homage to a Republican senator from Maine, rather than taking an unequivocal position of leadership in support of a public option as the keystone of universal health care.

Once again, we as a people, must make our voices heard at the White House. Time grows very short.

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a retired physician whose articles on health care reform appear regularly in The Rag Blog.]

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