22 November 2009

Health Care Hypocrisy : The GOP's Nutty Screaming

"Wait Times!" Cartoon by Matt Bors.

The GOP's health care nuttiness
And the insurance industry backstory
The problem the right has with health care reform is not that it represents intrusive government (it doesn’t). It’s that it doesn’t represent the kind of intrusive, authoritarian government they like.
By Glenn W. Smith / The Rag Blog / November 22, 2009

The sheer volume of the nutty screaming from the Right can obscure the rank hypocrisy of the GOP’s attacks on health care reform. So let’s clear up a few things.

Health care reform is about getting our neighbors better health care, reducing unnecessary suffering and early death. “Socialism!” cry the Republicans. “Tyranny!” But how are the reforms being discussed any different in kind from existing public health services, like ambulances?

Here’s a picture. A Republican gets a broken collar bone in a car wreck. The EMS folk show up. “Get away,” shouts the Republican. “You’re a communist!” Right.

Just as baffling: the same right wing people who support government domestic spying, an imperial presidency, an end to habeas corpus, government controls on our private lives, public school teaching of unique religious doctrine, etc. oppose a government role in making us healthier. Spy on us, send our kids to war, imprison us without cause, tell us who we can love, control women’s bodies — it’s okay for government to do those things. But improve our health? That’s dangerous.

The problem the right has with health care reform is not that it represents intrusive government (it doesn’t). It’s that it doesn’t represent the kind of intrusive, authoritarian government they like.

Or how about this. An obscure panel that develops medical guidelines questions whether regular mammograms should be delayed until age 50. They are suggestions, not regulations. All hell breaks loose. “See,” cry the Republicans. “Government rationing of health care!” Lost in the shouting is the undeniable fact that private health insurance companies are already rationing health care. But here’s the key point: All the shouting– from justifiably concerned and confused women to right wing partisan exploiters — gets the agency to back off. See, government can be made accountable in ways private insurance companies never have been and never will be.

The health care debate has made one fact obvious: there are no credible, principled arguments against using our democratically elected government to help improve our health. Many of those screaming “socialism” today are already accepting the benefits of Medicare of Social Security. Right wingers, paid by insurance companies to do it, attacked those programs too, warning that they would destroy America.

For those of you who are on your way to Thanksgiving dinners next week with family members who, let’s say, do not always see eye to eye with you politically, here is a little of the private insurance back story. It might be helpful.

The insurance industry did not really want to get into the health business, and didn’t until the 1930s and 1940s. Why? Because they couldn’t figure out how to make money. Life insurance made money, because the investment of premium dollars earned them much more than benefits paid. Property insurance was profitable because premiums are paid by millions of people whose houses never burn down. But everyone needs a doctor. What to do?

Insurance big wigs figured it out. Deny coverage to those at risk of poor health. Deny reimbursement or benefits to policy holders. In other words, all of the health insurance industry profits come from the denial of care. It’s an ugly fact, but true nonetheless.

And this turned the American health care system into a brutal, nationwide version of Sophie’s Choice. Collectively, the health of one depends upon the sacrifice of another. Is that really how we want to treat one another?

The New York Time’s Nicholas D. Kristof made an excellent point in his column this week. I’ll close with his thought:
These days, the critics of Medicare have come around because it manifestly works. Life expectancy for people who have reached the age of 65 has risen significantly. America is no longer shamed by elderly Americans suffering for lack of medical care.

Yet although America’s elderly are now cared for, our children are not. A Johns Hopkins study found that hospitalized children who are uninsured are 60 percent more likely to die than those with insurance, presumably because they are less likely to get preventive care and to be taken to the doctor when sick. The study suggested that every year some 1,000 children may die as a consequence of lacking health insurance.

Why is it broadly accepted that the elderly should have universal health care, while it’s immensely controversial to seek universal coverage for children? What’s the difference — except that health care for children is far cheaper?
[Austin's Glenn W. Smith, according to Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, is a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” His excellent blog on politics and culture is DogCanyon, where this article also appears.]

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