First, some Facts:
"Pathetically but predictably, the health care reform debate is not focused on health care or reform, but rather on imagery meant to trigger our reptilian responses. In another article, I shall address what the "debate" should really be about (hint: improved health!), but in the public interest, in the hopes of lassoing crocodile frenzy before it totally consumes its young, I offer help for those struggling with friends and family who may be shaken by what has occurred during our own August recess.
"This is not to suggest that those who already believe that health reform is designed to kill Granny, or that the government just wants to "take over" Medicare are salvageable. Rather, that there may be increasing numbers of people who do not buy the inflammatory rhetoric, but do not know how to respond (to themselves) otherwise.
Here's a little primer on addressing some of the most absurd claims:
1. The government -- i.e., not private enterprise -- wants to kill Granny. Let us get this straight. The government wants to kill Granny and, by implied contrast, private enterprise, that we all learned in Economics 101 exist for the sole purpose of caring for each and every citizen, will look out for Granny's well-being.
Is this the same private enterprise that sells death (cigarettes), needing to addict 15,000 new children per month just to maintain revenues? Or, is it the same private enterprise that resisted selling safe cars? Or, perhaps it is the same private enterprise that would never pollute our air or water, or, if they did, rush to clean it up before they hurt anyone? Or, maybe they mean the private enterprise that imported toxic toys for children? Or, the private enterprise that so generously donates candy and soda pop machines to public schools?
We actually do know the private enterprise they mean -- it is the private insurers who try not to insure people who are or may get sick, try to drop them from their rolls when they do, and deny every claim they can when they cannot drop you from their policies. That's the private enterprise that has been caring for you for years.
And what about the government? Perhaps the evil government they refer to is the one that determined cigarette smoking caused lung cancer in the first place; or the one that established pollution controls and standards for clean air and clean water; or, perhaps it is the evil government, out to kill Granny, that administers Medicare with less than a 5 percent administrative cost compared to 25-30 percent for private enterprise; or, the evil people at the Food and Drug Administration that ensure the integrity of the food supply and the safety (and potency) of drugs people take to combat illness?
Let us concede, however, that the government does deliberately kill people. It is called the death penalty. And, although the goal is not to have our own people killed, war usually does a pretty good job of ensuring people die. So, if Granny refrains from committing a capital offense, and does not -- like the Limbaughs and O'Reillys and Bushes and Cheneys and Kristols and Lowrys and Buchanans and Chamblisses who love war so long as they do not get called to fight it -- volunteer for the armed forces, it is not the government she needs to fear for her life.
2. We cannot afford it. Here's a shocker--we are affording it today, paying for it now. Hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies are not giving away treatment and medicine for free. They are not printing their own money (although the word "scrip" is indeed in prescription). They are getting paid.
Now, how can that be? Well, if you are among the 260 million Americans who have health insurance, you are already paying for the 47 million who do not. Health care providers overcharge you assuming a predictable percentage of bills will go uncollected. You see, along with your insurance exec's Gulfstream, you pay for the uninsured with your premiums for those higher charges.
But, you don't mind, do you? Because they never called it a "tax."
If we get universal coverage, there will be no unpaid charges. Charges per item or service could come down and, therefore, insurance premiums could come down -- unless of course the insurance execs wants a company yacht along with the Gulfstream, or just to report higher profits, then they won't. Wonder what a competing public option would do? Hmmm....
And, by the way, there are huge savings to be had just from improved efficiencies of a system in which total costs count more than the cost of one procedure or drug or intervention.
The secret reason they never called part of your premiums a "tax" is that if we ever got health care reform, and premiums declined, or at least did not increase more rapidly than other parts of the economy, then we might have called it a "tax cut." And one of the "Old Rules" is the only the right wing gets to say the word, "tax cut." (Are you listening, Bill Maher?).
But, they are correct that health care costs are spinning out of control and that one of the purposes of reforming the system is to reduce those costs. One of the best ways of reducing costs is improving outcomes. More on that in another article.
3. Let private competition solve everything: Imagining a world without Medicare
Ok, to test that hypothesis, let us examine what our world would be like without Medicare. One possibility would be that the elderly would be insured privately and randomly in the same plans as the rest of us. Care to guess how high your premiums would be if your plan carried those higher risk seniors?
Or, suppose no insurance company really wanted to insure the elderly and they were without insurance. Then Granny gets sick. Who pays? Do you let Granny go untreated? Does Granny "allow" you go bankrupt, and deprive your kids, her grandchildren(!), of their college funds, to pay for her care?
Or, suppose there are insurance companies only covering the elderly? Their insurance premiums would be ... oh, doesn't seem to work does it? Very few would be covered since it would be unaffordable, so we are back to no coverage.
How about this? Your children can be covered to the age of 18 under your policy. What about your parents getting covered under your policy once they hit 65? Think we are back to sky-high premiums with that one.
I know, I know, I know (says Newtie), let's give each Medicare recipient a lump sum, and let them go out and buy private insurance with it. For starters, about 20-30 percent of that is no longer going into actual care, but into "administrative" costs, so their coverage would decline.. Then again, if a person is ill, the insurer may not wish to cover him; if there were a law against such discrimination, we are back to both skyhigh premiums few could afford and the contribution coming from Medicare being insufficient.
Now, for the most likely scenario without Medicare. Granny is covered, premiums are higher but not outrageously. Why? Because when Granny does get ill, the insurance companies will deny coverage, or drop her. So, you can have the wonderful experience of paying higher premiums and then going bankrupt a bit sooner, all while Granny is wondering how she could allow herself to do this to you, and her grandchildren. Now that would really kill her.
4. The free market can solve everything, and at lower cost. No, it cannot. First, and most convincingly, it has not. Since most systems tend toward equilibrium, it might have been surmised that, after all these years, everything would have already been solved. The purists would say that there are government programs around (like Medicare) that have distorted the system so that free markets cannot reach an equilibrium solution. But, that is nonsense. See # 3 above.
Secondly, though, free markets are genetically incapable of providing high-quality, low-cost, health care for all. Why? Because most people incur most of their health care costs when they are old. By the time they are old, health care prices have risen (even if at a normal rate), whereas their incomes were earned way-back-when wages and salaries were not nearly as high. Hence, even if they had saved prudently for the inevitable rainy day, it is unlikely most people would have enough saved from wages during their youth and middle age to cover the costs that they are now charged in their old age.
In addition, the costs of an illness can be, and often are, catastrophic to individuals, and only the very wealthy would have the money to pay for the total costs of care.
Ok, the free-market-solve-everything crowd would say, they would all purchase insurance. But, that is today's system, not everyone purchases it, not everyone can afford it, and private markets in search of profits do what would be expected: they weed out those most likely to add costs.
5. Your health care will be rationed. Don't know how to break this to you, except to say it in a whisper -- your health care is rationed today. Insurance companies do not cover everything, and, when they do, it is often just up to a point. Medicare likewise has certain rules about the level of nursing care required to qualify for reimbursement.
For example, we now know that highly intensive, properly guided physical therapy can restore motor function in people after strokes. A different part of the brain is trained to take over motor control. Here is a real-life case: A professor had a stroke. He is otherwise young and vigorous, formerly a champion-level athlete. But, his insurance will not cover the costs of 12-16 weeks of the highly intensive physical rehabilitation required to recover motor function. He gets just 3 weeks, only one hour on alternate days, but not even at the facility closest to his home, he has to go to one the insurance company approved.
One of the benefits of a comprehensive system is that treating this man for 12-16 weeks so that he can recover his motor function is not only better for the patient but, in the long run, is also much less expensive than forcing him, because of lack of coverage, to remain partially paralyzed. For any given insurance company, however, it is not less expensive, because he is likely to get passed into a different company. Thus, outcomes are worse and costs are higher.
6. Medicare is bankrupt ... or will be in 2042.
Name the private insurance company who is funded for all the healthcare expenses it will have to pay for the next 33 years, and I'll buy you 3 cheeseburgers, freedom fries deep-fried in beef fat with all you can drink Mountain Dew."
Meanwhile, Vibinc voices a more urgent reality:
"I know this whole “death panel” thing has been going on for weeks now, but I’ve gotten to the point where I want to slap someone every time I hear them talk about Government pulling the plug on granny because she’s too expensive. What bullshit.
We already have death panels you douchenozzle, they’re called INSURANCE COMPANIES.
Inducement to ration care is the very point of any HMO scheme.
The argument on the right is that you can sue an insurance company. Perhaps, but you’re still dead if you don’t get the treatment you need because some corporation hedged their bets.
It’s not like it’s ever happened before or anything.
Oh, and how does a lawsuit play with conservative notions that tort reform will magically fix what’s driving up the cost of healthcare. Come on people be consistent.
Nope, the reality is we’re talking about two different cultures. One that believes corporations are going to do what’s right for people and that the government can’t do ANYTHING right, and one that believes government’s role is to provide an equitable foundation for all Americans and that corporations are more interested in protecting shareholders than doing right by regular folks.
Which one sounds more realistic?
Seriously, conservatives have been working for 30 years to protect shareholders and corporations far more than help regular Americans. Their perspective is that if the corporation benefits, somehow so does everyone else. From the union busting that the Reagan Admin. engaged in, to trade deals that have sent American jobs hither and fro, with the help of conservative and largely southern Democrats that have served as compliant enablers, the conservative ideology has destroyed America’s manufacturing base and left us in a position where good jobs for regular people are going the way of the dodo. All the while this same “Conservative ideology” is largely responsible for a tenfold increase in the national debt over the past 28 years.
Somehow, this is supposed to provide a better quality of life for all us little people. But aside from making really affordable “cheap plastic crap” made in places most people couldn’t find on a map, the only real benefit has been the availability of second rate goods to people who used to make a first rate version of the same damn thing.
So when we apply this ideological difference to the healthcare “debate”, if that’s what you want to call it, you have some people talking about healthcare, and others talking about something else entirely. Sobeale hit on this back in June when talking about the difference between the left and the right on the healthcare debate.
Progressives want to give everyone healthcare. The other side wants to give everyone health insurance.
Healthcare. That’s what I’m talking about, not insurance. Insurance is the ONLY thing in the world you buy and pray you don’t have to use. Healthcare is something EVERYONE NEEDS, but that a growing minority of working Americans DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO. Sure, they can go to the doctor or the hospital, but if it’s something serious, they’ll likely go bankrupt. That’s the reality, and 50% of the people who go bankrupt every year are in that situation.
So now that the Healthcare industry has dumped some $130m since April into putting the kibosh on any plan that includes a “public option” by stirring irrational fears and mobilizing a vocal but largely uninformed group of people to disrupt anything and everything that might further the “public option”. The debate has shifted from providing healthcare to all Americans to providing Americans with insurance, something they don’t want to have to use.
This is just plain madness.
The right wing reactionaries that show up in force at Town Hall meetings across this nation are grounded in the same ideology that has helped bankrupt this county and millions of it’s citizens. They are not there to debate, they are there to debase the process, to incite fear, and ultimately, deny you a right to affordable treatment when you need it most.
This is not the huge movement that the media would play it up to be. They are not taking to the streets demanding that things stay the same. They are a couple of hundred people per district, out of some 600,000+ constituents, mobilized to make a good show of strength for a very short period of time. It’s media manipulation at it’s worst, and the media is playing the role of compliant enabler, just like those conservative Democrats who are paralyzed with fear anytime someone proposes a change that they might have to defend.