Today I’m talking about health care again. Yes, again. As each day passes we are either getting closer to, or farther away from, a universal health care plan for America. The outcome of the current wrangling in Congress will quite literally mean life or death for hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of real, flesh and blood men, women and children. It’s a topic worth talking about again.
To start our discussion today, let’s play a quick round of Name That Politician! Guess who said this:
“I believe that our government and our people, business and labor, the insurance industry and the health profession can work together in a national partnership to achieve our health objectives. I do not believe that the achievement of these objectives requires the nationalization of our health insurance industry… Such action… would deny the people the right to choose how they will pay for their health care.”
So, what’s your guess? John McCain? Rush Limbaugh, maybe? Who?
Unless you were tipped off by this article’s headline and the 36th president’s photo, you probably didn’t guess Richard Nixon. These words came from the mouth of Tricky Dick himself in a message to Congress back in 1971. That’s right, 1971. For the benefit of all those who weren’t around thirty-eight years ago, this business of trying to reform our health care system has been going on for a very, very long time.
I’ve seen this movie over and over, and no matter how many reruns I see, the opposition to health care reform remains, well… a crock. The same old boring, “how-in-the-hell-can-anyone-buy-this?” kind of crock.
Just as Tricky Dick assured us they would, our government, the insurance industry and the health profession have worked together in a national partnership to achieve their objectives over the past 40 years. Unfortunately, their objectives were not the same as yours and mine, and their cooperation could more accurately be called collusion.
Through aggressive claims management, outright denial of coverage for sick people with pre-existing conditions, exclusion of those with meager financial resources from all access to health care, and costs inflated beyond all decency, these three players have secured obscene profits and lifestyles for insurance and pharmaceutical industry executives, eyebrow raising incomes for medical professionals, and near eternal political life for well greased congressional representatives and senators. The whole business reeks of greed, excess and corruption—and misery and death!
How do these people get away with it? That’s simple. We let them.
Back in 1971 Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) said:
“Americans have for years accepted the principle that the fundamental services provided by the government for all people, such as national defense, the judicial system, pollution control and food and drug regulation, should be funded out of general revenues and the these revenues should be collected principally by means of a progressive income tax. Medical care is just such a basic service and should be so funded.”
Her argument was simple, reasonable and sound in 1971, and it remains so in 2009. Still, Americans have yet to demand universal health care from their government. They have timidly listened to Dick Nixon and his successors and have let themselves be frightened away from what they know is right.
Nixon’s words were tripe in 1971, and they remains tripe today. They were, of course, immediately parroted by the American Medical Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, Blue Cross Association, American Hospital Association, the Republican National Committee and everyone else invested in the health care industry. The talking points haven’t changed in forty years.
This past week Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other neocon talk show guns have in unison warned that any “public option” or government-backed health insurance program will create a massive new bureaucracy, a bureaucracy so large that it could not possibly do its job and would bankrupt the nation. It’s funny, isn’t it, that these right wingers fail to notice that the health insurance industry operates exactly such a bureaucracy right now, every day, and with eye-popping profits.
It doesn’t matter who’s running the thing, it’s going to take one helluva lot of money and people to administer any kind of comprehensive health care program—a bureaucracy. Surely, there would have to be efficiencies inherent in a system where there is a single payer with a single program to administer, as opposed to hundreds of competing commercial payers with hundreds of competing programs to administer?
The arguments are old and tired. They are repetitious and boring. But, if you yet believe that in 2002 there were enormous stockpiles of chemical weapons in Iraq you will likely believe that we cannot afford universal health coverage. If you believe that mixing the races in our schools will destroy public education, that the Vietnam War was vital to our national security, that we haven’t been torturing prisoners at Guantanamo, or that Richard Nixon had your best interest at heart, then you will likely believe that a public health insurance option is part of a conspiracy to steal your liberty, just like Glenn Beck says it is.
Like I said, I’ve been watching the same movie since 1971, and it had already been playing for quite a while before I entered the theater. It comes out the same way every time. Rich industry execs get richer and richer, and poor people get sicker and deader in ever larger numbers. It’s time to remake this movie.