On One Hand

August 27, 2009

Republicans take Liberal Positions on Healthcare?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:17 pm
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Long have been the years that economic conservatives argued against healthcare reforms for fiscal and ideological reasons. Their side of the conversation goes something like this: what right does government have to put a taxpayer’s money towards another person’s healthcare? Medical care is a privilege, not a right. If you can’t pay for it, you aren’t entitled to it. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard some libertarian law student argue that “the right to be kept alive isn’t the same as the right to not be killed.”

Now ideological conservatives are trying to scare the public away from progressive policy points like the public option through the very opposite arguments: “Do you want to LIMIT the amount of money we should spend saving your grandma’s life?” Public healthcare means rationing, they argue; if you’re a member of a public option, the government might decide to put limits on what they’ll pay for in your case.

This is, of course, moot because, first, the public option is simply an option, and second, there are limits on access and supply of healthcare already, and the very purpose of the healthcare reform effort is to overcome those.

Lets get real, the life-is-more-valuable-than-money argument is far more of a Democratic value than a Republican value. Democrats wrote the bill for the very purpose of eliminating a system where people lose healthcare over financial concerns. Republicans are the ones who have always said you should only get healthcare as much as you have the money. The about-face they’ve done by trying to scare people into thinking what they’ve wanted all along is actually what the Democrats would do is not only hilarious, but an admission of guilt that their philosophies fail to carry water in the 21st century.

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August 17, 2009

Will we have the Right to Boycott Private Health Insurers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:22 pm
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There are good people who work in the health insurance industry. My grandma worked there for years and receives a pension from her old job, she cares about the poor, goes to Mass on Sundays and always votes Democrat. She’s not evil, and there are others who work there who are like her. I’ve had to call Blue Cross Blue Shield with questions in the past, and they were friendly and polite when they read lists of doctor’s they work with. It’s not that I have a problem with private insurers doing what they do when they do right.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that the industry, in its entire function, is immoral. Not even morally ambiguous, not even hands-in-the-air, too-complicated-to-judge: it’s morally wrong. The industry is corrupt. When you realize that your career or industry is harmful to innocent people, we can all understand how torn you’d be over something you’re connected to, but you should lay it down and move on.

The private health insurance industry spent over 50 million dollars supporting John McCain and Republican candidates leading up to the 2008 elections – that’s money they got through your paychecks and premiums. The industry refuses to cover people who are sick before they need healthcare, and finds sneaky ways to avoid paying for care that customers thought they were going to get. In order to stay profitable, the health insurance industry sets up situations that kill people for lack of coverage; that force people to get sicker than they have to or choose between gravely risking their lives and bankruptcy. The system is fatally flawed, and for those that die of preventable diseases, there is no give-and-take; to them America’s current healthcare system is a 100% loss. Even many employees of insurance companies know that this is wrong; the decisions are being made by relatively few people, who are incredibly rich, and sit in the companies’ corporate boardrooms and seem to have utter disdain for the rest of America. The fact that Americans continue to tolerate such an immoral situation on their own soil, for fear of alternatives they haven’t read enough about to understand, is beyond me.

This whole conundrum became all the more obvious for me when I had to buy insurance on my own, and live life without the coverage I had though my dad’s company when I was young. To get insurance, I had to fill out a questionnaire that noted I would be ineligible for their self-bought plan if I’ve ever had Melanoma in my life. I hadn’t – so I was lucky – but my mom has, so she’d be screwed under this system if she didn’t get insurance through her job.

Now I pay about a hundred dollars a month that would only do me any good if I got injured in a serious car accident. The annual deductible is $4,000 dollars, so regular doctors visits or trips to get antibiotics when I have strep throat are out of the question – this is catastrophic coverage only, something that more and more plans are turning to. My ADHD meds are unobtainable, so my total life productivity goes way down, despite the fact that I still have to fork over the dough for insurance. Thank God I don’t have any more serious chronic health issues, thank God I’m never going to get pregnant, and thank God I’m young.

My biggest issue with the health insurance industry is the lengths it will go to in order to prevent us from even choosing something else. Barack Obama supports a government-run plan that would give individuals the chance to pay for their own insurance through a separate, not-for-profit system – something he even insisted would not be tax funded in any way. The system would give taxpayers an alternative to private health insurance, but anybody who liked his or her private insurance plan could keep it. There are lots of reasons to think a public option is necessary to fixing healthcare. But the heath insurance industry has railed so hard against that idea that even a strong Democratic majority and strong public support for the idea will likely fail to pass it, as a huge number of conservative Democrats and many Republicans receive big checks from health insurance companies. Howard Dean recently suggested that, instead, everyone should be allowed to buy Medicare coverage, paying for it themselves without taxpayer help.

The insurance industry immediately railed against Howard Dean’s idea, and looks poised to squash the idea before it even gains footing. The maddening “KEEP YOUR GRUBBY GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY HEALTHCARE” deathers are in tow. The industry will oppose anything that increases the number of people who can access healthcare not through them.

But what substantial health reform can we have, without a public option? Without serious reform, Medicare is going to bankrupt America because of the increasing number of senior citizens, along with too many people not covered by health insurance. We need everyone covered so the taxpayer stops having to foot the bill for late emergency care, which is not only more expensive than preventative care would have been, but is less effective, and more people die. We need everyone covered so we stop having low-income children fail through school because they can’t get eyeglasses or ADHD meds that they need to even stand a chance. We need everyone covered so that people who get HIV or cancer don’t go bankrupt with their expensive treatments. We need everyone covered so that we can join the rest of the developed world as a nation that really values human life.

It seems likely now that some kind of individual mandate will pass – which, in spite of all the issues it raises about individual autonomy, is a good thing. Everyone should be covered by health insurance and those who can’t afford it should get help. It’s better for everyone that way. But without some kind of public plan, it’s a bittersweet victory – because now we’re forced to send our hard-earn dollars, not to a nonprofit plan that exactly covers the expense of providing coverage, but to private companies that willingly lie and distort facts so that people die, that allow costs to inflate until they become prohibitive for countless ordinary people, that spend a huge chunk of their income on political advertising to oppose reform, and that turn most progressives’ stomachs with disgust.

That’s right, people who have done everything they can to hurt us will be getting our money by law.

Will we have the right to boycott private health insurance? Not if an individual mandate passes, which means that private companies will monopolize the market and their only incentive will be to charge higher premiums for worse products, to send a bigger dividend to stockholders. Perhaps the rest of a reform package will have valuable features that make the doctor’s office side of the healthcare system more efficient, that put emphasis on preventative care, and that do countless other good things for Americans. I hope one does passes.

But I also think I have a right, as an American, to boycott an immoral industry. Even without an individual mandate, I should be allowed to get access to health insurance without participating in someone else’s profit. I’m not saying abolish private health insurance – I never have – I’m saying give us the right to put our own money somewhere else – to put it in a government plan – if that’s what we choose. Libertarians, who oppose the use of eminent domain to turn property over to a private entity for redevelopment, should recognize that no one should be forced to give their dollars over to another private citizen’s profit – this is worse than tax. The public option is a painless way to avoid that.

So far, that looks to fail. It looks like the health insurance industry stands to gain as much as to lose from healthcare reform. It’s disgusting.

August 15, 2009

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August 13, 2009

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August 10, 2009

Opponents will say or do ANYTHING to derail healthcare reform

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:14 pm
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I tend to reserve my public commentary for more substantive and original points, rather than picking apart political arguments on a tit-for-tat basis. But the healthcare debate is another story, because it follows the same trajectory every time it appears: take an issue most people support (universal healthcare) and devise a reasonable compromise to provide it (a public option), which everyone should agree is a winning plan. But then opponents emerge with lies, lies and more lies – not just distortions, but outright mischaracterizations and scare tactics – until the public is too scared to trust the people in charge to implement the plan, even though it was one they liked. You hear people saying stuff like:

Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare! Of course most people know that Medicare is a government program – one of the largest government programs in existence – and a very popular and successful one at that. It supplies dollars to pay for healthcare with a higher approval rating from its customers than any private insurance company has, and does so with a low advertising overhead (less than 2 percent), proving that there are certain things that government runs better and more efficiently than the private sector does.

You hear of Democratic “Blue Dog” senators in poor blue-collar states that are culturally conservative on just about every issue but healthcare and unions, yet they are too timid to side with progressives on the issue. When your state is pro-life, against gay marriage, against environmental regulations, damned apprehensive about voting for a black candidate for president and big on gun rights, you have to wonder why any Democrat would win. As it turns out, those states are often moderate to liberal on economic issues like health care – and voted for a Democrat because they were insecure about their own economic future, their employee benefits and health insurance. They wanted nothing other than transformative healthcare reform, and Democrats who join with Republicans in opposing it are a cruel irony for their constituents and for America.

So while we’re talking about lies and mischaracterizations among reform opponents, I thought I’d bring up a painfully obvious mischaracterization today – that is comparing President Obama’s reform agenda to unsavory elements of European socialized medicine. The United Kingdom, to name one oft-cited example, has a complicated process of determining which treatments are reasonable and for which patients. Most people understand, at least intuitively, that it’s impossible for a society to provide every kind of new or experimental medical procedure to every person who might benefit from it. For example, if an elderly woman were in a coma, and her life could be extended for four months (but she would never emerge from the coma) with one million dollars of medical treatment through intensive care and dialysis, would it be worth it? Most people would be torn. It’s a sad and controversial dilemma – most people believe, correctly, that every human life is priceless – but there aren’t enough dollars in the world or beds in the hospital to provide unlimited treatment. Most people would intuit that the dollars should be saved if they could be used, instead, to provide something like a heart transplant for a child. But when that old woman has a name and a face, it is equally tempting – and possibly not wrong – to let fate take the helm and give the money to whoever happens to need it first.

That’s been a major talking point on the Right. Do you want the government to decide whether grandma lives or dies, they ask? They’ve been terrorizing senior citizens with that message for the last few weeks.

In a private system, the market rations care by oversupplying wealthy people on expensive plans with unneeded procedures that don’t do them any good (like experimental drugs, acupuncture or nutrition counseling, and repeated referrals to specialists) and cutting poor people out of the system. Organizations like the AMA also lobby the government to keep nurses from being allowed to provide some services they know how to provide, so medical care is less available and doctors can be paid more for their scare services. In the U.K., the government rations care through a complex set of analyses on which drugs are cost effective and which are so expensive for what they do that the health agency won’t pay for them. It’s a plan that is far more regimented and precise than anything anybody in the United States has proposed – in fact there have been no proposals to ration healthcare with a specific dollar-value-per-person here. But the U.K. has been a major talking point on the Right nonetheless.

A recent absurdity emerged in an Investor Business Daily editorial, in which the writer pointed out that Stephen Hawking, a world-renowned, certifiable genius who discovered Hawking Radiation and has written extensively on physics and cosmology, would’t stand a chance at life in the U.K. healthcare system because he is wheelchair-bound with Lou Gerheg’s Disease. The commentary argued that all of Hawking’s marvelous contributions to science would not exist if he were born and lived in the U.K:

“People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.”

The commentary has one fatal flaw – Stephen Hawking is British and has lived in the U.K. his whole life. He is not dead, his medical bills are paid, and nobody in the U.K. or anywhere else for that matter would argue that a person in his medical condition has no right to life or shouldn’t be supported by the government plan. The reason we want universal health coverage is to save lives like his and avoid bankruptcy. This editorial is, happily, making its way around the net for the ridicule as such tragically unresearched work.

Here’s an example of an attack on healthcare reform in which conservatives rail on about protecting Medicare – a program they usually hate – because a public option plan could shift $500 billion public Medicare dollars into a different system that would provide the same services. This was a feature of a current healthcare bill that was meant to save money and improve efficiency, and likely wouldn’t effect senior citizens in the least.

If truth were something conservatives cared about, we’d have had a working national plan to provide every American with health insurance decades ago. Countless needless deaths would have been avoided. The dishonesty that really irks me here is that the anti-reform camp actually comes from the “if they can’t pay for it, they don’t deserve it” philosophy, which liberals consider morally atrocious. Yet they’re using those very you-can’t-pay-for-it scare tactics to lay out the pitfalls of government-aided coverage, trying to argue that tax-subsidized health program would be more stingy or do worse than the death dealers in the insurance industry. The private insurance system lets people die because covering them is “too expensive,” while government programs like medicare and medicaid do a damn good job of protecting people like the handicapped and senior citizens.

We have evidence that conservative groups are sending people out to the Obama administration’s town hall meetings to stage protests against healthcare reform, and a seemingly “grassroots” movement (of the same people over and over again) has emerged. Attacks are increasingly focused on nonexistent claims that the plan would encourage euthanasia for senior citizens and handicapped children – Sarah Palin recently claimed that Barack Obama wants to kill her baby with Down’s Syndrome through his healthcare reform, something MSNBC debunks. Right-wing extremists have gone so far as to threaten violence at pro-reform rallies. Meanwhile, public support for reform is beginning to tick downward amidst the widespread social panic.

There is no government or political issue that will have a more profound, personal and transformative effect on your and my life than healthcare reform. There is no government or political issue that will have an impact on more people or do more to improve the lives of working-class Americans than healthcare reform. There is no greater obligation of government than to protect life, and no greater realm in which the United States lags behind the developed world.

We know that conservatives will say or do anything to derail health reform – there is no number of lives they are unwilling to sacrifice to scrape off a half-percent here and there from their income tax, or protect a vague, undecipherable concept of free market or to derail their great enemy, Barack Obama. This is the single biggest crisis facing the country in generations, and it’s time for progressives to get visible and vocal on this issue to match the conservative push.

August 3, 2009

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