On One Hand

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.

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4 Comments »

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    The video you linked (which is currently being played on major cable networks) is insane on many levels.

    Comment by sleepyreaderz — August 11, 2009 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  2. Its’ upsetting that I have some fellow ex-coworkers who seem to fall into that anti-insurance/anti-rational philosophy. We’re all unemployed after DHL decided to cut and run, leaving only a shell of a business and thousands unemployed in the US.
    Cobra insurance, with its 65% government (9-month only) assistance, is still $350.00 for a single person per month.
    I’m going to my local town hall meeting on the 31st here. Maybe I can shout at the idiots who will be shouting for effect. ?

    Comment by firemaplesong — August 12, 2009 @ 3:59 am | Reply

  3. The misrepresentations that are propagated by the right are staggering.

    Here’s an email that was forwarded to me by an elderly relative this morning. Astounding.

    —————————————
    Says a lot for the compassion of this stupid, bad cop!

    If a picture ever said “a thousand words” – this one does.

    The Photo…

    [Picture of Obama, Gates and Crowley walking down the White House steps. Crowley assists Gates, who is using a cane.]

    Sergeant Crowley, the sole class act in this trio, helps the handicapped Professor Gates down the stairs, while Barack Obama, heedless of the infirmities of his friend and fellow victim of self-defined racial profiling, strides ahead on his own.

    This picture becomes a metaphor for ObamaCare. The elderly are left in the back, with only the kindness of the Crowleys of the world, the stand up guys, to depend on. The government has other priorities.

    This image will have genuine resonance. It captures something that older Americans in particular can relate to. The President presses ahead with a program that will tell them to take painkillers instead of getting that artificial hip.

    At every stage of the entire Gates affair, Obama has provided a revealing tell. The “acted stupidly” blunder revealed that he automatically blames the police and thinks they really are stupid to begin with. It didn’t trigger a single alarm bell in his mind as he figured out what to say.

    Without his scripts, Obama is no longer the master performer.

    Comment by monja_alferez — August 12, 2009 @ 11:00 pm | Reply


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