The debate over health care reform has been hotly contested for generations, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that during one of the worst global economic crises in history, President Obama is following through on his campaign promise to reform the system.
Yesterday, President Obama announced that Democratic leaders will be pushing a sweeping health care reform bill through Congress by mid-summer. This comes on the heels of his meeting Monday with major players in the private health care industry, where President Obama was presented with a vague, sidestepping two page letter describing industry efforts to cut $2 Trillion dollars in consumer health care expenditures over ten years. On Tuesday, President Obama met with corporate CEO’s, union officials, and other leaders who had figured out ways to cut health care costs and improve employees’ health in an effort to gather information and discuss future plans.
These efforts, of course, should be applauded. But at a time when more and more people are being forced to seek government assistance, it seems as if the argument for single payer, universal health care has inadvertently been thrown out the window. By meeting with executives for drug companies and private health care providers and not bringing any proponents or advocates for public health care into the discussion (Finance Committee chair Max Maucus went out of his way to have demonstrators arrested for protesting that lack of input), President Obama sent a clear message: reform will come only if lawmakers cooperate with the overseers of the current system.
It is clear that the current system is not sufficient. In 2007, the Census report on Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance reported that 45.7 million Americans were uninsured and another 80 million were covered by government insurance. 177 million people were covered by employer-based insurance plans, paying premiums they can’t afford for basic health care. That leaves a very, very small percentage of people buy a monthly plan from some large company like Anthem/Blue Cross, Oxford, or Aetna. I happen to be one of those people, which is one of the reasons I support a universal health care plan that will only require small contributions.
Part of the problem is the overall attitude by health insurance providers that paints people as “consumers” rather than real people. As a customer base, the human aspect is completely eliminated, thus opening the door for high costs and competitive cuts. During a debate on espn.com between columnist Bill Simmons and author Malcolm Gladwell, I came across Gladwell’s comment about the way we strategize health care and education. In his words:
I wonder if there isn’t something particularly American in the preference for “best” over “better” strategies. I might be pushing things here. But both the U.S. health-care system and the U.S. educational system are exclusively “best” strategies: They excel at furthering the opportunities of those at the very top end. But they aren’t nearly as interested in moving people from the middle of the pack to somewhere nearer the front.
For those of us who stand somewhere in the middle (or closer to the back) this statement rings alarmingly true. Of course my employer offers great health care benefits – at $275 dollars a month. Therein lies the eternal curse: it is just too damn expensive for regular folks to afford health care anymore.
Now, factor in the current economic crisis. The unemployment rate has doubled (from about 5% in 2007 to the now current, and stagnant, 10%) and has forced those recently laid off to either pay outrageous premiums to continue their coverage under COBRA or rely on government aid and insurance. While the stimulus package provided billions of dollars to subsidize COBRA for unemployed people it is just a drop in the bucket. Consider that the bullshit letter discussed towards the top of the article proudly admits that 17.6% of our GDP will be spent on health care in 2009. At a time when the economy is in shambles, shouldn’t we be spending our money trying to get it back on track and not on doctor visits to treat a cold?
So the Democrats are going to be pushing a “sweeping” health care reform bill through Congress. I say, if it is not universal coverage for every American, then how different can it be from the current system? There is ample evidence that drug companies and health care providers have been pouring millions of dollars into Congressional pockets (you can see friendly Senator Maucus at the top of the list) to make sure they have a seat at the table. There is absolutely no reason for us to believe that this “reform” discussion will actually involve input from the population that stands to benefit the most: real people.
In a follow-up to the initial two page letter presented to President Obama, Karen Ignani, President and CEO of lobbyist group AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans) made this statement:
We strongly believe that all Americans must have access to affordable, high-quality health care coverage. We also agree with others that universal coverage will not be sustainable, and that Medicare and Medicaid will not remain solvent, unless the nation addresses the cost issue head on.
Until the health care and pharmaceutical industries stand by a public health care plan that will give the 50 million people without health insurance access to suitable health care, it is just a reincarnation of the same system.
A message to Washington Democrats: before you push through a health care reform bill that will probably result in a more complicated formulation of the current system, bring to the table those who have been forced into bankruptcy, lost loved ones, or are in terminal stages of treatable diseases because of a lack of simple, preventive care. Bring in the doctors, nurses, and surgeons who serve the uninsured and underinsured populations that you had arrested on Monday, and ask them their opinion. Once lawmakers understand that cutting the administrative cost of HMO’s will not prevent the inevitable pain and misfortune that this system has spawned from repeating itself a million times over, they will understand why it is a human right for all people to have access to basic health care.
Until then, don’t hold your breath expecting a miracle. Money talks and inevitably, working class and poor folks are silenced. Canada, anyone?