Health care reform in dire condition
As it was when I wrote my column of two weeks ago, health care reform continues to be among the most pressing political issues of our day. While many on the right have insisted that any reform is unnecessary or unwanted, an honest evaluation of the predicament faced by tens of millions of Americans shows that such claims could not be further from the truth. First, with regard to the necessity of reform, a study released by Harvard Medical School researchers last week found that almost "45,000 people die in the United States each year — one every 12 minutes — in large part because they lack health insurance and can not [sic] get good care." For the sake of perspective, this means that every year a group of Americans nearly equivalent in size to the population of the city of New Brunswick die needlessly.Those who contend that such untenable suffering and death might eventually be overcome by simply allowing private insurance companies to continue operating and competing with one another in the free market without any "oppressive" government regulations cannot possibly have given the matter — or, for that matter, the wellness of their fellow countrymen — much serious thought. As Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in economics and professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University, wrote on his blog this past July: "There are…no examples of successful health care based on the principles of the free market, for one simple reason: in health care, the free market just doesn't work. And people who say that the market is the answer are flying in the face of both theory and overwhelming evidence." In short, the ultimate goal of private health insurance companies is not to ensure the well-being of their clients, but to maximize their own profits. Thus, such organizations are categorically incapable of providing effective health care — at least not without strict government regulations to prevent the most unhealthy, or least profitable, Americans from being excluded or dropped from private coverage when they are deemed too expensive to insure.Reflecting on the above, it becomes virtually undeniable that health care reform is necessary. But is it wanted? A new web video released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee posits that a majority of Americans have "rejected" the public option. Furthermore, last month, Bill Sammon, vice president of the world's foremost beacon of journalistic integrity, Fox News, stated on air, "People are saying they don't want the public option, as that [Ipsos/McClatchy] poll demonstrates." Really? The people don't want a public option? That's quite interesting to hear, especially in light of the fact that the very poll to which Sammon refers actually found that 52 percent of Americans do think it is "necessary to create a public health insurance plan" while only 44 percent do not. Further, many other polls have found similar numbers, some putting support for a public option as high as 77 percent. Okay, maybe the majority of Americans actually do support the public option, but so what? Surely the doctors will never go along with it! Wait, what's that? The New England Journal of Medicine just published a study finding that 73 percent of physicians support a public option? Oh well, looks like it's time to break out the trusty centerpieces of the old right-wing playbook: labeling progressives as un-American, communist Nazis and disseminating misleading information to millions across the country. With regard to the former, GOP leaders in Congress and around the country have been questioning the patriotism of President Barack Obama and other Democrats since last year's primary elections and recently have gone so far to imply that their efforts to reform health care are really just part of a secret plot to kill your grandparents, while conservative pundits have relentlessly compared Democratic leaders to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.Regarding the latter, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently found that numerous Medicare Advantage organizations "have contacted enrollees alleging that current health care reform legislation affecting Medicare could hurt seniors and disabled individuals who could lose important benefits and services as a result of the legislation." This claim, though oft-repeated, does not come close to reflecting anything that was ever proposed in any of the dozens of health care bills produced in Congress. The NRSC, not to be outdone, recently mailed out a "survey" intimating that any government-run health system will discriminate by race.Writer Michael Lind summarizes the situation perfectly: "The most dangerous deficit that the United States faces is not the budget deficit or the trade deficit. It is the Democrats' demagogy deficit. Franklin Roosevelt, looking down from that Hyde Park in the sky, would not be surprised that conservatives are seeking to channel populist anger and anxiety, not against the Wall Street elites who wrecked the economy, but against reformers promoting health care reform and economic security for ordinary people. As he told his audience in 1936, ‘It is an old strategy of tyrants to delude their victims into fighting their battles for them.' But FDR would be shocked by the inability of his party to mobilize the public on behalf of reform." Considering both the forces arrayed against progress and the benefits we as a nation stand to gain should the health care reform effort succeed, we must now strive harder than ever to combat the fear and misinformation being propagated by the American right to proclaim our dire need and immutable desire for the basic health care which many of us have lacked for far too long.
Josh Baker is a Rutgers College senior majoring in sociology. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column, "Zeitgeist," runs on alternate Wednesdays. He is also a contributing writer for the Johnsonville Press.