Monday, July 20, 2009


The health industries are doing a full court press against changes in health care, as they always do. This time there seems to be a bit of desperation, a little less confidence, in the industries and among their congressional flunkies.

When only the poorest are affected by a lack of good health care, there isn’t much pressure on elected officials to rein in the health industry. These days, the price of insurance is beginning to damage the middle-class backbone of America. Professionals who had good insurance are losing it because businesses are being forced to compromise.

The insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies are using scare tactics and threats of impending socialism, as usual. The commercials they fund are stressing the danger of government bureaucrats who are not doctors making medical decisions for anyone with any type of government run health coverage -- which sounds a lot like insurance company policies.

These commercials focus on the “failed” European and Canadian systems, long lines at the doctor’s office and longer waits for a specialist. A central point is the claim that Canadians are flocking to the United States for treatment. It’s an easy claim to make without statistics.

The opposite claim can be made that U.S. citizens are moving to Canada for affordable healthcare, which also happens -- and with just as much certainty. No statistics are available for that argument, either. Most people don’t boast about becoming expatriates.

Lumping European health care systems together is ludicrous, because each country has arrived at a different solution -- The Netherlands, for instance has an affordable, workable system, a mixture of government and free enterprise. What the Europeans have in common is that they chose to do something.

The American insurance industry is making much of isolated cases where people on lists got worse. A friend of mine recently said, “They at least have a list.”

My friend was right. Working Americans who can’t afford insurance have emergency rooms, which are expensive and wasteful. A bandage is slapped on and they are told to consult their family doctors for follow-up -- which works if you have a family doctor.

Even in an area where tremendous savings and real competition were possible, the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbies blocked it. If the Social Security Administration -- the largest single user of medicine had been allowed to bargain with drug companies in a competitive manner, the competition would have driven prices down immensely.

Unfortunately, Congress, acting for big donors, torpedoed efforts to inject very real competition into industries that want no competition. It has almost become a cliché that forcing members of Congress to buy their own health insurance like everyone else would bring immediate changes, though it’s true.

On November 19, 1945, 7 months into his presidency, Harry S. Truman gave a speech to the United States Congress proposing a new national health care program. He said, "The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility."

Truman was not able to do what he proposed, of course. Today a meaningful attempt to put healthcare on the same level as national defense is being pushed by President Barack Obama. He is as close as anyone has come to changing a broken system. Whether he succeeds or not probably depends on those of us at the grassroots.

The only thing that frightens professional politicians is the fear of losing the next election. We can be quiet or we can speak out. I suggest the latter.

1 comment:

Nooneinparticular said...

I concur with your assertion that the playing field has changed in the health-care reform game: Millions more "middle-class" Americans have a stake in this game than the last time around; Baby Boomers have grown old and the system is that much more broken.
I'm one of those "middle-class", formerly professional people -- laid off, downsized, attritted out or shifted into obsolescence. For the first time in 25 years, I will have no health insurance as of Aug. 1 and I am old enough now (50) and beat-up enough that I'm "uninsurable." Can they ignore us again? They can. But I will be at the rally in Knoxville on Saturday.