Do Not Resuscitate
Barack Obama and Congress have no clue what will become of the impending health care "reform" bill that seems to seriously take everything under advisement except single payer health care endorsed by nearly every noteworthy economist in the land. It's like going back in time 13 or 14 billion years and trying to predict what the Big Bang will wind up producing.
But one fact is abundantly clear: 119,000,000 privately insured Americans are so desperate to fire their HMOs that they're ready to leap into the problematic embrace of a government-run alternative that's barely on the drafting board. This fact alone speaks volumes and almost seems to provide a fresh talking point for single payer health care activists.
It's not as if such people aren't being heard. 13 of us got arrested last month at a Senate Finance Committee hearing that deliberately froze out single payer advocates. Max Baucus, chairman of that committee, was eventually forced to deal with them and even apologize for underrepresenting them. However, Baucus reiterated that the present system, rotten and ineffective though it is, will not permit a "radical" overhaul, a talking point reiterated by President Obama in New Mexico who wanted to talk about credit card reform but wasn't allowed to by single payer activists.
Of course, such an argument is specious and disingenuous at best. The "radical concept" of so-called socialized health care has been the norm in Canada and in many European nations for decades. To call the imperfect but still-admirable Canadian health care system "socialist" is to put the Great White North on a par with Venezuela.
Even Ted Kennedy may be setting us up for a letdown. A single payer health care bill that would successfully resist stick-in-the-mud Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, millions in lobbying and advertising dollars and a centrist president dead-set against the revolutionary idea of a national, government-run health care system that actually works would, in the twilight of Kennedy's career, be the center jewel in what has long since been one of the most productive and progressive bodies of work in the history of the US Senate.
Yet Kennedy's plan, which is "a draft of a draft", is seriously entertaining the idea of making health care mandatory, an option that also has the president's tin ear. And that's half the problem.
Health care, as every semi-informed person can tell you, needs to be at its heart two things: Affordable and elective. Making health care mandatory on pain of having one's tax deductions taken from them and fines imposed is exactly what Mitt Romney left behind just before leaving Massachusetts to retroactively join the freedom trail with Dr. King. Before Romney's name was even dry on the bill, HMO's in the Bay State jacked up their weekly premiums by as much as 100%, knowing that Romney and the state congress had just made at minimum, hundreds of thousands of new, captive customers for them. The forfeiture of a $219 deduction the first year and even a $900+ penalty tax the second year for the noncompliant still amounts to far less than what even single coverage would cost in premiums and co-pays over a year's time. Plus, for various reasons, many employers are still not complying in providing adequate, affordable plans.
And, of course, making health care neither elective and even more expensive than before does absolutely nothing to address the corrupt, red tape-bogged problems in our health care system. As I stated, no one knows what will come out of Congress and ratified into law by the president but from what we're hearing, it could easily turn out to be an economy-sized version of the Massachusetts "health care" plan left behind by Mitt Romney, minus the economy.
We need to provide health care that's both elective and affordable to 48,000,000 Americans. The last thing we need to do is to resuscitate the hyperventilating HMOs, insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants who would love nothing more than to make us all a nation of 300,000,000 captive paying customers.
Update, 6-8-09: Rhonda Hackett, a Canadian expatriot, recently set the record straight about commonly-believed untruths about the Canadian health care system.