Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Feeling Ill about Health Care Debate

Following the health care debate is enough to make you sick.

Here in Massachusetts, supporters of the state's mandatory health insurance plan talk about how many people now have insurance and how much money that's going to save the hospitals and the state treasury. Critics mostly talk about the cost of the plan and how, soon, paying for those who can't pay for themselves will drive the state to the poorhouse. Some point out that businesses are providing their employees with health insurance plans that don't meet the minimum standards set out in state law, and daring the state to catch them.

All this is beside the point. The goal should not be to provide people with health insurance but to ensure their right to health care. Plans that cost low- to middle-income households a lot of money up front--plans with a high deductible, to use the industry's bland euphemism--insure coverage without care. And that leaves people just as sick as they were before, just a little poorer.

At the federal level, besides using Massachusetts as a model (!), Obama is doing the usual liberal dance: offering something that makes him feel good but doesn't do the job.

  • "President Obama will sign a presidential memorandum today to extend benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees, administration officials said last night, but he will stop short of pledging full health insurance benefits," reports the Boston Globe.
  • "A key Senate committee voted yesterday to expand a children's health insurance program to cover an additional 4 million uninsured children," but that still leaves many uninsured, and it says nothing about what happens to children when their parents fall ill.
  • The current debate is over whether the federal plan should include a "public option." Proponents say that a public plan would give people more choices--which is only meaningful if the choices are any good, and if they differ in significant ways. They also say competition from a public plan would force private insurers to find ways to cut costs. Critics say the public plan could get a public subsidy and put private insurers out of business.
"In response, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, has proposed setting ground rules for a public plan that would force it to compete on a level playing field with private insurers." In other words, get rid of the main reason for having a public plan in the first place, its ability to serve huge numbers of people at low cost!

Schumer is no different from the leader of his party in this respect. President Obama has done all but take a blood oath that his plan is not a "Trojan horse" leading the way for a single-payer system. That's exactly what's wrong with it! Single-payer means everybody gets health insurance as a right, the same as the right to vote or the right to a public education. The fact that the Democrats are falling all over themselves to rule out a single-payer solution is what's so sickening about what passes for a health care debate.

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