Jun 22, 2009

Paul Krugman to the "Centrist" Dems: This is Not 1993... You're "Way out on Right Field"

Update, 6/24/09
. To those members of Congress who oppose the public option: You are wealthy yet you accept the best health care (public option) funded by taxpayers. Why do you believe the rest of Americans don't deserve this choice? At the very least, you should resign from all your public-funded health care benefits until every American has access to same coverage. Yes, it is that simple!

Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is the best voice for compehensive and reasoned universal health care reform. In his New York Times column he sends a message to those self-named "centrists" that they are (along with a good chunk of the Democractic party) way too conservative. It's an interesting question, why these Dems cave in when the public is so far more progressive on the issue of health care...

...The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by “centrist” Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around “centrist,” by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field.What the balking Democrats seem most determined to do is to kill the public option, either by eliminating it or by carrying out a bait-and-switch, replacing a true public option with something meaningless. For the record, neither regional health cooperatives nor state-level public plans, both of which have been proposed as alternatives, would have the financial stability and bargaining power needed to bring down health care costs.Whatever may be motivating these Democrats, they don’t seem able to explain their reasons in public...

Krugman seems to nail the issue down. We progressives cannot afford to allow the Dem party to drift closer to the lunatic fringe. Let the Repubs stay there to represent the regressive, the small-minded, the religious fanatics, the bigots, and those who want the government to favor the small socio-economic minorities.

..The question now is whether we will nonetheless fail to get that change, because a handful of Democratic senators are still determined to party like it’s 1993.
And yes, I mean Democratic senators. The Republicans, with a few possible exceptions, have decided to do all they can to make the Obama administration a failure. Their role in the health care debate is purely that of spoilers who keep shouting the old slogans — Government-run health care! Socialism! Europe! — hoping that someone still cares.
The polls suggest that hardly anyone does. Voters, it seems, strongly favor a universal guarantee of coverage, and they mostly accept the idea that higher taxes may be needed to achieve that guarantee. What’s more, they overwhelmingly favor precisely the feature of Democratic plans that Republicans denounce most fiercely as “socialized medicine” — the creation of a public health insurance option that competes with private insurers...

What Paul is saying is that the alleged center is no such a thing. A great majority of Americans want socialized medicine. Those who don't want "some government bureaucrat deciding their treatment" should be reminded that, unless they want to spend their own money on a treatment, then it is the insurance bureaucrat that decides when and when they get treatment.

I think the labels ["socialism" etc] must be dispense with clear arguments and by the truth. It's an American value to have empathy, is it not? It's an American value to contribute into the system according to one's ability [progressive taxation is in the US constitution], and, according to the principles of the American revolution and the ones upon which our system was created: the government of, by, and for the people.

PS>Just for the record. I do have a good health care insurance right now, but I care about those who don't, and about those who are underinsured--namely, 1/3 of the country. I'm also sure that Paul Krugman isn't arguing for his own benefit either...

PS2. According to this recent Reuters' study of 100,000 US households Americans struggle to pay for their health care! We're the only advanced country where an individual or a family can go bankrupt due to medical expenses. Lack of health care leads to more deaths, shorter & more painful lives--let's not forget this. Infant mortality is high(er) too... But, abortion and even contraceptives are worse, we're told by the conservatives...

..Americans are struggling to pay for healthcare in the ongoing economic recession, with a quarter saying they have had trouble in the past 12 months, according to a survey released on Monday. ... 17.4 percent of households reported postponing or delaying healthcare over the past year ... Americans pay more per capita for healthcare than people in any other country, yet have high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, untreated heart disease and other conditions. Americans are often dissatisfied with their access to care ... 40 percent of all households planned to postpone care in the coming three months... [Reuters]

Jun 15, 2009

Seeing Health Care as a Right and Not as Priviledge Should be the Starting Point

For many years I went without health care coverage. It started when I was in grad school when Blue Cross upped its premium and I couldn't afford it. In the last couple decades, some of my jobs offered health benefits some didn't; during the latter, I hoped that I'd stay healthy, and thankfully I never needed to go to the doctor or a hospital. Now I have coverage, and I've been paying into the system for years without having drawn benefits. But, it's OK, I don't mind. I'm glad I'm healthy, I'm glad I have good options [hey, as far as I know], and I know that I'm paying for others' treatment. I hope this is always the case... Empathy is good.

A few things first. If health care is a priority, then simple logic says that if other less-wealthy countries can do it (yes, Canada's system is superior to ours), then the US can do it too. We tried the private insurance route and it hasn't worked. Medicare--a socialized way to offer coverage to people--is more efficient and much less bureaucratic. After all, if we socialize the risk while privatizing the profit why can't we do it for something that will make Americans live longer, healthier lives.

Obviously, costs must be reduced. The American Medical Association (only a minority of doctors & medical students belong to it; fewer still support its policies) is against any public plan. Well, maybe they could suggest how we can save some big bucks by stopping those doctors from prescribing unnecessary treatments because they get bonuses for such. Something is wrong with spending far more (as % of GDP) than any other nation on health care and yet we have 1/3 of the population uninsured or underinsured.

My sister is in the medical field and earlier this year she lost her job. Her hospital in Queens closed because it wasn't profitable and/or was in the red. It served a poor to middle-class community and it was very busy. The system is overwhelmed. The other hospitals in the borough will be hard pressed to cover the gap. But, health care is a necessary service, like other services an advanced society offers to its citizens. Most doctors, indeed there's a whole big administrative staff, deal with paperwork--some estimates, up to 30% of running a hospital. Infinite amount of bureaucratic maze focusing on fighting, negotiating and getting insurance companies to pay for patients' treatment.

The insurance companies, the HMOs, are in it for the money. They're concerned about the bottom line. That's why they reject a certain number of claims, and they fight to deny benefits and coverage. And, this for-profit mode is part of the problem.

Not everything has to be evaluated on a cost-profit basis; that is, in monetary terms, because society profits from having a healthier population. Some things work better being private, some don't. The police, the fire department, public parks and libraries, and so many other institutions should not be in private hands. They should operate for the public benefit and not for private profit. Therefore, I think health care has to have a public option in it. I know language matters, but we've already have socialized benefits--anytime there's a program open to a greater number of people, it's a form of social policy that benefits the commonwealth. Instead of being shy about certain "red flag" terms, let's explain what they really mean.

I know someone who's been trying to get a good job for years but she's only found low-paying jobs, the per-hour kind, with no health insurance. She's been paying hundreds of dollars every month to maintain health coverage. The other day, I asked her if, hypothetically, she was willing to pay the equivalent of two months worth of premiums in additional taxes in order to insure all Americans. Her reply, "I don't want socialism in my country." Invariably, she repeats the "horrors of the Canadian system." Now, many Americans parrot this conservative mantra, although I'm happy to see that finally most Americans do want change, including greater government role in health care.

Here are some experts from varying viewpoints discussing Obama's proposals, as appeared on the Washington Post's website. Now, I understand why the president wants a public dialogue, but not everyone comes to the table ready for an honest discussion. Most Republicans will opose anything; they'll now vote against the military supplemental spending bill--but when it was Bush's, they accused those who voted against it as "America-haters," and "unpatriotic."

Anyway, Obama has to make a more forceful case and push for a major overhaul of the health care system. Now it's the time. Not so long ago, we had the same rhetoric and charges against Medicare and Veterans benefits. Going back a little further, the conservatives and the big business opposed Social Security, labor laws, safety belts, consumer protection, public education, and so many other good things, including electrification. And, yes, it took bold government action for these to happen. Once it's done, most of the arguments against good-sense policies deflate. It's natural for people to be afraid of the unknown, especially when they hear irresponsible and false claims by those whose interests lie with the status quo.

I would ask all those Republicans (and some Democrats, who hail from conservative states) in Congress who oppose universal health care, why are they so selfish? They have the best coverage but they're not willing to extend the same to their fellow citizens. It's even more offensive if you consider that most members of Congress are wealthy individuals who can afford their own insurance but opt to enjoy a benefit paid by the American taxpayers.

PS. Here's good documentary, PBS Frontline, Sick Around the World, with a comparison of several countries' health care systems.

PS2. Initially, I didn't know what to make of Daschle's nomination to be in charge of health care reform but I gave the benefit of the doubt to Obama for selecting him. Anyway, then we learned that Daschle has worked closely--and at great profit--with those who prefer the status quo. It's a relief not to have him on the "inside" of the Obama team pushing against what most of us want [new poll showing big majority supporting public plan].... Daschle now urges Obama to drop public health care plan! Tsk.. What was Obama thinking? How can he nominate someone like that? In a way, we should be thankful that Daschle cheated on his taxes...

Jun 4, 2009

The Republican Ministry of Truth....

George Orwell in his novel, 1984, he described how the Ministry of Truth re-wrote history to fit the current message & policies of the regime. History was just a tool; it wasn't about knowing the past but controlling the future. Obviously a totalitarian regime wants to keep any inconvenient truth under wraps, but revision of history is a phenomenon that flourishes even in open societies where there's freedom of information. How is this possible, you may ask. Well, it's because if enough people choose what the like to hear instead what is, then fantasy is their reality.

Every culture is conservative by nature; tries to preserve the social & economic order, the identity of the group, the "true & tried" ways of the past. Public myths and ideologies support this body of "knowledge." You know that most people never re-examine their most dearly-held beliefs.

Think of a meme [a word coined by Richard Dawkins] that once it reaches a critical mass it becomes "real." Something repeated, adopted by a number of people and it becomes part of "common knowledge." Even if someone really wants to know, he's too busy to find the truth or he's not able to critically evaluate all sorts of claims. He turns to "authorities" and "professionals" for his news and for interpretations of various situations. But, what if the "experts" are lying?...

I generally don't have a problem with people's views. We have different priorities and weigh values differently. But, when such views are based on lies, fantasy, or any crazy idea, then I take issue. It's more infuriating when someone could indeed find out the truth without much effort but chooses not to. So, the Republican noise machine is becoming louder by the day. "Obama declares the US is a Muslim country," "He doesn't take about terrorism to the Muslims," "He'll take all of our guns away," "The Democrats are responsible for 9-11"...., etc.

Cheney says it was Richard Clarke who missed the 9-11 attacks. The whole gang doesn't recall making the connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein... Whatever. The point is that revising history to distort the facts is a bad thing. It's a disservice to our country. We have to know what happened and who did what. Hopefully we won't repeat the same mistakes any time soon; though it seems that every generation has made at least a big mistake...

The other important point is that those who peddle quackery should be relegated to the fringe, not be part of the mainstream conversation. Unfortunately, characters like Limbaugh, O'Liely, Hannity, Coulter, Beck, the whole Republican leadership have currency because many Americans listen to them. As long as many of the natives accept this voodoo magic and rainmen, we will continue to waste our time, energy and resources.

There's lot to be learned from discussion as long as those who come to the table have something meaningful to say. Fair & balanced doesn't mean that we have to keep debating ad nauseum whether the earth is flat!