Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Conversation with an Informed Citizen - Part One

This morning I found the following letter in my Facebook Inbox. It came from an old high school acquaintance with whom I hadn't spoken in six years. Here is what he wrote:

mr. rosza! please tell me, can someone who is anti-government run health care still be in favor of health care reform?

as a concerned pennsylvanian, i called arlen spector's office last month to chalk a tally mark against the current health bill being rushed thru the house, told the assistant that i was "strongly opposed to spector voting in favor of that bill." the assistant on the line replied "so you're calling to voice against health care reform?" obviously, you see the manipulation of his words in response to my stance. i told him i wasnt opposed to reform, just that particular bill, and govt run care for that matter. it's a shame i had to clarify.

in all, i find it typical (somewhat at least) that the "liberal" side labels those who are opposed to the govt option as anti-health care reform. please tell me your side doesnt actually believe all the right wing nuts showing up at town halls actually like how crippling the health care system is right now.

Being genetically incapable of turning down an opportunity such as this, I wrote my peer a very lengthy reply, which I have posted below. Sadly I was so charged with enthusiasm while writing it that I did not provide it with my usual attention to grammatical accuracy, and since I was too lazy to correct my acquaintance's spelling and grammatical errors in this blog post, it is only fair that I refrain from doing the same with my own (the name of my friend has been changed to protect his identity).

Hello Bob. I am going to address the subjects of your letter point-by-point:

1) Yes, it is possible to be opposed to goverrnment run health care while still favoring health care reform. Fortunately, that is the position taken by President Obama and most of the liberal Democrats currently serving in Congress. The argument we have made is that the government should provide a "public option" - i.e, a government-run insurance company that offers high-quality care for low rates so that people who can't afford private insurance can still have access to the medical coverage they need. There is nothing revolutionary about this proposal - it is hardly socialism (since that would involve the government forcing private insurers out of business and making itself the only provider of health insurance, rather than simply an alternative provider), and it is hardly un-American (Medicare, the health insurance program that benefits the elderly and has been in place for decades, is a purely government-run program). No prominent liberal Democrats have proposed making all health insurance government-run - they have instead wanted to provide an alternative for those who are too poor to afford private insurance. Not only does this solve the moral problem that currently exists with our health care system (i.e, people not being able to afford the medical treatments they need, or only being able to do so by going into crippling debt), but it also alleviates the financial burden that those who are insured have to bear. After all, when people without insurance go into the emergency room, their coverage still has to get paid for somehow - and more often than not, this is done by raising insurance premiums on those who are covered.

2) While I can understand your frustration at having Senator Specter's office assume that opposition to the specific bill being proposed is the same as opposing health care reform altogether, I can also understand why they misinterpreted you as they did. For one thing, many of the people who oppose this current bill (including the right-wing nuts at town hall meetings) DO oppose health care reform altogether - you have to remember that many of them are paid for by insurance and pharmaceutical companies (who will lose money if health care reform is passed), many of them are either wealthy or fancy themselves as such (and thus feel that the people without health insurance deserve their situation and shouldn't be helped out by "hard-working" Americans like themselves), and many of them are libertarian zealots who oppose having any government regulation whatsoever of private enterprise (their philosophy, taken to its natural logical outcome, would not only prevent a public option from being created, but would completely de-regulate insurance and pharmaceutical companies, eliminate Medicare for the elderly, and render any reform at all absolutely impossible, since obviously reform has to come from government intervention). Therefore it makes perfect sense that Senator Specter's office would assume that you, like so many others, opposed all health care reform altogether, and I give them credit for recognizing their mistake when you pointed it out and correcting it.

3) My side doesn't believe that all opponents of the current health care reform package are opposed to health care reform of any form. We do believe, however, that many of the current opponents of the health care reform package have a gross misunderstanding of what precisely the package entails, and are frankly mystified at the vehemence with which so many Americans oppose it. Part of this is due to an aggressive propaganda campaign that has been waged by right-wing zealots, racists, and the big business wing of modern medicine (pharmaceutical and insurance companies) to kill this bill, either for ideological or financial reasons (and quite often both). They have knowingly spread lies about death panels, long lines, bureaucracies separating you from your doctor, people who are disabled or elderly being discriminated against, and so on. The actual bill being proposed, on the other hand, contains the following:

a) Cutting hundreds of billions of dollars of bureaucratic waste in the Medicaid and Medicare programs by eliminating fiscal overlap (i.e, two bureaucratic agencies spending money on the same services because no one has bothered to check that each one is doing the same thing) and other egregious affronts to financial responsibility.

b) Determine that taxpayer money which is sent to insurance companies (by the way, those who complain about socialism overlook that private insurance companies already get a lot of money from our government right now) is actually necessary, so that the practice of CEOs and other company men pocketing those funds (which is wasteful as well as corrupt) will come to an end.

c) Create reforms to put a cap on how much senior citizens can be forced to pay for prescription drugs.

d) Prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of previous medical conditions.

e) Prohibit insurance companies from dropping people from their plans after they become sick.

f) Limiting the amount of money insurance companies can demand patients pay in out-of-pocket expenses, so that people won't have to go broke or into debt after becoming sick.

g) Require insurance companies to cover preventive care treatments, such as routine physical exams, colonoscopies, and mammograms.

h) Provide insurance to the fifty million Americans who currently lack it - ideally through a public option, but if not that, then through a health insurance co-op or some other vehicle that will allow those who currently cannot afford health care to receive the quality treatment to which they are entitled.

That last point is the most important one I could make. Indeed, I view it as un-American to disagree with it. Didn't Thomas Jefferson write somewhere, in a document that many people have forgotten, that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That statement is the foundation upon which every other principle of American life rests, and among the rights that are listed as "unalienable" to "all men" because they have been "endowed by their Creator", the very first one is "life". Jefferson makes it very clear that he believes it is the responsible of governments to aggressively guarantee that its citizens have these rights. In fact, he says so in the very next sentence: "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." As such, I can hardly conceive of any position more un-American than to assert that the government DOESN'T have a responsibility to make sure that all of its citizens - the poor as well as the rich - have access to high-quality health care. Then again, when it comes to interpreting our Founding Fathers' intent, I am a literalist.


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