Editorial: Rhetoric and politics confuse an important debate

One of the ugliest forms of manipulation occurs in the health insurance industry, which has grown at a severe rate to the point that it threatens every facet of this nation’s economy. Even the healthy suffer from this abhorrent example of free-market economics gone wrong. The industry turns a profit by exploiting fear, then invents creative ways to exclude people or refuses to pay when injuries and sickness occur.

America’s battered health care system effects both our domestic and international economies. Amid rising costs, hospitals find it increasingly difficult to keep their doors open, which hurts the domestic economy by endangering jobs. Sky-high medical bills force families into debt, which lowers the gross domestic product, contributing to unemployment and the recession as a whole. Global companies, such as the Detroit automakers, are crippled by an inability to compete with foreign companies whose governments pay their citizens’ medical bills.

This is the backdrop against in which the White House and Congress have undertaken our latest media buzz phrase — health care reform.

The Bills, or Lack Thereof

Neither Congress nor the White House have produced a bill, so there isn’t really anything to be for or against yet. Two committees in the Senate and three in the House of Representatives are at various stages of drafting legislation. Eventually, each house committee will draft bills, and the Senate will have the final chance to revise and earmark before sending the legislation to President Obama, who then has the opportunity to either sign the bill into law or veto it.

But Congress has a long way to go before that can happen, even though Obama stated he would like to see health care reform in place by the end of 2009.

Democrats can’t seem to grasp exactly what should be included in the final bill. Lawmakers must be careful not to alienate fiscally conservative, “blue dog,” democrats who have the numbers in Congress to block legislation. The president has expressed a desire for bipartisan support of health care reform, but contentious provisions like a government-administered public option and mandating end-of-life care have driven Republicans to unanimously reject the reforms.

The American Affordable Health Choices Act(s) were passed by narrow margins in the three house committees as well as in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “The Senate Finance Committee is where it really matters. That’s the bottleneck,” Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a member of one house committee drafting legislation, told the New York Times.

Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has worked closely with the White House on the ambitious health care overhaul, but his committee has yet to produce any legislation. Whatever comes out of the finance committee will be the closest of all acts in Congress to the final bill. From a progressive standpoint, that bill will also probably be the weakest, as the finance committee has been striving for more bipartisan support, offering concessions to conservatives in the proposed public option.

Seeing Through Republican Rhetoric

Conservative attacks to health care reform are as tired and baseless as any in recent memory. This is a complex issue, which presents a perfect opportunity to muddle the important national debate with false information.

Health care reform is not socialism, as many angry town-hall goers have become so fond of shouting. America’s economy is a hybrid of purist capitalism with a pinch of social programs appearing mostly out of the early 20th century progressive era and FDR’s New Deal. This catchy and misleading attack stems from the government-administered public health plan which is included — in different forms — in most of the proposed legislation. Recently, the Obama administration and the Senate Finance Committee have been backing off from this heated issue, advocating non-profit cooperatives instead.

The second deceiving attack was best propagated by that lovable Alaskan pit bull, Sara Palin, whose power to oversimplify an issue to the point of dishonesty never ceases to amaze. In no way does the government intend to set up “death panels” to decide when a citizen is undeserving of medical care. That horror will be, as it has been, reserved for private insurance companies driven by profit rather than the public good.

Government taking a more active roll in providing health care is not really an option that is up for debate. “The federal budget is on an unsustainable path,” stated the Congressional Budget Office in a June 16 letter to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, “primarily because of rapidly rising spending on health care.” The CBO projects — if left alone — health care costs to the federal government would skyrocket the national debt to 86 percent of America’s gross domestic product by 2019, a dire economic number not seen since World War II.

The Dems: Confusion in Congress While the White House Lets Us Down With Backroom Deals

Though all the acts being drafted in Congressional committees carry similar names — The Affordable Health Choices Act(s) —  democrats are having trouble agreeing on exactly what health care reform will look like. This confusion is at least partially due to the fervent opposition surrounding the debate. Defenders of the status quo will twist indecision into something the under-informed will fear, and a lack of cohesive leadership is one cause for confusion about this issue.

At the same time, the White House is playing politics, allegedly circumventing Congress and negotiating a secret deal with PhRMA, America’s largest pharmaceutical manufacturers lobby.

An internal memo, leaked to The Huffington Post, outlined the deal, in which PhRMA would make concessions, mostly to do with medicare, saving the U.S. government $80 billion over 10 years. In return, the White House supposedly agreed to oppose importation of cheaper generic medications, restructuring of medicare making some specific drugs cheaper — costing PhRMA money — and not interfere by negotiating lower prices on behalf of American citizens.

If the memo is legitimate, we know Obama’s intentions are to leave decisions about American health care in the hands of the billion-dollar, profit-driven insurance industry (Remember the REAL death panels?). If it’s not true, it begs the following question: Why would PhRMA be launching a $150 million ad campaign in support of forthcoming health care reform?

Caring for Our Sick

“The United States spent approximately $2.2 trillion on health care in 2007, or $7,421 per person – nearly twice the average of other developed nations,” said President Obama during an August weekly address.

It’s obvious that we can do better. Our current system is a travesty, rife with deadly horrors of economic inequality. The rich can be healthy, while those who can’t afford medical treatment are forced to choose between watching themselves die or losing their dreams to unaffordable debt.

The “other developed nations” mentioned by the president — like Japan, Great Britain and Canada — have different forms of single-payer health care, which is a fancy political term meaning the government is the only health insurance provider. Single-payer systems ensure that every citizen is covered while the government pays health care providers for services.

This option, like the others being discussed in Congress, has its weaknesses. Citizens trade economic inequality in health care for higher taxes, and the rich actually see less access to health care than under private, employer-based systems.

But, unlike those other ideas, it’s not even being discussed. There will be an issue or a crisis, and it may not be health care, in which our current charismatic leader will have to sacrifice consensus politics — and probably votes, unfortunately — to pursue what human conscience tells us is really right. That is leadership, a separate concept from politics.

So far, the Obama White House has compromised on every contentious issue, distracting liberals with false promises and appeasing the right with watered-down results.

Let’s hope that he’s more than just a good politician when an emergency that calls for real leadership presents itself.

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