As I mentioned in my last post, I've rarely worried myself overmuch about health care because for the first 18 years of my life, I lived under a single-payer system which I fortunately didn't have to use as I was generally healthy, and for the last ten years I've either been covered by the military or by college health insurance (which again, I never used since I was generally healthy, hangovers aside). So long as I'm in the military, the cost of health care for me and my family won't be an immediate issue. But 1) I won't always be in the military, and 2) with the 'reform' plans currently under discussion, I may not be paying for my own health care but I'll sure as hell be paying for other peoples'; and so will my son, and his son, and his son after that if the Chinese haven't cashed in their chips by then and brought America to her knees. And boy, has this issue become a many-splendor'd thing:
-THE PLANS: evidently there are several, and apart from some small differences they all run over 1,000 pages. The plan is supposed to extend coverage to all Americans, provide a 'public option' for those unsatisfied with or unable to afford private insurance, lower health care costs across the board, improve treatment, have a price tag that is 'deficit neutral', and halt the rise of the oceans (oh wait, that's a different plan). Well, the Cylons had a plan too, and unfortunately for them, it didn't predict the Battlestar Galactica going to ramming speed. The plan's flaws have been percolating to the surface for the last month: it's not deficit neutral, but will substantially add to the deficit well beyond its initial ten-year window; it will actually cause millions of people to lose their current insurance plans; its costs will inevitably result in direct or indirect tax hikes well beyond those who make $250,000 and above (in addition to any tax increases mandated by cap-and-trade, continued bailout programs); and, based on the experiences of the many other countries that've already gone this route, Americans will see their care rationed and the quality of the care they get decline. All this isn't to say that the American health care system is beyond reproach; it's not (as last week's kidney stone saga can attest to), but the fact remains that the United States is blessed with one of the best health care systems on the planet and a complete overhall risks throwing out the baby with the bath-water. Comparing our system with the systems of other countries who've either partially or completely socialized them, we find that turning health care over to the government grants no improvement in life span, mortality rates, or the survival rates of major diseases. Thus, any necessary reform should be targeted to avoid sweeping away the benefits of modern American medicine.
-THE PUBLIC: given these flaws, the public is increasingly reluctant to grant the government more authority in this sphere. There are a few 'bottom lines' behind this: one, 68% of Americans already consider their health insurance good or excellent; two, 74% think the quality of their care is good/excellent; and three, almost 80% believe the current proposals will result in higher taxes. So, a significant majority of Americans like what they have, are afraid government meddling will make what they have more expensive in already tight financial times, and a solid 50% believe 'reform' means what they have will drop in quality. There's also a strong perception that Congress' plan has not been thoroughly analyzed, a perception that only increases when the president himself admits he doesn't know all the details and the Congressional Budget Office's most conservative estimates on cost belie the rosy promises of the president and his congressional leaders. Yet the public is being told that, regardless of all this - the lack of vetting, the cost, the potential drop in the quality and quantity of care - this plan must be passed right here, right now. In the wake of massive Wall Street bailout, a flaccid stimulus, and a runaway deficit thanks to all of the above, many Americans - and a number of their congressmen - are skeptical of the scope and speed of the plan Congress is pushing through.
-THE "DEBATE": so, in the face of the questions raised about the current plans and mounting public criticism, how have the reformers responded? Have they delved into the weeds to explain the plan in detail, showing exactly where costs are saved, insurance is improved, how the predictions of the CBO are wrong? Have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid remained cool and collected, taking the time to alleviate specific concerns? Not so much. Instead, they've attacked in another direction. They've aired ads against conservative members of their own party to bludgeon them into line. They've accused Republicans of holding up the legislation, laughable considering they own both Houses and the GOP couldn't mount a filibuster if it wanted to. A special White House email account has been set up in order to track emails full of "disinformation" and where they come from (imagine the outcry had the Bush White House set up a similar account). Americans who've protested against the current legislation have been labeled everything from corporate shills to mobs to neo-Nazis. Insurance companies, who are understandably concerned about being potentially run out of business, are "immoral". The White House has run its own attack ads against protestors using the Michael Moore method of reporting: they show unrelated footage of crazed 'birthers' questioning Obama's citizenship while lumping health care critics into the same category. Critics' sincerity is even attacked because "they're too well-dressed" to possibly be genuinely concerned citizens. And protestors can't possibly represent a grassroots movement because they're organized, when only a few months ago community organizing was touted as the highest calling. The above is not debate, it's an attempt to destroy critics and deflect attention from serious questions to which reformers cannot provide good answers. Oh, I'll grant that it's possible some of the rowdies at recent town hall meetings are merely corporate sleeper cells; I'm pretty sure they're still entitled to express their opinions, and the sleeper cell theory doesn't hold up against poll numbers showing wide swaths of the general public opposed to reform as proposed and rapidly losing confidence in the president's ability to handle the issue. With this type of response, it's become clear that the Democratic leadership doesn't want debate, only meek compliance.
On the whole, I think it's a net good that this issue is now at the forefront and being debated in detail (among the general public, even if not in the halls of power). It's also encouraging to see that one-on-one meetings between representatives and their constituents are generating such interest, and the consituents are holding their elected leaders accountable. But it's troubling when reform's supporters won't deign to debate their legislation on its merits, and believe that only an unthinking "mob" would dare question their diktats. Americans are right to be wary, right to question and demand solid answers as to why they should change a system that's by and large satisfactory, and above all should be extremely reluctant to give the government any kind of hold over the most private part of the private sector: their own bodies.