If Democrats Don't Pass Health Insurance Reform This Year, What Do We Lose? And What Do We Gain?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The version of health care reform championed by the White House and Congressional Democrats will force millions to buy crappy insurance from private providers with no interest in health care but plenty of interest in profits. Its pubic option is a cruel hoax that will not take effect till 2013 and even then will leave tens of millions uninsured. Now Democratic leaders in Congress say it might not pass this year anyway. Is that really so bad?
The “public option” in the president's health care bill is like the “clean” in clean coal. One harnesses the awesome power of the word clean and attaches it to coal, which is anything but. Likewise Democrats deploy the rhetorical power of the words “public” as in “everybody in, nobody out” and “option” as in choice to describe an arrangement will be neither public or for most, an available option.
The president said it himself in early September. His public option will be neither public nor optional for any more than a tiny percentage of Americans, and unlike his wars and bank bailouts, has to be “deficit neutral.” It will force millions under penalty of law to buy the deceptive and defective products of greedy private insurers.
Most alarmingly, the Democratic version of the public option will be rigidly means-tested to ensure that only the poorest get in, and financed with a John McCain style tax on those who receive nearly adequate benefits from their employers. This is a patented recipe for ghettoizing and socially stigmatizing those who do avail themselves of the public option, setting one segment of society against another poorer one, the exact reverse of the everybody in, nobody out spirit of social security and Medicare.
And though we are told that insurers will not be able to deny policies on the basis of pre-existing conditions, there is mounting evidence that insurers intend to enforce the same discriminatory requirements by claiming that conditions such as diabetes, overweight, smoking and more are the result of patient behaviors and “lifestyle choices” for which the insurance company cannot be liable unless it is able to charge more. The president has even deceitfully lowered the number of uninsured referred to in all the Democrats' pronouncements by subtracting the 12 or 15 million undocumented from all its numbers, as though they are expected to live in our midst as an underclass with no access to health services.
In the year since the last election the president has made concession after concession to drug and insurance companies, to private health care providers and their lobbyists. The White House, establishment Democrats and their echo chambers in the corporate media and even on the internet have worked hard to suppress voices advocating the simple, practical and elegant solution of single payer Medicare For All, which is still favored in polls by a substantial majority of Americans.
The longer the health care reform drama takes to unfold, the shabbier the president and his party are looking. With overwhelming majorities in both Houses of Congress, the Republicans can no longer be blamed for anything, and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are sending signals that they may not be able to pass the president's health insurance reform this year. They can't blame Republicans for this because there are not enough Republicans to stop legislation in either chamber. The Republican talking point on health care now is that the president is spending too much time on it, and needs to concentrate on something, anything else, like sending another 40 or 50 thousand troops to Iraq.
Ever men and women of their word, Democratic leaders in Congress have stripped out of the president's bills any chance for states to pursue their own single payer regimes, and backtracked on promises to allow a floor vote on the Medicare For All measure, HR 676.
Deceit has its price. The initiative has passed to the forces of single payer, the solution championed by Barack Obama up until his 2004 election to the US Senate.
In dozens of cities and towns across the nation Americans are seizing that initiative. The wave of demonstrations and sit-ins at the offices of insurance companies continues to grow. At the beginning of October, www.mobilizeforheathcare.org initiated actions in New York and DC. A month later more than a thousand people have volunteered to be arrested to put single payer back on the table in cities and towns across the country. Sit-ins are planned for more than two dozen cities today, and by year's end at this rate, will be occurring in more than sixty cities by the end of the year.
What Single Payer Health Care Will Do For Ordinary Families
The principal fact of economic life in America these days is profound insecurity. Tens of millions cannot find work, and tens of millions more who have found it live with the everyday question of what will happen if one of them gets sick or injured. People take jobs they don't want and put up with treatment from employers they would not otherwise take because of this insecurity. Wal-Mart is just the biggest of many employers who enforce a high turnover policy on their workforces, so that people will view their oppressive and dictatorial work environments as something to be endured because they are only passing phases on the way to some other station in life.
In fact, the next job for most Wal-Mart workers will be very like the last, and the next after that one too. But if workers in dead-end jobs had the security of guaranteed health care, they'd be much more inclined to stay where they are and organize and fight for better working conditions. Service workers are underpaid not because of the nature of the work, any more than west coast dockworkers seventy years ago were underpaid because they were drunkards and thieves. They are underpaid because they have not succeeded in organizing and fighting for their rights. This is why elite bodies like the US Chamber of Commerce are stubbornly resisting anything like Medicare For All. The economy, and the present health insurance regime serve them well, and they want to preserve it.
Medicare For All, single payer will enable the working poor to make a stand where they are, and lift themselves out of poverty by organizing for and demanding a greater share of the wealth they produce every day. By removing the dread of financial ruin due to illness or injury, single payer will enable working people to fight for their own collective economic uplift. That's why the struggle for guaranteed and universal single payer, Medicare For All is the real deal right now, the key to unlocking a better life for millions in the near future, a concrete focus of the civil and human rights movements of our time.
It's time to mobilize for Medicare For All, now. Go to www.mobilizeforhealthcare.org and take your future, your family's future into your hands. Donate to provide legal assistance and bail money and other expenses. Volunteer to be present at a legal demonstration, or to put your body on the line in a nonviolent demonstration for health care now at the offices of an insurance company near you.
Bruce Dixon is based in Atlanta, and is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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