Sunday, May 31, 2009

Et Tu Teddy? Conservative thinking on Health Care is not just a Republican problem

I am a great admirer of Ted Kennedy. He is a great senator and, as ugly an incident as Chappaquiddick was, he could not have been a worse president than Jimmy Carter. I still maintain he would have been a better choice.

Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy is falling prey to the creeping conservatism the Senate has displayed on major issues since the election of President Obama. Most disturbingly, Senator Kennedy is displaying this conservatism on the issue of health care. For those of us who saw the senator as perhaps the last senatorial champion of meaningful health care reform, this is a trifle disturbing.

Senator Kennedy's proposal is 'Romneycare Plus.' I suppose it makes sense for the senator to see this as a natural starting point based on the 'success' of Romneycare in his own state. His plan mandates insurance coverage as many states mandate auto liability insurance, but would offer a competing public health plan open to anyone who wished to purchase it. This is certainly an improvement on the baldly Romneycare-esque ideas discussed by the White House, which have dropped President Obama's original campaign proposal of making the congressional health plan available to the general public. A public component is necessary for any health care reform project, as a pure free market plan merely agitates the existing problem of provider negligence, corruption, fraud, and depraved indifference without increasing access to medical care for those currently without insurance or offering real solutions to those unhappy with their current health care options.

The problem is that the senator isn't entirely willing (or doesn't believe the voters willing) to publicly fund the public component of the reform plan. Instead, his proposal would expect American business to continue to subsidize health care for their employees or else to subsidize the public plan instead. I am no great booster of the culture of the American corporate community, which is why I don't want to see them continue to control health care as they do now, but I also recognize the real economic handicap that our current employer-paid health care system lays upon American business. One of the strongest arguments for public health care is the economic benefits to be gained from removing this handicap. Instead, Senator Kennedy offers us a moderate plan designed to mollify conservative opponents of single-payer while delivering a backhanded liberal slap to the face of American business. That isn't just a failure of policy, it is also a political error that will doom any such proposal.

As I have said before, I advocate a system in which the profit motive is removed from health care and the system is under the control of doctors and patients rather than bureaucrats either corporate or government. I believe a single-payer formula is the best way to fund such a system, because of the benefits to both health care costs (which will be lowered by the broad cost sharing of a national plan into which everyone plays taxes) and the economy (which will benefit from a system in which business does not have to shoulder half of the nation's health care costs) and because it is simply the right thing to do. However, France and Germany have non-profit health care systems in which private business still plays a role and Sweden has a for-proft system which operates very well under a far more equitable balance of socialism and private enterprise. All three of these systems are worthy of examination as well.

The fundamental barrier to health care reform is not cost: despite conservative propaganda, tax increases to pay for public health care would be off-set by the disappearance of inequitable insurance costs and increased access. It is the attitude of Americans on the issue. Despite all the evidence showing how bad our system really is for more than half of Americans, they persist in the claim that American health care is superior to that of countries in which citizens can go to the doctor when they are sick. 45 percent of Americans may indeed enjoy great health care, but the larger portion of the population does not. The selfishness of the 45 percent does not justify denying the needs of the 55 percent.

The number one complaint voiced by opponents of public health care is that waiting times for non-emergency doctor's visits will increase. First of all, this does not have to be true. It is merely a possibility. Second, prolonged wait for non-emergency service is a fair trade for affordable health care guaranteeing I can see a doctor when I really need to.

That is the real problem. Some people just find their own convience more important than the health and lives of Americans.

Plans like the current White House proposals, Senator Kennedy's proposals, and others that attempt to curry to that misaimed priority, will ultimately not deal with the real problems in American health care.

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