Thursday, July 09, 2009

News From The Health Care Reform Front

When President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel declared in an interview that "The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest" and that "[t]he goal is non-negotiable; the path is", his statement sent shivers down the spine of those who, like me, consider a public option the only viable alternative to a single-payer health care system like those that most industrialized, civilized countries have. (See here for a comparison of what happens to cancer patients in the United States and in France.)

The goal of health care reform should not simply be to keep insurers honest, rather it should be a complete overhaul of a system which, while working for some, has failed too many to be preserved in its form. Besides, who's to say that when the next Republican president is sworn into office, a prospect which appears remote now but that is only a matter of time in the cyclical scheme of American politics, his first order of business will be to undo the reform that is so acutely, so desperately needed to ensure that people have a reasonable guarantee that they won't be left to their own devices just when they are most vulnerable?

If a public option is introduced into our sick health care system now, at the beginning of President Obama's first term, chances are that it will achieve measurable success that will contribute to the President's re-election in 2012. And after 6 or 7 years of a system which will foreseeably improve, it will be much harder for a Republican president to undo the gains realized by millions and millions of people and voters. That is why Sen. Reid's clarion call to the likes of Sen. Max Baucus, to abandon the pursuit of a bipartisan bill and to "stop chasing Republican votes" which would entail compromise that would eliminate the public option, was welcome and sorely needed.

Some welcomed the long-awaited arrival of Sen. Franken as it broke the 60 vote barrier needed to avoid the specter of a Republican filibuster; but, as many have clarified, including former Gov. Dean, there is no need for 60 votes. "If Republicans want to shill for insurance companies," said Dean, "then we should do it with 51 votes," using budget reconciliation rules.

It is hard to disagree with Gov. Dean and the many voices who are pushing for a strong public option, like former President Bill Clinton, and like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Sen. Sanders, who has collected health care horror stories in a booklet that you can view online (not for the faint of heart, particularly those who lack coverage), and who said, in his trademark "call a spade a spade" fashion, that "[i]t has become clear that the function of a private health insurance is to make as much money as possible. Every dollar not paid out in claims is another dollar made in profits for the company." Clear to all but those who revel in a system that has proven a political contribution cash cow, to milk for every drop of money it can produce.

Jane Hamsher wrote at that "Congress never had ordinary people come and testify about their insurance company horror stories, because nobody wanted to piss the insurance companies off." I believe that, simply because something similar happened to me last year.

I attended an event on the health care crisis at Denver University that featured a panel including former Colorado Gov. Lamm, a neurosurgeon, a medical ethicist and an insurance industry representative. When the panel discussion was over, the floor was opened to the public for questions and comments. The majority of the people who had the opportunity to direct their questions to the panel was critical of the status quo and reported their personal experiences and horror stories.

At that event, I had the welcome opportunity to step up to the mic and tell of my own experience in the United States, and how (negatively) it compares to the system I grew up with, in Italy. One of my comments was luckily highlighted for posterity on the pages of the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential). The event was hosted by Colorado Public Radio's Dan Dreyer and was supposed to have been broadcast on KCFR shortly afterward.* To the best of my knowledge, it never aired, and there is hardly a trace that the event ever happened if you try and google it up. I have never gotten over the feeling that the reason the broadcast was never aired is because KCFR did not want to rock the boat and risk alienating its active and potential underwriters in the insurance and health care industries, which could have cost the station a lot of money.

* After a research that took me the best part of an hour, I found this blurb:

RADIO PANEL ON HEALTH CARE: The public is invited to be part of the studio audience of a joint production of Colorado Public Radio and the Daniels College of Business, "Health care and the Bottom Line: A Panel Discussion on the Ethics of Corporate Medicine," which takes place Thursday, April 3, in the Hamilton Recital Hall at the Newman Event Center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave., at the University of Denver.

It will be taped for rebroadcast on KCFR and podcast on both the CPR and NPR site.

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