Saturday, December 26, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly

The Good

On Christmas Eve, the US Senate finally passed its version of health care reform. Although it falls far short of what was promised during the 2008 Presidential campaign, and took way too long to hammer out, it is at least a start toward breaking the stranglehold the insurance companies have on the people of this nation.

I know that many people don't like the idea of the government being in the business of health care; to some, it raises the specter of "socialized medicine," and that makes them uncomfortable. My own feelings are that there are some things that the government should be in charge of - those things that affect the health, welfare, safety, and general well-being of the citizens of this nation. As I've said in earlier posts, we have no problem with the "socialization" of our schools, fire and police departments, federal highways, and a host of other services upon which we rely on a daily basis, so I'm not sure why something as important as health should be treated differently. In many ways, this creates a nation of "haves" and "have-nots" - an undesirable situation in a so-called "classless" society.

Be that as it may, and it is a discussion I'll save for another time, we have a start toward providing health care for everyone.

The Bad

The House and Senate health care bills must now be reconciled. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues that could be deal-breakers, and which could end up causing the whole bill to be scrapped.

First, the lack of a public option is a real loss of credibility for the Democratic majority, as well as a financial boon for the insurance industry. There will be no real incentive for them to keep costs down, and many will find ways to increase premiums between now and whenever the controls go into effect. (If you doubt this, just look at what the credit card companies have done over the past several months.)

Next, the issue of US citizens being prevented from buying drugs outside the country provides little incentive for Big Pharma to control prices. I'm always bemused by those who scream about the "unsafe" drugs we might get from Canada or Mexico. Until I hear about our neighbors to the North and South dropping like flies from unsafe drugs, it's going to take more than an hysterical lobbyist to convince me! And the argument that it will cripple R&D and provide little incentive for new investigative drugs is also unconvincing. People will always want to research and invent; it's in our blood. And the recognition that comes from the development of wonder drugs - penicillin, aspirin, etc. - will always translate into more research money from the government and other entities. Besides, if the pharmaceutical companies would cut out the stupid and unnecessary advertising, they'd have plenty left for Research and Development!

Finally, the abortion question looms large over reconciliation. I've discussed on several occasions my feelings about abortion, and what it all boils down to is that I don't have the right to choose for someone else - and neither does anyone else! If government assistance with health insurance precludes any kind of abortion coverage, then government is effectively denying coverage for a legal procedure. I think if we linked this ban to a ban on coverage for erectile dysfunction we'd see a swift reversal among many of our Members of Congress!

The Ugly

Ah, there is so much from which to choose! Should we start with Joe Lieberman, the man who held the Democrats in the Senate hostage because he got his feelings hurt? Or should we begin with Mitch McConnell, who vowed to fight until Hell froze over - which apparently happened earlier on Christmas Eve than he expected. Or perhaps he was afraid he wouldn't make it home for Christmas due to the bad weather if he held out till late night on the 24th.

Uglier yet is the Republican attempt to stir up the people against the bill because - according to them - it's such a bad bill, putting more money in the pockets of the insurance companies and taking from Medicare. Let's see, those would be the insurance company pockets that you're in, right Senator McConnell? Oh, and would that be the same Medicare that Republicans have tried to gut since they first tried to prevent its passage in 1965? How odd that you care so much now. And just why is this bill not doing all that it should do? Is it because you and your cohorts - including Lieberman - worked so hard to gut it, without offering anything worthwhile in its place?

Ugliest of all, however, is your disdain for the will of the people. Poll after poll shows that the people of this country want real and meaningful health care reform. Reform that includes a public option. Reform that includes expanded Medicare. Reform that doesn't increase the wealth of the few on the sickbeds of the many. And yet 41 Senators worked hard to prevent that kind of meaningful reform, despite what the people have said time after time. Forty-one Senators felt perfectly free to ignore the desires of the electorate because only these Senators know what really matters.

Money matters. Big Pharma matters. Big Insurance matters. We, the people, do not.