It has been a long, hot summer of wingnut conspiracy theories from deathers to birthers and a fat, loud, radio pundit crazed over his belief that the president wants to snip off his foreskin.
It culminated this week in screechings from the same far-right fringe groups that Obama, in his speech yesterday, was seeking to “indoctrinate” school kids with his nefarious scheme to turn them into miniature socialists and fascists (all the same thing, you know) and then, if you believe Representative Michelle Bachman, send them off to AmeriCorps “re-education camps.”
Tonight, presumably with a voice of reason, President Obama speaks to Congress about health care reform.
It's about time.
Apparently spooked by the Clinton health care debacle 16 years ago, Obama has remained mostly silent during the summer freak show allowing those opposed to reform to gain advantage. He made a couple of preposterous, back-door deals with hospitals and big pharma to chip in what amounts to less than one percent of their profits over ten years to help with costs, an agreement that has no enforcement mechanism. And he backed off his 2008 campaign rhetoric for a public option.
Then on Labor Day, in what was said to be a preview of his speech tonight, Obama again committed to the public option – sort of:
"I continue to believe that a public option within that basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs," he said.
That's hardly a ringing endorsement or good use of the presidential bully pulpit.
Meanwhile, some Congress members are pushing for co-ops instead of a public option which would, essentially, leave reform to regions or individual states creating a mish-mash of bureaucracies each too small to have any leverage for lowering costs.
Others are pressing for subsidies for the poor and middle class to pay for private coverage. That changes nothing except that the government would pay unaffordable premiums further enriching private insurance companies. And my own Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has met with the president about what has been labeled the “trigger.”
In this latest scheme to maintain the status quo, a public option would be written into a reform bill, but it would go into effect – be triggered – only if, in five years or so, the insurance companies have not met certain goals in cutting costs and insuring a larger number of people.
If you believe you would ever hear of the public option again if the trigger idea is adopted, I know of a birther group you can join.
Every one of these proposals has only one purpose: to ensure continued excessive profits to insurance companies. What else can we expect when there are six health care industry lobbyists in Washington for each member of Congress whose election campaign coffers have been vastly enriched by the same corporations who hire the lobbyists.
Amidst all this, there is a real national health emergency in America. Forty-seven million of us have no coverage at all. The Census Bureau is set to release the newest uninsured number tomorrow, Thursday, and it is expected to have jumped by three or four million. Between 18,000 and 22,000 people die every year for lack of money for treatment. Medicare will run out of funds in eight years. Health care costs will double or, possibly, triple in ten years along with the costs of the private insurance people buy now.
This is our last chance at reform. It's not just about the public option – we need to cut the annual billions in Medicare fraud, the billions in overpayment to medical device manufacturers and retailers, and contain costs in other reasonable ways. There has, as yet, been no discussion about how we will accomplish this as we have wasted the summer on death panels, accusations of presidential racism, birth certificates and other bizarre attacks such as tea bag parties comparing the president to Dr. Mengele.
In a sane, responsible America, we would be debating the fine points of a single-payer system. With a single-payer system, every one of the 300 million-odd Americans would pay, enlarging the risk pool. This is why Medicare is in financial trouble; it covers only old people who have more health care needs than younger people. When everyone is covered, the 80/20 rule goes into effect – 20 percent of the people use 80 percent of the system - so the system is not strained as with Medicare.
But President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a single-payer system off the table from day one. (It is not possible for me to tell you here in polite company how I feel about that.) So the public option is the best we can hope for.
What the president must do tonight is use all those persuasive powers that got him elected last year over what at first appeared to be insurmountable odds. He must explain in clear, simple language that is an emergency; if we don't get health care reform now, we never will. He must draw a line in the sand tonight that there cannot be reform without a public option.
I will be glued to the screen this evening and I hope to hell the president heard what Bill Moyers said on his PBS program last week. [5:18 minutes]
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Mother's Wish