There are so many fibs, falsehoods, fabrications, fairy tales and outright lies being circulated in regard the health care reform debate in Washington that fact is already hopelessly entwined with self-serving fictions from the various stakeholders.
And the debate has only just begun. The country will be subjected to this barrage of misinformation, meant to confuse and frighten various constituencies, for many upcoming months.
It is going to take all our concentration and brainpower to sort the useful information from the flummery. Here are two points to keep uppermost in mind as you try to follow the debate:
• Insurance companies, big pharma and corporate medicine want to maintain the status quo. It has made them rich.
• Members of Congress receive their largest campaign donations from insurance companies, big pharma and corporate medicine.
Filter everything you read through those two facts. No one who has the power to influence health care legislation (with the possible exception of Senator Ted Kennedy) has the people's interest in mind; all are more concerned with the goals power or money. When the president signs the eventual health care reform bill, whatever benefit it contains for citizens will be as little change as possible from the present, private system that has served those twin goals at our expense.
That said, there should be some improvement because Congress cannot entirely ignore the skyrocketing costs of healthcare nor the 47 million uninsured. (That number, nearly one-sixth of the U.S. population, was established in 2005, and is undoubtedly much larger now due to the rate of unemployment and the many who cannot afford COBRA premiums. Also, it does not include the under-insured.)
First, let's get the vocabulary straight so we are all talking about the same thing:
Individual Health Insurance is coverage purchased by individuals or families from private companies usually subject to increased premiums for age, gender or pre-existing conditions. Coverage can be denied for any reason.
Group Health Insurance is similar to individual health insurance but provided through employers, unions and other affinity groups often at a reduced premium rate.
Universal Health Insurance or coverage is an umbrella phrase referring to any kind of system that ensures coverage to everyone.
Single Payer, a form of universal coverage, refers to a centralized system in which the government pays for every citizen's health care funded through taxes. Physicians and other medical professionals are not employees of the government.
Socialized Medicine, also a form a universal coverage, is a system where the government owns and runs health care facilities, and physicians are paid by the government.
Public Plan (promoted by President Obama) is a relatively new phrase referring to health insurance coverage that would be offered by the federal government to individuals and families to compete with private, individual insurance plans.
There are hundreds of health care reform plans in Congress right now, one for nearly every member. None proposes any kind of universal care. The Democrats recoil from universal or single-payer plans because Republicans squeal “socialized medicine” when the Democrats mention them.
(By the way, if I were king of the country, we would extend Medicare to everyone. It's not perfect, but no plan can be. Systems are already in place and it has worked well for more than 40 years. The necessary expanded administration would employ many of the experienced people who now work at private insurance companies and those companies could sell additional coverage for cosmetic surgery and other discretionary treatments to people who want it.)
Most of the plans in Congress are what Nobel Laureate Robert Fogel, speaking at the Age Boom Academy I recently attended, called “tinkering at the edges” of the current system. Dr. Diane Meier of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, also speaking at the Academy, declared “single payer won't happen,” but Nancy LeaMond of AARP, who knows her way around the halls of Congress, at the same conference declared that health care reform (of some kind) “is going to happen.”
Dr. Robert N. Butler, who runs the Age Boom Academy, said he believes the plan from Senators Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus is good and as close as we can get in this Congress to a single-payer system. It exists only in draft form – 615 pages - at the moment. You can read some details of the draft here and here.
The universal rejection in Congress of any kind of universal coverage is at odds with the American public. In a new CBS News/New York Times poll released on Saturday,
50% of respondents believe the government would be better than insurance companies at providing medical coverage
59% believe the government would be better at holding down costs than private insurers
64% believe government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans
And, a large majority, 72 percent, back a government-sponsored health care plan to compete with private insurers. Additionally, 57 percent are willing to pay higher taxes for insurance for everyone.
So apparently, our Congressional representatives are completely out of touch with the people they represent, beholden instead to the money interests who support their election campaigns. It's going to be a contentious summer.At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joan Barber: You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Dress - and the Right Shoes.