By Wendell P. Simpson
ABOVE PHOTO: President Barack Obama discusses health insurance reform legislation with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) during the meeting at Blair House in Washington, D.C., Feb. 25, 2010. From left: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Vice President Joe Biden, the President, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Sen. McConnell.
(Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
If anything illustrates the degree to which the ideological political divide has paralyzed America, it is the contentious health care debate. But this may be the one issue that finally gets President Obama’s to drop his ‘Cooler Than Cool Daddy’ demeanor for that of a blood and guts warrior king.
President Obama has made health care, it’s costs and its efficacy, one of his top administrative priorities. No one in politics argues that the system of health care needs a major overhaul. Rising health care costs are a major threat to the nation’s economic well being: health care expenditures surpassed $2 trillion in 2007, eating up 16% of the GDP. That works out to stunning $7,500 per US resident with a growth rate of more than 6% a year.
Employment based health care represents 42% of health care expenditures; out-of-pocket expenses for individuals hover around 12%; while public health care expenditures represent about half of all health care costs, a figure destined to rise exponentially as Americans lose jobs that covered them and their families under employer-based benefits, forcing them to turn to the public health care system as the only option.
Then there’s the bang-for-the-buck quotient. While Americans pay more for their health care per capita than any other nation in the world, the quality of care ranks 37th . The cost of employer-based health care costs are increasingly being shifted to employees, burdening them with exorbitant premiums, deductibles and co-pays that many are simply unable to absorb.
Rising fees for doctors’ visits (one-fifth of health care costs) have forced many working class families to put off essential visits, while prescription drug costs are the fastest growing health care expenditures. Essentially, people with health coverage simply can’t afford to use it, effectively rendering them uninsured. Pre-existing conditions have made many Americans uninsurable, positioning them among the ranks of the nearly 50 million people who have no coverage at all. Among that number, almost 9 million are children. Forty-five thousand Americans die every year from a lack of coverage.
Then, there is no culture of preventative care in this country. As a result, younger and younger people are developing preventable illnesses. Also, while hospital care makes up 31% of total expenditures, cuts in hospital administrative costs have meant a severe increase in the incidents of medical errors, resulting in thousands of needless deaths.
And finally, there are the insured whose coverage is inadequate to the extent that outstanding medical bills have becoming the leading cause of bankruptcy in America.
During his campaign, President Obama championed health care reform as one of the foremost challenges facing the country. The American people heard his fervent cry, and when they filed into the polling booths, they pulled the switch on Obama’s agenda.
But since that historic affirmation, the conservative right has battled unto exhaustion to co-opt that agenda. Health care reform has proven to be as contentious an ideological issue as abortion and gay marriage.
Last week, the president convened what was supposed to be a bipartisan summit to work out a compromise on health care, but like everything pertaining to D.C. politics, this turned out to be another philosophical turf war. Yeah, except for the Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) outburst, it was a relatively bloodless confrontation, but it ended up being another masturbatory effort at consensus, underscoring the profound ideological differences over how to repair an obviously broken system..
While the Democrats argued for expanded coverage for all Americans, the Republicans fixated on the costs. Democrats called for the more government involvement, including more stringent regulations and price controls, suggesting that health care reform is a moral issue that can’t be negotiated on the basis of its price tag; Republicans objected to the President’s efforts to nationalize such a large segment of the economy. They also harped on the President’s proposal to raise taxes on individuals and small businesses making more than $250,000, and, playing to their religious base, rejected the use of using funds to pay for abortions, debating the merits of classifying it a ‘health issue’.
Each side was armed with polling data their bolstered their positions: the Republicans said polls showed considerable public opposition to the plan. The Dems countered by saying data showed that there was absolute support among voters for key provisions of the plan and that the politics are subordinate to the outcome..
And then there were the pundits. The argument, some said, is about how much government people are willing to tolerate, but one conservative critic labeled Obama’s plan “an authoritarian system that will remove choice from the public’s health care options,” a presumption Obama has challenged form day one.
Obama acknowledged toward the end that the divide was so profound that reaching a workable compromise was highly unlikely. “We have honest disagreement,” the president said in his best Great Conciliator voice.
But apparently that was just subterfuge because, when the Republicans threatened to filibuster, the president finally found his stones and pulled out the big gun on those cowboys—the threat of reconciliation..
And on and on it went , until finally, everybody agreed to disagree, which puts the debate right where it started, before this futile effort to find consensus began.
Here it is in a nutshell, ladies and gentlemen. Bipartisan compromise is simply not going to happen—but this is the real test of the President’s mettle. For his part, President Obama has refused to scale back his ambitions on health care –and for this writer’s money, it’s about time. But now he’s got to sell real health care reform to an America whose big obsession right now is jobs and the economy, but also an America that runs form the mere hint of anything that looks like socialism.
He’s got to convince a population that doesn’t understand that the bailout, the nationalizing of General Motors and all of the welfare money that corporations get means that a socialist-type government intervention has been in place in America—particularly in the case of corporate welfare—for many, many years.
The Republicans are trying to accuse the president of resorting to the kind of bombast we see demonstrated in Europe. They say he should be calm and rational, even though they countenanced the reactionary, dim-witted ‘yee-haw’, cowboy exhortations of the Bush-Cheney regime. The president has to counter that fear mongering by communicating that the US economy simply cannot continue to bear the insane burden of a costly system that does not work, and that finding ways to ensure the health of American citizens is the only rational course there is.