The health reform debate in Congress and in the country has sadly brought out the worst in American politics and laid bare the waste, the greed and the stupidity of our ” system” of providing health care to some Americans, while ignoring many others. Here are a few snapshots of the state of health care reform, which unfortunately can be summed up in three words – money, lies and death:
* The hospital and health insurance sectors gave members of Congress $ 170 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008.
* Senator Max Baucus, the key player on the Senate Finance Committee that is driving the health care debate, received $ 1.5 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008 from the hospital and insurance sectors. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, received $ 2 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008 from the hospital and insurance sectors.
* The Urban Institute reported that 27,000 Americans, usually poor Americans, die each year because they do not have insurance. Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, in his now famous ” Die Quickly” speech lambasting the Republicans on the absence of a GOP health reform bill, stated that over 44,000 American die each year because they lack health insurance.
* The United States is ranked 17th in the world in access to health care, yet we spend the most per capita of any industrialized country.
* The major trade group representing the insurance industry states that insurance premiums for a family of four will go up by 18% in the coming years even with a health care reform bill. Not only is this an example of shameless scare tactics coming so close to the end game of health care reform, but if such an increase is possible it is proof positive of why this country needs a public option to spur competition and choice.
* Right wing talk show cranks have been saying that a public option included in health care reform would lead to insurance for illegal immigrants and euthanasia for seniors. No only are these claims blatantly false, but they show how conservatives will stop at nothing to stop health care reform.
* A four month old boy in Colorado has become the poster child for what’s wrong with American health care as his parents were denied an insurance policy because the boy, who is in excellent health, is 17 pounds, apparently obese according to the insurance company and thus suffering from a pre-existing condition. After media shaming, the company changed its policy. This is why this country needs health care reform.
All of these little nuggets of financial facts and horror stories give a flavor of why this country has had to wait since the days of Harry Truman to fix a terribly broken health care system. Whenever serious efforts are made to bring about reasonable and cost effective change, the monied interests dump millions into the campaign war chests of members of Congress with a handshake and a wink, lying and fear raise their ugly heads as all sorts of ideologues use an ever complex media to raise doubts and spread confusion, and most importantly the American people fall further and further behind the rest of the industrialized world in quality, cost effective care, while the insurance companies worry about a fourth month old boy’s weight.
It is impossible to stop the force of money in American politics or to silence the liars and the death mongers, but it is possible for the American people to get straight and honest answers about health care reform before more people die and we fall further and further behind the civilized world. Winston Churchill once said that ” Americans eventually do the right thing, after exhausting all other alternatives.” I hope he is right in this case.