Thursday, March 4, 2010

Getting Sick Over It - WordSurferPost.com, Healthcare I, Published 9/15/2009

Getting Sick Over It.

By: Joshua M. Patton

The symphony of dissent begins with thunderous applause. So it seemed when President Barack Obama entered the room during his prime-time address to a joint session of Congress focusing on healthcare. The speech ended the same way and their position as members of government notwithstanding, they applauded and lined up if only to pat the man on the back. In the middle, there was more applause for compromise, silent dissent at the mere mention of a public option, and Joe Wilson (R, SC) called The President a liar.

It was a marvelous speech – well-written and well-delivered – yet, here’s the rub, it was all mostly flowery language and political kabuki-dancing. The Republican side of the debate continues to vaguely reference language in HR 3200 as “proof” of their various arguments. Yet, upon a search of the bill the language is confusing, but nothing even hints at all that the bullshit being dressed up as logic and given equal time in the media.

When Barack Obama loses control of the media narrative, he typically attempts to regain that control by giving a long, lawyerly speech that serves to clarify his position on the given issue. It worked marvelously when the controversy over Reverend White was dominating the airwaves and print during the lead-up to the Pennsylvania Primary – which he lost. The last address focused on the troubles with the economy and it is far too early to call either victory or defeat on that issue, although many say the President should have done more.

It was by referencing his speech on the economy that the President chose to begin his pitch. By trying to frame the problems with healthcare as not just a social issue, but as a moral issue and a necessary benchmark towards reaching true economic recovery, the President is trying to appeal to the better fiscal sensibilities of the opposition. 2008 Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman said in Rolling Stone, “If healthcare passes and the economy recovers, Obama is the new FDR. If not, he’s Jimmy Carter. It’s that simple.”

The President told two stories about ordinary, average, nameless Americans and how the current system failed them. Then he got pissed. The treatment these Americans received, “is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America!” exclaimed the President. All stood. Even the insurance company whores, Democrat and Republican alike, were moved by this opening salvo, despite the fact that many of those standing had lined their pockets with money generated by the very insurance company practices being decried. Specifically Senators Chuck Grassley (R, IA) and Max Baucus (D, MT), the republican and democrat leaders of the so-called “Gang of Six,”, are on the Senate Finance Committee and are charged with drafting what, despite the three other bills out of committee right now, will be the definitive piece of legislation behind what sort of healthcare reform we achieve. Baucus, the democrat, has received over $3 million from insurance companies in the past five years.

When healthcare reform was first being bandied about as a something the Obama Administration was actually going to move forward on, a deal was struck with PhARMA that brought back the advertised dissenters from the 90’s, Harry and Louise, this time supporting the reform. One would have to wonder, with rising drug costs one of the problems we face with healthcare, would the largest pharmaceutical lobbying firm really get on board with reform if it meant they were to make less money?

Of course they wouldn’t. The only time the President mentioned the words “drug companies,” was when he announced that his “unprecedented coalition” for reform (a very Bushian turn of phrase) was comprised of some of the very drug companies that have opposed the reform in the past. While the cost of prescription drugs only makes up a fraction of the country’s healthcare worries, the only mention of relief for the consumer from the cost of expensive drugs was in reference to Medicare.

Scoundrels though they may be, the drug companies are really not even in the same league as the insurance companies. For years rates have risen exponentially and coverage has decreased thanks to the two sweetest words to an insurer: preexisting condition. The President said in no uncertain terms that denials based on the preexisting condition would no longer be allowed. Hopefully, this will allow those who are sick to find coverage and not bankrupt themselves with medical bills. The American Journal of Medicine published the results of a national study that determined that 60% of all bankruptcies in the United States in 2007 were the result of medical debt. Of those 60%, three quarters of them were working middle-class homeowners that had insurance. Again, the impetus of the movement is directed at the insurance companies and nothing is being mentioned of the extravagant costs of some of these procedures. Can the Insurance companies – a for-profit business – be faulted for denying coverage for procedures that inexplicably cost tens of thousands of dollars?

The shit continues to get deeper and deeper in the halls of government and it seems that before wading into this crisis, the President forgot to take off his nice shoes. This could become the lynchpin of his Presidency; a failure here and continued economic decline could mean resurgence in popularity for the party of irrational opposition, the GOP, John McCain notwithstanding. Anyone displeased with this bill is wont to find some sort of reasonable alternative to the plan now on the table. In his speech, the President implored his opposition to offer some sort of serious counter-plan or ways to amend the current bill. Yet, from the Republican side of the aisle, there was only silence.

Senator Grassley, as reported by Naked Word News’ own Samuel Ansah, purported the idea of “death panels” and has yet to negate those comments at press time. Section 1233 of HR 3200 is the section that discusses end-of-life counseling. The language is not exactly clear, but it in no way alludes to anything other than ensuring that the patient and their families are aware of all options when the inevitable end-of-life situation occurs. No intelligent or honest person could read this section and deny that it sounds like anything but a really good idea for the elderly, the chronically ill, and their families.

While all of the attention has been given to the public option that the President labeled as only a small part of the overall plan, there was something more troubling he said. Those already covered by their employers would keep the policies that they have. In the bill, it speaks of a “grandfather” clause for companies that are offering insurance to their employees during “Year 1” of the five-year plan to enact these reforms. This could be a bad thing, especially if the cap on out-of-pocket costs and reduction in premiums fail to be delivered.

For example, Joe 12-pack works for a large retail chain that sells pretty much a shitty version of everything at a ridiculously low price. This large retail-chain keeps its costs down by paying their workers almost nothing and providing maybe the worst insurance plan ever offered by an employer. In our current system, Joe could deny his employer coverage and utilize Medicaid, because even with his wages he still is economically below the poverty level. Under this new plan, the large retail chain is still able to offer their shitty plan, thanks to the grandfather clause. Joe 24-pack is unable to deny his employer’s offer of insurance. If he does, he is not eligible to purchase insurance from the insurance exchange that would contain the public option. He would also no longer be able to apply for Medicaid, because his employer does provide benefits.

Where are the republicans on this issue? Here is an actual example of how the new reform plan would limit Americans’ insurance options, yet they are all caught up in the fervor of socialism, death panels, and other madness to focus on a real issue that would be an easy thing to fix. Have they gotten so used to spreading fear and anger with misinformation that they have abandoned trying to win an argument in the rational world?

U.S. Representative Joe Wilson (R, SC), who shouted “You Lie!” to the President during his speech, apologized for his outburst, but not for what he said. He continues to say in more flowery terms that the President is lying about coverage for illegal immigrants. What Rep. Wilson is referring to is that according to the bill persons here illegally might be able to purchase insurance through the exchange marketplace; however it also explicitly states that these citizens will not be eligible for any federally subsidized program. In the current system, persons her illegally are not turned away from hospitals and their bills are given to the taxpayers. By allowing them to purchase insurance, this would not happen. Any argument involving illegal immigrants in this country is like arguing if the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay would benefit from the stimulus plan. Sure it’s a point, but the larger problem of what to do with them as a group, the detainees or illegal immigrants, looms over every minor discussion. The country has larger problems than whether or not a person living here illegally can buy health insurance.

The inclusion of an insurance mandate surprised me, considering it was one of the three issues during the primary elections where the President differed from Hillary Clinton. Presenting the mandate to purchase health insurance as similar to the mandate to purchase auto-insurance is a half-assed comparison at best. Joe 24-Pack & A Handle of Gin does not wake up one morning in his one-room apartment and discover that he has contracted a case of owning a pick-up truck. The procurement of auto-insurance is just one of the many costs associated with purchasing a vehicle. Joe Liver-Transplant did not expect to come down with a life-threatening illness and it doesn't change the fact that he makes only $50 more a month than he pays in rent, food, and utilities. It doesn’t cost anything to get sick, but it can cost everything to get better and that does not appear as if it is going to change.

The President closed the speech to applause and displayed his full array of speaking prowess: the compassionate intellectual, the no-nonsense lawyer, and the inspirational intonations of a Preacher witnessing to his flock. The speech was in all a rousing and moving oratory from a remarkable man, and it would be lovely if this was where the story ended. Sadly, attempting to act on what the President presented is still a clusterfuck of immense proportions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid both seemed to soften on the inclusion of a public option mere hours after the leader of their party said it was fundamental to the reform, if only a small, fundamental part. The Senate Finance Committee continues to plod along and work out a plan that really changes nothing just so it can b e called “bipartisan.” The prevailing question those serious about healthcare reform is this: Would any bill in the name of reform be better than simply scrapping the idea and starting from scratch?

In the next week, Naked Word Post will publish an analysis of the arguments from both sides and feature the opinions of medical professionals – working from the “front lines” of this healthcare crisis – about what is really needed and what changes would not even be noticed. Also studied, will be the role that the media has played in fueling the debate and the spreading of misinformation disguised as journalism.

The Net Is A Far-Less Permanent Medium Than Print

In the next few days, I will be posting on here a series of articles I did last fall about the healthcare debacle. The site on which they were originally published has since removed them, so I thought I would display them here. This is part of the reason I am resisting the switch from print to digital - magazines and books, like with the Kindle and other E-Readers - is because if our civilization is lucky enough to survive another thousand years, will all these words be lost?

Oh well, I hope you enjoy them.

Joshua M. Patton
In Need of a New Gig.
 
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