Saturday, September 12, 2009

Healthcare Is A-Changing

Today's "no shit, Sherlock" moment comes courtesy of the New York Times, which informs us that the healthcare industry is talking out of both sides of its collective mouth:
WASHINGTON — The top lobbyists for every major sector of the health care industry publicly insist they are squarely behind the Obama administration’s health care reform. But as the debate gets down to the details, the lines dividing friend from foe are getting blurry.

Each industry group is also working quietly to scuttle or reshape some element of the administration’s proposals that might hurt profits — usually some measure aimed at cost control.

Yes, well, that's no surprise. Really, this whole thing is such a mess, botched by the White House and the Democrats who, while at least understanding the serious need for healthcare reform in this country (which is more than the Republicans did in their 15 years in power), have so weakened any hope of substantive change that they might as well have not bothered.

The thing people need to understand is, healthcare in this country is going to change, whether we do anything about it or not. Costs are going to keep going up: as the Times notes, the industry is doing its best to maintain that steady upward climb. Insurance costs are going to keep going up. Employers are having a hard enough time as it is right now providing insurance for their employees; that's why you have so many employers hiring independent contractors, or part-time workers, so they don't have to provide benefits.

This doesn't just affect the poor, this affects everyone, white collar and blue collar workers, hourly and salaried employees. I've been an independent contractor everywhere I've worked for the past 15 years. I paid for my own insurance until, thankfully, I married Mr. Beale. My sister wasn’t so lucky: she, like me, was an independent contractor and had to get loans from my dad when she needed medical care. She wasn’t able to get an insurance policy at all.

So, to you tea baggers rallying in D.C. today, I have this to say: if you are among those lucky enough to have employer-provided health insurance, good for you. You may like the plan you have now, but the reality is, it's going to change. I guarantee it.

So you can either have a hand in how that changes by telling the healthcare industry (and Congress) what you want, or you can let the healthcare industry do what's best for their profits and hope consumers end up okay in the bargain. Right now what I hear from the tea baggers is "no socialism" and "Obama is Hitler." And I think you folks need to be a little more specific than that.

Okay. To President Obama I have only to say: WTF? Today he said he supports the public option because

it will promote more competition and "no one would be forced to choose it."

That's all very well and good, but on Wednesday night I distinctly heard him say that the public option would only be available to low income Americans. Well, that's not really a public option then, is it? How will a public option available only to low income people promote competition? Insurance companies haven't exactly been breaking down the barn door to cover these folks as it is; that's why we have Medicaid and SCHIP.

A public option not available to everyone will do nothing to lower costs, it will simply allow the insurance companies to raise rates as high as they want on the rest of us because we will be forced to buy from them regardless, unless we are "low income." This is worse than no public option at all!

President Obama surely knows this, just as he knows that comparing a public health insurance option to public universities competing with private ones is lame, at best. For one thing, everyone can choose between public and private schools; public schools aren't just for "low income" students, and in fact some of our country's best universities are public, so many well-off students choose to enroll in them. For another thing, most private universities and colleges are non-profit, something NPR observed last week in this thorough piece on the topic. There's really no comparison between higher education and healthcare.

So, all of this has me more than a little bit discouraged. I'm getting lots of phone calls and e-mails asking me to sign this petition or attend that canvassing effort and I have to say, I'm a little leery about doing so because I don't like any of the proposals I'm hearing from Washington. I'm about ready to say "no" along with the tea baggers, not because I'm against socialism or like to draw Hitler mustaches on the president but for all of the reasons I've explained here. It's very possible that we've been offered is worse than doing nothing. As Rachel Maddow says, talk me down, peeps.

I feel like progressives were never really invited into the conversation. I think the Democrats in Congress and the White House thought we'd back any proposal, as long as it had a "D" behind it. That was wrong. I've said all along I don't want health insurance reform, I want healthcare reform. We're not getting it.

The insiders expected they could give us our marching orders and have us knock on doors and write letters to the editor and raise funds and do all the things we did to get President Obama elected because any change is better than what we've got. But I don't buy that. I think a bad change, one that basically gives a bailout to insurance companies, is going to leave us worse off.

Things are changing. They can change for the better, or they can change for the worse. I'd like to see them change for the better.