Monday, September 28, 2009

Health care reform is real

This month's Dose of Reality concerns the way the American public pays for health care:
[I]t is important to remember that the public always pays, and in fact, it is the only payer of the cost of health care. Many decades ago, the members of the public mostly paid for health care in only one way: by direct payment to health care providers using cash if they could, or chickens and pigs if they could not.

Then during World War II especially, the public begin to pay more of its medical bills by funneling money through insurance companies…But now that is changing as the system is being reforming in an underhanded, backdoor fashion. Leading the reform is the for-profit health insurance industry, and by doing so the industry is slowly putting itself out of business. The steps the industry is now taking to retain profitability are forcing the American public to funnel an increasing proportion of its health care expenditure through other, more efficient pipelines, namely direct payments to medical providers and payments to them through government channels.
In other words, the insurance companies are making it so onerous to pay premiums and co-pays and deductibles that their customers are simply dropping insurance altogether—which means the companies get nothing from them.

Two Town Meetings on Health Care

Alaska’s two senators have now held town meetings on Health Care in Fairbanks, Senator Murkowski on August 13, and Senator Begich on September 26. The contrast between the two hosts and their events was striking.

Based on their comments, questions, and levels of applause to statements, I concluded that the 500-member crowd attending the Murkowski town meeting was largely right-leaning Republican, with the majority having an anti-Obama, anti-government attitude that biased them against increased government involvement in health care. This group also showed a substantial presence at Senator Begich’s town meeting hosting about 300, but probably were outnumbered by persons of less conservative bent who were in favor of greater government involvement in the form of establishing a public health insurance option and greater regulation of the health care insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Perhaps most striking was the difference in approach and performance of the two hosts. Senator Murkowski stated at the outset that she was against more government involvement in health care. That statement not only made the majority of the audience happy, it set the tone of the entire meeting: generally negative toward any substantial health care reform. Senator Murkowski responded to questions and comments in ways that built on the fears of those in the audience and promoted what I took to be her own personal views. Although she proclaimed that she wanted input from all quarters, it was quite obvious to me that she was not receptive of any new information.

Thinking back on that town meeting after attending Senator Begich’s later one, I was struck by Senator Murkowski’s comparative lack of knowledge about health care issues and apparent willingness to ignore factual information on the topic. To me, this was best illustrated when someone asked if Senator Murkowski knew of even a single country where universal health care was successful. Ignoring the well-known fact that universal health care is successfully operating in every modern country except for the United States, the good senator walked slowly across the stage, shoulders hunched, head shaking and eyes downcast as though seeking inspiration from the floorboards as she replied, “No, I can’t.” Oh come on, Senator, I thought to myself, you are not that ignorant, you know better than that and are just being disingenuous.

By contrast, Senator Begich displayed an impressive breadth of knowledge about and understanding of health care issues. He too had made an opening statement. Unlike Murkowski’s negative opening, Begich’s contained positive assertions regarding desirable goals of health care reform. Some of them were little more than motherhood statements, but at least they were positive in nature. I did not agree with some of Begich’s views—for example, he stated that he was against having a government-operated single-payer health system—but he did at least display an attitude of guarded openness toward the proposal of a public option insurance program.

He used a question on that issue to suggest that perhaps a better option might be to allow everyone to buy into the Federal Employees Health Benefits Insurance program enjoyed by members of Congress and all other federal employees and retirees.

I hope Senator Begich was aware that he was making quite a radical proposal because in this program the government (using funds supplied by the taxpayers) picks up 75 percent of the premium cost. Now that is serious government involvement in health care! At least financially, it is about three-fourths the way to a single-payer health care system. To complete the process the next logical step will be to eliminate the useless middleman: the health insurance industry.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama's speech on health care reform

Here's a transcript of Obama's speech to Congress on health care reform, along with some videos, from Huffington Post.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Public meeing on health care with Senator Begich

Senator Begich will be holding a forum in Fairbanks, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 26, at Friends Community Church, 1485 30th Avenue. Begich has held open discussions/question-and-answer town hall meetings in Anchorage and Juneau; according to the Anchorage Daily News, they've been beyond "lively" and have gone into outright rudeness.
Begich said he's interested in what people have to say about health care reform, but is growing tired of the lies, myths and fear tactics.

"Now the media are talking about the 'swift-boating' of health reform over the recess," Begich told the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce in a lunchtime speech. He said he's seeing evidence of a political smear campaign in television ads.

Health reform protesters have been hijacking town hall meetings around the country. There's controversy over whether the dissent is real and grassroots, or a sophisticated attack intended to bring down President Obama and the health reforms he seeks.
The point of having a forum like this is to allow the public an opportunity to a) express their opinions, and b) ask questions of—and receive answers from—their representatives in government. That means that when a person is asking their question, everyone else in the audience should let them, and let them hear the answer. It's pretty basic courtesy, but some people just don't want anybody else to have their say.

Let's hope that Fairbanksans will behave like grownups, willing to let every questioner speak, and let Senator Begich answer.