[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
A couple of weeks ago, in discussing torture, I asked why so many Republicans hate America. Now that the debate over how to fix the heath-care system has moved forward, listening to the Republican position (which is, unfortunately, shared by some centrist Democrats), I can't help but wonder why these individuals hate Americans?
Okay, again, I am being cheeky, invoking the Republican claims during the Iraq war that Democrats hated America because they didn't support the administration's draconian approach to fighting terror. And I'm doing it again here, because, at heart, the Republicans (and, again, some centrist Democrats) who are opposing a public option in the new plan are doing so to protect profitable health insurance companies at the expense of the average American citizen. The arguments used by the Republicans (and centrist Democrats) against a public option are absolutely disingenuous.
When asked about a public option, Republicans tend to lapse into the same red-herring argument Sen. Lindsay Graham made on This Week yesterday:
"The last thing in the world I think Democrats and Republicans are going to do at the end of the day is create a government run health care system where you've got a bureaucrat standing in between the patient and the doctor. We've tried this model -- people have tried this model in other countries. The first thing that happens -- you have to wait for your care. And in socialized health care models, people have to wait longer to get care and the government begins to cut back on what's available because of the cost explosion."
I was half expecting Graham to move close to the camera and yell "Boo!" in an effort to further scare Americans.
Except, nobody is proposing the U.K.-style plan he is railing against. So why is he doing it? Simple. Because the Republicans (and centrist Democrats) are supporting the big insurance companies at the expense of the people, but they can't very well say that out loud, so they have resorted to changing the subject and trying to scare Americans into not noticing where they have tossed their allegiances.
You see, the Republicans are speaking out of both sides of their mouths. They are quick to tell you, as Graham did, how terrible government-run health care would be, with long waits for inferior service. But when you argue for a public option, with people being given the chance to keep what they have (with private insurers) or opt for a new public option (especially for those who don't currently have any insurance) that would compete with the private companies, then the Republicans say that the private insurers would be driven out of business because they can't compete with the public plan. But if the government-run plan would be so bad, why would the private insurers lose to it? Shouldn't Americans, terrified at the big bad government trying to run their health-care decisions, run screaming away from the new public plan and into the arms of the wonderful private insurers they adore? What is the risk? And if the government-run plan is so good it would be an improvement over the private insurers, why are the Republicans against it (if they can't admit that they are protecting the business interests over the health of Americans)? Isn't the goal better care at lower costs?
It is a truly odious game the Republicans (and centrist Democrats) are playing now, which is even more despicable because of the stakes involved. The bottom line is that the American health-care system is not working, and it's only getting worse. Medical costs are skyrocketing, tens of millions have no insurance at all, and those that do are facing higher fees and dwindling service. According to a recent report, 17 percent of American households put off health care in the last year due to cost. And 40 percent of respondents said they would need to to postpone care in the next three months, including 15 percent who said they had to put off routine doctor visits. The way health-care works in the U.S. now, for-profit companies make decisions on Americans' health care based not on what is good for the patient, but on what will add to the company's profits. That's no way to care for our citizens.
And it's not like Americans are afraid of the government providing a public option for health care. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 72 percent of respondents (including 50 percent of Republicans) favored a government-sponsored health-care plan to compete with private insurers, and 57 percent said they were willing to pay higher taxes so that all Americans could be covered. In fact, 64 percent of those polled said that the government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans.
So if the people want a public option, and the Republican arguments are, on their face, hypocritical (if the government-run plan is as terrible as they say, it would not be a threat to private insurers), why are so many Republican and centrist Democratic senators opposing a public plan?
After all, anyone happy with his/her current coverage would be free to keep it as it is. Only those with lousy coverage (or no coverage at all) would be exploring the public option.
Health care is one of the thorniest and most important issues the government has to face, and there needs to be a full and thorough debate in Congress. Concerns about cost, taxes, and systems are absolutely valid, and there are no easy solutions to the hole we've dug for ourselves. But the scare tactics and diversions being offered by the Republicans on the public option are more than just dishonest, they are dangerous, because they could derail necessary change to the current failed system. If Republicans oppose a public option because they want to support the insurance companies, they should say that, rather than making up stories about socialized medicine plans that nobody is proposing. The debate needs to be on honest terms.
The bottom line is that in the U.S. right now, millions of people have no health insurance, others are getting bumped from their coverage, and many people are fighting increased costs (in premiums, co-payments, and uncovered care), and the result is less care for more money. That simply is not acceptable, and the increased costs to the country of medical care are unsustainable. Something has to be done. If Republicans (and centrist Democrats) have a better suggestion than a public option, something that will effectively provide quality coverage to more Americans and bring down costs, then let's hear it. But if the best they can do is come up with scary language like Graham offered on This Week, while proposing only alternatives that will, in effect, perpetuate the broken status quo, that's unacceptable.
It's time for the Republicans and, especially, the centrist Democrats to listen to the will of the people. The discussion has to be on the level, and the solution has to be a system in which for-profit insurance monoliths no longer control the country's health care. If a public option will lead to increased coverage and lower health-care costs, then that's where we need to head. The Republicans and Centrist Democrats are currently protecting the insurance companies. I say it's time they start protecting the American people instead.