[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
With a historic vote on health care reform set for tomorrow, this is how far the right has stooped: Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:
"If ObamaCare passes, that free insurance card that's in people's pockets is gonna be as worthless as a Confederate dollar after the War Between The States - the Great War of Yankee Aggression."
With the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finding that the health care bill under consideration in the House would reduce both health care costs and the deficit over the next ten years, the right is running out of legitimate arguments against the bill. Not that Republicans ever really offered legitimate criticisms, relying almost entirely on lies and fear mongering (Death panels! Government takeover!) to scare off support.
Health care is a complicated issue that has components that are moral (Should people in one of the wealthiest countries in the world be allowed to die or go bankrupt because they can't afford care?), ideological (How should an important need like health care be provided to the people?), and economic (What are we going to do about spiraling health care costs that are taking up more and more of the budgets of American families, as well as those of the states and the federal government?) in nature. To reduce this nuanced issue to short, sound-bite size proclamations is ridiculously over-simplified. But since the right has had no trouble doing so in an effort to scare Americans away from supporting reform, I figure I have no choice but to provide more accurate characterizations than some of the common themes being pushed on the right.
- Stephen Moore, a right-wing economics writer who appeared on Bill Maher's Real Time last night, announced to the audience: "Forty-eight hours from now, we're going to have socialized medicine." Socialism is a common theme of Obama opponents who seem to feel that if they lie about Obama being a socialist often enough, people will start to believe it, even absent any actual evidence to support the claim. But there is nothing about the health care reform bill that should be characterized as socialized medicine, which is when the government, rather than private insurers or medical institutions, provides care to its citizens. Rather, the bill would be an affirmation and expansion of the capitalist-private U.S. health care structure, handing the health insurance companies a bit more than 30 million new customers. And without a public option, the private insurers will maintain a stranglehold on the market. In fact, Republicans, who love subsidizing corporations almost as much as they love cutting taxes for the wealthy, should be doing back flips that government money will be going directly into corporate coffers, as subsidies for those who can't pay for health care are directed to the health insurers.
Personally, I would prefer a single-payer system that takes the profit-obsessed insurance companies, who make money by denying care to those who need it, out of the health care equation. But this health reform bill doesn't do that. Rather, it maintains the primacy of health insurers at the center of the American health care system.
As Gavin Newsom pointed out on Real Time, if this bill is so bad for health insurance companies, why did their stock prices go up yesterday when news started to emerge that passage of the bill looked more probable?
- Another common theme from the right is that health care reform will "put the government between you and your doctor," the idea being to scare Americans into believing that under health care reform, they will no longer be able to make decisions with their doctor alone. This one would be funny if it wasn't so tragic. Under the status quo, patients aren't allowed to make decisions alone with their doctors. Instead, health insurance companies decide what treatment Americans get (or, too often, don't get). And, actually, under the status quo, the government stands in the way of you and your doctor making decisions, since it allows health insurers to raise your rates, deny your coverage, and kick you off of insurance completely, all without you having legal recourse to use antitrust or many other legal principles to challenge these decisions or choose another provider (that would apply to nearly any other industry). Why? Because of the special legal protections health insurers currently enjoy. Since health care reform leaves insurers in charge of health care, the government will not be intervening in the basic dynamic of medical decisions that is currently in place, except to put more power in the hands of patients and their doctors, since insurance companies will no longer be allowed to refuse coverage because of preexisting conditions, nor will they be able to drop (or charge extra) patients who get sick.
- Conservatives often argue that we can't afford health reform because of the federal debt. But, again, the CBO found that the bill would reduce the deficit by $138 billion over the next ten years, and another $1.2 trillion over the following ten years, due, in part, to a cut in the growth of Medicare spending (a top contributor to the deficit). This should be the kind of bill that fiscal conservatives can support, since it is paid for (unlike the Bush tax cuts) and reduces rather than adds to the deficit. A sister right-wing claim, as Moore made on Real Time, is that the bill is a jobs-killing big tax hike. It should come as no surprise that this claim, too, is a giant load of bull. Moore complained that small businesses will be devastated by reform, but, in fact, the bill looks to help these employers. A White House report found: "From 2002 to 2008, the fraction of firms with 3 to 9 employees offering health insurance to their workers declined from 58 to 49 percent." The status quo isn't working. The bill will help small businesses to be better able to insure its employees.
I don't pretend to be able to convince nutjobs who refer to the Civil War as the Great War of Yankee Aggression, and who make up nonsense about legislation in order to scare people away from supporting it, that they are wrong. But what I can do is point out the lies in the hope that those who are trying to understand what is in the bill can better understand what the legislation would really do. As the president has said over and over, the current system is damaging our country, siphoning more and more of our resources with less and less payoff for our people. We pay more for health care than any other country, and yet our care doesn't rank near the top, and we've left tens of millions of people without access to health care. We are not getting any bang for our buck, and, in any event, we can't afford to continue to pour more and more money into the pockets of health insurance companies. The status quo is far scarier than anything in the legislation under consideration.
The health care reform bill scheduled for a vote tomorrow is not perfect by any means, but it is a step in the right direction. And, most importantly, the bill does not do what the right is saying it will. It doesn't socialize medicine, it doesn't take decisions out of the hands of patients and doctors (any more than they already are), and it won't bankrupt the country.
Tomorrow could be a truly historic day in American history. And I promise that if the bill passes, when the sun comes up on Monday, we won't be living in the Soviet Union, as much as those on the right would like you to believe otherwise.