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The Healthcare Test

I’ve been meaning to write about the healthcare issue for awhile, but then the Iran thing happened which I believe is much more important so I focussed exclusively on that. Now that the situation in Iran is fully resolved (or at least you’d think so based on the lack of media coverage) and everyone is focussing on Michael Jackson, I’ll go ahead and give my two cents about healthcare reform.

First of all, while I used to have a stake in this argument, I no longer do. Now that I’m living in Europe I’ve got affordable healthcare (that I still haven’t even used) and it makes no personal difference to me whether a government-run healthcare program is introduced in the states. It may make a difference to me if I ever move back to the U.S. but I don’t see that happening any time soon, if ever.

That said, I do think this healthcare issue is hugely important, for two reasons. First, it makes a real, concrete difference in the lives of millions of Americans who are either uninsured or routinely fucked in the ass by their insurance companies. Second, and more interestingly, healthcare reform legislation will serve as an empirical test for the U.S. government and the Obama administration, showing us with complete clarity just how representative of the public the government really is. It’s the ultimate measuring stick to determine the balance of power between the public and the special interests. It will tell us who our elected representatives really answer to at the end of the day.

When politicians, including Obama, talk about healthcare reform they focus almost exclusively on the issue of cost. The only goal, they say, is to bring down costs—everything else is secondary. Really, the heart of the issue is not simply how much it costs to the already-insured, but whether everybody—insured or uninsured—will be given the option of a government-run healthcare program that will not be profit-driven and therefore won’t rape people in the way private insurance companies do, such as excluding you for pre-existing conditions or fighting you tooth and nail before paying for any new treatment. We must be completely clear—it’s the public option that is the core of the issue.

This is not just an economic issue, as the president and members of congress would have us believe—it’s a human rights issue. Most civilised nations have government-run healthcare because human health is seen as a basic inalienable right. One of the duties of a government, it is widely believed, is to provide medical treatment to its citizens. This makes perfect sense. Government takes it upon itself to defend the nation from attacks (the military), to maintain order in the streets (police), to put out fires when they occur (fire departments), to educate the youth (public schools), and so on. Why shouldn’t life-saving surgery or medical treatment for illnesses be among the responsibilities a government has to its citizens?

There’s no reason it shouldn’t, and most reasonable people who give it a moment’s thought would agree with this. It’s why in almost every poll I’ve seen, a whopping 75% majority of Americans support a public healthcare option. But you won’t hear the human-rights argument from any politician. Nor you will you hear it from political pundits on TV. And the reason for this is obvious: money.

Politicians have to get re-elected, and to get re-elected they need money. And since average citizens aren’t lining up at their doors to offer campaign contributions, they’ve got to take that money from lobbyists. And one of the most powerful lobbying interests in Washington (second only to the big banks that caused the financial crisis and completely got away with it) is the healthcare industry. They know full well that a public option will completely destroy their industry. If these companies suddenly start having to compete with an entity that will cover pre-existing conditions and won’t deny as many treatments as possible in order to improve the bottom line, they will crumble to the ground.

The very existence of these private health insurance companies is propped up by human suffering and death. Every treatment they deny improves the bottom line. Every patient they let die is money in their coffers. They make all the decisions, and they aren’t answerable to anyone. Nobody can just leave and pick another insurance company because A) they wouldn’t even be given coverage due to a pre-existing condition, and B) the other insurance company has just as much financial incentive to screw them over as their original provider. There is no actual competition in the health insurance industry—every company is in cahoots with one another. It’s basically a mafia, profiting from death and bribing politicians in order to get away with it.

The question now is whether this mafia is more powerful than 75% of the American people. You’d think that with a democratic president and overwhelming democratic majorities in both houses of congress, the democratic issue of health-care reform would have no problem getting passed. Yet even democrats are owned in part by the healthcare mafia, so they’re going to do everything they can do to compromise and water-down this bill just enough to make it seem like real health-care reform when really all it does it let the mafia continue profiting off other people’s misery.

They present the idea of a public option as controversial—something they might have to give up in order to get anything passed. After all, even a watered-down healthcare reform bill is better than no healthcare reform bill, right? Wrong. Any healthcare reform bill that does not include a robust public option is not a healthcare reform bill at all—it’s just more of the same. The public option, which I repeat has 75% popular support, is not a controversial suggestion offered up by the far left and subject to negotiation—it’s the whole goddamn thing! The public option is healthcare reform—it’s the only thing that’s really going to reform anything!

The lives of tens of thousands of American citizens hang in the balance, and they have my sympathies. But I’m more interested in this from the point of view of someone who is really curious as to just how powerless the American citizens really are when it comes to their own government. What is being tested now is not just the resolve of the new president, but the very core of our democracy itself. The whole idea of democracy is self-government, so you would think that if an overwhelming majority, say…75%, of the people want something, their elected representatives would get it done. If the public option gets compromised away in the final draft of the healthcare legislation, that will be all the proof anyone needs that the government does not represent the people, but only the big corporations that supply the money they use to buy the propaganda making the people think they are represented.

As for the president, this will determine whether I’ll continue to tacitly support him or whether I’ll completely turn on him once and for all. His method of always reaching out to the other side and of eternal willingness to compromise may be an enormous virtue on the world stage—and I’m the first to praise him for the fantastic job he’s done so far with regard to international affairs—it’s just not the right approach to take domestically if you want to get anything done. The republicans are weak and impotent right now—there is absolutely no need to compromise away the only actual reform part of healthcare reform bill just to win the support of republicans who you know aren’t going to vote for the bill anyway no matter what form it takes. If Obama caves on this issue it won’t be because of republicans but because of his fellow democrats and their unwillingness to stand up to the healthcare mafia. Obama vowed to take on this mafia when he ran for president. If he acquiesces now he will prove himself to be just another empty-suited fraud masquerading as an agent of change.

Unfortunately, the people are just as much to blame as their government. They could be out in front of the White House and the capital building demonstrating and holding signs and demanding no compromise. They could make their voices heard and show the congressmen that if they do in fact drop the public option, it will not be forgotten and they will not be forgiven. Congress may depend on lobbyist money to finance their campaigns, but they still can’t win elections without actual votes.

But the reason people aren’t out there demonstrating and inundating congressmen with phone-calls is that the media isn’t treating this issue fairly. The mainstream media is of course financed by the healthcare industry (notice how many ads for viagara and other random pharmaceuticals you see during any hour of TV news) so they’re not going to frame the debate the way I and the other bloggers (who call themselves the “free media”) are framing it. Every healthcare discussion I’ve seen on TV, with the exception of the Rachael Maddow show, has been a debate about how to lower costs, and the public option is seen as just one potential—yet allegedly controversial—avenue by which costs can be lowered. Again, the public option is not just one possible aspect of healthcare reform—it’s the whole fucking thing.

Healthcare reform with no public option is not healthcare reform. I want congressmen flooded with calls from people saying just that, and I want that message written on signs carried by demonstrators on Capitol Hill.

In this week’s ABC news special about healthcare, during the Q & A session in which Obama took questions from the audience, one of the people called on was the CEO of Aetna. As though the poor CEO of little-old Aetna isn’t getting enough of a say in this debate, and the big old government is trying to stream-roll him out of business, punishing him for his success. I’m sick and tired of the media treating this issue like this—constantly worrying about how a public option would affect insurance companies.

“But the insurance companies won’t be able to compete with a public option!” they cry. Well, GOOD! That’s the whole point! If the healthcare industry collapses to the ground, I say good fucking riddance! It’s one of the most evil industries every conceived by man: you pay us a huge chunk of what you earn every year, then if you get sick or injured we may or may not help you cover some of the costs. It’s evil and it needs to be completely replaced with a single-payer system. The only feasible avenue toward a single-payer system is through a public option which can eventually grow into single-payer once it drives these evil companies out of business.

The only question that remains is whether Obama will pussy-foot around this issue, concede to the resistance from members of his own party and give up on the public option, thus proving to all Americans (or at least those smart enough to understand the implications) that in a battle between 75% of the population and one evil industry, it’s the evil industry that wins, and our democracy is just as illusory as the people of Iran have just discovered theirs to be.

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