News cycles are strange these days. More and more it seems the country can only handle one big story at a time, whether the story is of great consequence like the current state of health care reform or of slight passing interest--whether Skip Gates or Officer Crowley overreacted during the police arrest at Gates' home. The latter has all but knocked the former out of the public arena and now that more perspectives have been aired about it than reasonable interpretations of King Lear, maybe it's time we get back to health care because it will likely be the defining issue of the Obama administration, and the outcome of the health care debate will impact all of us.
Of course, America has heard lots about it in previous weeks. The AMA, the AARP, and even Harry and Louise have weighed in in support of it, and the GOP, right wing talk radio, and most Fox News pundits have come out against it. Bill O'Reilly, after hearing Obama's news conference, said after all that explanation, he still didn't understand how it would work, and there's no doubt that the bill is becoming more and more complex as more committees, individuals, and interest groups offer input on it. (The latest wrinkle is that the Senate committee working on the bill substituted "a network of non-profit associations" for the public option provision.)
Complexity, you may recall, is what sank the Clinton bill, as Harry and Louise told us time and time again when they were on the other side. You can be sure we'll hear more in the next several weeks about how people don't understand how this bill will work, how it will be paid for, whose taxes will be raised, how many of the uninsured it will cover, and most importantly, the simple nuts and bolts question of how it will differ from what we have now?
There is, of course a simple solution to doing away with the complexity and contortions that make the bill that is currently moving (like particularly thickened molasses) through Congress so unpalatable to many. The bill can be pared down to a single clearly understandable sentence, with the details worked out once agreement on the single sentence is reached. The sentence is: "The Medicare Program shall be extended to cover all American citizens from birth (or the attainment of citizenship) until death."
Such a sentence is certainly not complex, completely understandable, and really the only sort of health care reform that would truly change and greatly improve the system. It would make health care a basic right for all of us, put patients before profit, and bring the US into alignment with most of the civilized countries of the world who understand that there are moral issues involved here. You don't create a system that profits on and exploits sick people. You don't deny care to the ill and the infirm just because they don't have the money to pay for it. On the website (http://pnhp.org) for the Physicians for a National Health Program (yes, there is such an organization and 14,000 physicians belong to it but the national media has not taken the time to notice it) there is a quotation from Dr. David Scheiner, who is identified as a Chicago Internist who has been the "longtime personal physician to President Obama." It reads, "In my many years of practice, Medicare has rarely if ever restricted my caring for patients. Private insurance does it all the time." More and more doctors themselves have been joining patients in their complaints about the limitations of the private insurance system. The right keeps using the word "bureaucrat" to frighten people about a government health care takeover, but it's much less effective than it used to be. "Do you want a (choose one, a. bureaucrat, b. corporate insurance executive) to get involved in health care decisions that should be between you and your doctor? The status quo is b, and like Dr. Scheiner, many people are unhappy with it.
There has been far too much discussion of the costs of health care and not nearly enough about the morality of it. Do we, as a society, have a moral obligation to care for one another? If I said "family" instead of "society" almost everyone would agree.
But families don't have the resources society as a whole has. The question we need to ask is "Is it morally right for an insurance company to deny care to someone ill in order to boost its profits?" This happens every day in America and the time has come to answer the question with a resounding NO. Of course, insurance companies are in business to make profits, so the immorality lies not so much in the insurance company's actions, but in the fact that we treat medical care as a "for profit" business in this country. As a nation, we need to face the fact that is immoral, wrong, criminal, and, not to mention, inefficient, to take advantage of suffering people by making as much money as you can from them.
The two roads that lead to the future of health care in America are diverging, and if Americans truly want to change and humanize the health care system, we need to take, as the poet said, "the one less travelled by." That is, the road of putting patients first and profits second. And that simple solution to the health care problem will make all the difference.