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Time To Get Healthcare Reform Right

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Over the past month or so President Barack Obama's healthcare reform push has come under heavy fire from the political right and their allies in the Congress. Jaded Republican pundits and their talking heads and timid Democrats have castigated the president in typical cadences calling him a tax and big spending liberal Democrat who is going to bankrupt the nation. Without taking the time to examine the pros and cons of the Obama health plan his political detractors have rejected it out of hand simply to score political points -- the pastime of an intellectually lazy cabal of blow-hards fast becoming irrelevant to the national debate.

In the most glaring attempts to retake and control the national debate, the Republican ultra-right has launched a bitter, scurrilous and sustained offensive trying to prove that President Barack Obama was not born in America and therefore, is in the White House illegally. Leading the charge is CNN's Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and the famed country singer Pat Boone who are now challenging the president to make public his birth certificate. Contrast that with the indisputable fact that Senator John McCain was born on a US base in Panama and you start to see the glaring double standard.

For Lou Dobbs the thing is simple: all Black people are seen through his jaundiced eyes of "illegal aliens." So it's no quantum leap for him to see even America's first Black president through his racially tinged, DNA plantation predisposition lens of "illegal aliens" a term that conjures up images of green people with bulbous heads and protruding eyes from Mars or elsewhere in the universe.

But no matter what is being said about healthcare reform, one thing is important: the national healthcare system is broken. It needs fixing. As many as 50 million people are without health insurance today, and the large pharmaceuticals are sucking the insured consumers dry. For those like Dobbs, et al. who can afford to buy health insurance or have it paid for by their companies, bashing those who cannot afford it is a safe and cowardly pastime. Painting a well-meaning, caring president as a Lone Ranger on healthcare reform is just so much hot air.

So let us examine the Obama healthcare reform plan and its pros and cons.

In the Obama healthcare lexicon, "Government healthcare" refers to government funding of healthcare services via direct payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers. In U.S. government healthcare, doctors, hospitals and other medical professionals are not employed by the government. Instead, they provide medical and health services, as normal, and are reimbursed by the government, just as insurance companies reimburse them for services. The Obama plan would simplify the process and so cut out the unnecessary bureaucracy, waste and corruption that presently plague the system.

In spite of its critics and others who would want to dismantle the system, an example of a successful U.S. government healthcare program is Medicare, established in 1965 to provide health insurance for people aged 65 and over, or who meet other criteria such as disability. At present the United States is the ONLY industrialized country in the world, democratic or undemocratic, that does not provide universal healthcare for its citizens.

While the healthcare debate rages on in Congress and the media, the fact is that, with 50 million people uninsured, the healthcare system is being placed under more and more strain. When people without insurance use hospital emergency rooms across the nation as walk-in clinics, there are costs that are involved and are defrayed (passed on) to the insured and taxpayer. This is one of the reasons for higher insurance rates and escalating cost of care at hospitals private and public alike. And federal reimbursement rates for services provided by hospitals are a percentage of the dollar and not exact amounts.

The hospitals must therefore find the shortfall somewhere to make up the deficit. What this usually means is that services are cut and quality of care reduced. With limited resources cash-strapped and overwhelmed hospitals like Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn that saw more than 60,000 walk-ins in 2008, cannot employ or attract the best and brightest in the medical professions because they cannot afford to pay them. This also contributes to a lowering of the quality of care.

There is a cost to the care; it's not free. Further compounding the situation, private company insurers have proven inefficient and ineffective in controlling costs and, as a result, actively work to exclude healthcare coverage whenever possible. The end result is that all healthcare coverage, except for some low-income children and those covered by Medicare, is now provided only by insurance companies and other private-sector corporations.

This healthcare monopoly has further corrupted the system with insurers cherry picking the best people to insure, and rejecting those with pre-existing conditions. Ezra Klein writing in the Washington Post recently put it this way: "The private insurance market is a mess. It's supposed to cover the sick and instead competes to insure the well. It employs platoons of adjusters whose sole job is to get out of paying for needed health care services that members thought were covered."

Below are the consequences of this systemic abuse.

· Over a third of families living below the poverty line are uninsured. Hispanic Americans are more than twice as likely to be uninsured as white Americans while 21% of Black Americans have no health insurance.

· More than 9 million children lack health insurance in America.

· 18,000 people die each year because they are uninsured.

The conclusion is that the current system is increasingly inaccessible to many poor and lower-middle-class people. Those lucky enough to have coverage are paying steadily more and/or are receiving steadily fewer benefits. President Obama has voiced support for universal healthcare coverage for all Americans which would be provided by selecting among various coverage options, including an option for government-funded healthcare (aka a public plan option or public option).

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MICHAEL D. ROBERTS is a top Political Strategist and Business, Management and Communications Specialist in New York City's Black community. He is an experienced writer whose specialty is socio-political and economic analysis and local (more...)
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