It's entertaining in a morbid sort of way to listen to syndicated radio host andFox News personality Sean Hannity discuss the supposed dangers of government-funded health care. That's because the loquacious Mr. Hannity's remarks in defense of privatized health care reveal just how strained the conservative argument has become on the topic.
When Michael Moore's film, SiCKO, opened this past summer, Hannity denounced it in a special televised segment as an “anti-American diatribe” produced by a “pathetic propagandist.” The media host has been talking Moore and health care ever since. It's been a particularly disingenuous few months as a result, even for someone whose penchant for political deceit is set on autopilot.
Hannity claims “all the Democratic candidates want to nationalize health care,” for example. Apparently, any vision of a more closely regulated insurance industry, or a public mandate to purchase health insurance as Hillary Clinton proposes, is for this stalwart of the right-wing junk media just another form of “socialized medicine.” This is one of those C-minus opinions a student earns in high school civics if they're lucky enough to have a kind-hearted teacher. It's typical of the level of discourse that passes for debate in today's media. With Hannity at the charge, the right-wing media seeks to demonize any Democrat with the chance to win the party nomination as some sort of reckless ultra-liberal radical. The private health care lobby knows better, of course, which is why Clinton's support for incremental reform has made her a top recipient of campaign donations from hospitals, drug manufacturers, and insurers.
As for the growing ranks of uninsured Americans, Hannity wants us not to worry. This group includes many individuals who are without insurance only temporarily, he says, such as those between jobs. It is true that 45 to 55 percent of the non-elderly uninsured are without health insurance for less than 4 months, according to the Congressional Budget office. But this is hardly an argument that the current system is in good shape. The fact that millions routinely lack insurance even temporarily is itself a testament to the built-in disorder that characterizes the current system. Still, 26.1 million people were uninsured throughout 2004-2005. Two-thirds of this group, or 17.4 million people, were also uninsured throughout 2002-2003. Is there any modern country in the world where the fact that millions go without health insurance for years at a time is considered a credible defense of the existing system?
Ludicrously, Hannity also claims access to care for uninsured individuals is another non-issue. Anyone can always go to an emergency room, he says, regardless of whether they have insurance. It's an ironic argument for the talk show host to make, nationalized health care implications and all. It apparently never occurs to this “free-market” ideologue that people worried about money delay even trips to the emergency room, let alone routine checkups (they also still get a bill in the mail). In fact, uninsured adults are more likely to forgo screening for cancer or heart disease, as the Journal of the American Medical Association reports, or present with more serious symptoms when they do seek medical treatment. But how do you notice such realities when you're endlessly proclaiming the extreme happiness and serenity to be found at the altar of the free-market?
Today, insurance premiums today cost 87 percent more than they did in 2001. For a family of four this translates into $12,000 a year to buy health insurance. Indeed, higher deductibles and co-pays and more limits on what is covered have been the trend in insurance products for years. Is it any wonder that more than 8 million people earning between $50,000 and $75,000 went without health insurance in 2005? For some middle-class adults, it can make sense to use the money they would spend on monthly premiums instead for routine out-of-pocket health expenses. This may be especially true if they are regular users of mental health services or alternative medicine such as acupuncture, which most insurance covers only stingily.
The attacks of Hannity and others on the specter of “socialized medicine” might be persuasive to the few for whom the issue of affordable health care is not a personal concern. Considering that the Fox News host earns a six-figure monthly income, rest assured that affordable health care is not high on his list of pressing family concerns. But isn't this the problem with the health care debate? How many of the major voices opposing a single-payer national health care system actually lack health insurance? How many of our political leaders or talk media zealots who pontificate about the sanctity of “market-based solutions” have ever cut back on groceries to pay their monthly health insurance premiums?
A CNN poll earlier this year found 64 percent of Americans thought it was the responsibility of the federal government to make sure the public has health coverage. Unfortunately, even the leading Democratic candidates favor keeping the insurance industry in the health-care loop. But this loop has become a noose hold for strangling the potential of the U.S. health care system. Paying for health care through competing private insurers, no matter how regulated, is just a bad system.
If the local fire department belongs to the community, as Michael Moore asks in SiCKO, then why shouldn't the local hospital? It's a great question.