Opinion

OUR CORNER: Time for a checkup on health reform

If it’s the season for good will toward mankind the country did not see compassion from 40 percent of the Senate, but despite the fiercest opposition the most significant social legislation in decades cleared the final Senate test early on Christmas Eve morning.

It is premature to declare the bill passed since it must now go to the House of Representatives, which has its own version. The two legislative bodies face the daunting task of agreeing on such divisive issues as a public option and whether abortion coverage should be separate from federal subsidies. The margin for alteration is literally non-existent. With 58 democrats and two independents in the Senate currently in favor and 40 republicans opposed, the country cannot afford for the bill to change in a way which would cause someone in favor to change their vote. It’s likely a compromise between the two will be reached. Compromise is a theme of the battle to pass health care reform. Holdouts like Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) threatened to derail the bill with their respective opposition to a public option and abortion funding, but they now support it after revisions to the bill.

Having followed the issue closely for more than a year I’ve been surprised, humored, shocked and even confused.

Beginning with the confusion, I still have no idea why some protestors held signs featuring an image of Heath Ledger’s Joker makeup over a picture of President Obama’s face. I am slightly less confused by the pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache. My guess is the people who throw around the socialist claim are doing this to compare Obama to history’s worst leader of such a regime, although I find it difficult to believe anyone with such a poster in hand has such an educated grasp on history as to know the Nazis were in fact, a socialist party.

Using socialism as a scare tactic amuses me, and politicians mentioning “Europeanization” as if it’s supposed to sound threatening is even funnier. Yes, I know there are such “third world” countries as France, England and Sweden in Europe, but they seem to be managing quite well.

Outside Europe, other countries manage to thrive with socialized medicine. I recently travelled to Vancouver, British Columbia to see Lady Gaga (shameless plug) and while there, spoke with a Canadian about the effectiveness of the country’s health care system. What I found in this admittedly unscientific study was they are content with the health system, but see room for improvements.

People who fear governments who prioritize health will be glad to know in spite of its political structure, Canada treated me very well and I made it home safely and without incident from the country’s oppressive socialist regime.

Surprise has come from just how misinformed and uneducated the public is. The most absurd and laughably tragic outburst I recall from the summer’s town hall meetings was the demand from someone for officials to “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

It was around this time hysteria among certain groups reached cinematic proportions, fueled by ludicrous accusations, none more offensive and false, perhaps, than Sarah Palin’s claim of Obama setting up “death panels” to determine who is fit to live.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a staunch opponent of benevolent legislation added to this by telling his constituents they were right to fear the bill for establishing a government-run program which would “decide when to pull the plug on Grandma.”

His explanation on “Face the Nation” for why he said this was as egregious as the statement itself.

“I let my constituents set the agenda. A person that asked me that question was reading from language that they got off of the Internet. It scared my constituents,” he said.

It’s disconcerting to think the statements of politicians are influenced by whatever nonsense can be posted online.

A combination of surprise and shock came from the variety of attacks against the legislation, which ranged from political to the theological, with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) saying, “What the American people should pray is that somebody can’t make the vote.”

The Senate bill would create at least two new national health insurance plans similar to those offered to federal workers, including members of Congress, and overseen by a federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management. At least one of those new plans would have to operate on a nonprofit basis. Health insurance companies could no longer deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican leader attempted to scare people into opposing the bill based on the number of pages it contains. Stacking the pages on top of one another next to him in the Senate, he lamented how massive it was and how many pages it contained. In his defense, scaring people with the threat of pages and words makes sense to him since his represented state of Kentucky ranks below 48 other states in literacy, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Arguments against the bill or against the tactics of supporters were tired, flawed, obvious, and flew in the face of facts and official reports.

After the Congressional Budget Office determined the bill would not only be paid for through taxes and fees, but would decrease the deficit, opponents continued to reiterate it would add to the debt.

After the AARP gave the bill an official endorsement, opponents continued to say the bill would harm seniors.

Even the endorsement from the American Medical Association could not persuade opponents to drop their campaign against the bill.

There was at least one report from an organization which stated health reform was not a positive achievement.

A report released in October by the health insurance lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, which stated premiums would rise more if reform were to pass. The report was deeply flawed and was given a proper lashing on opinion pages of newspapers including The New York Times. President Obama spoke out against the misrepresentation in the report and PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was hired by AHIP to do the analysis, wrote in their report the conclusions drawn do not include the subsidies provided in the bill or any other cost-lowering measures.

At some point common sense needs to trump hysteria and people must realize if one of few reports opposing the health care measure comes from an ally of the health insurance industry, the bill is beneficial to consumers. Does anyone else remember when tobacco executives testified under oath, stating they believed nicotine is not addictive?

There are two who although opposed the bill, earned my respect.

In October Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted for the bill to move out of the finance committee proceedings and enter Senate debate. This was a rare and welcome reach across the aisle and while there were enough votes for the bill to proceed without her support, it is a bipartisan approach to the issue which deserves commendation.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) deserves praise for his honesty even while trying to defeat health care reform.

“Our Democratic friends are about to walk off a political cliff here,” Sen. Graham said. “Do we really want to change one-sixth of the economy without a single Republican vote?”

While others hid behind flimsy facades and excuses for not supporting the bill, including statements about the bill not doing enough in the way of reform, or about the bill being rushed though and in need of a less pressured debate, even after the blockage efforts, Sen. Graham had the courage to admit he, like others, views health less as a right to people, but more as a business.

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