Thursday, January 06, 2011

Not the Best Health-Care System

A few minutes ago, I happened to catch a few minutes of news coverage from the U.S. House of Representatives. Members of Congress were taking turns reading from the U.S. Constitution. This was the first time in history, the newscasters informed us, that the entire Constitution has been read aloud on the floor of Congress.

It took me back to my old Sunday School days. Our teacher used to ask us kids to take turns reading through a passage of scripture aloud, with each person reading a single verse.

Have we come to this? I know remarks have been made about the Tea Party movement treating the U.S. Constitution as a fundamentalist might treat the King James Version of the Bible, but when I saw it in action just now, the effect was chilling. John Calvin called the human race "a perpetual factory of idols." It would seem we've found ourselves a new one.

The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable historical achievement, and a model for democracies the world over. It is worthy of our respect and honor. But, to treat it as holy writ? I think there's a reason why this is the first time in history this stunt has ever been pulled: because previous generations - including the framers of the Constitution themselves - had better sense. I can imagine Ben Franklin rolling over in his grave right about now.

One commentator has estimated the cost to taxpayers of this little publicity stunt at $1.1 million.

Let's see, now... what does this story remind me of? Could it be when, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra the scribe reads the law to the people of Israel, freshly returned from exile to a ruined Jerusalem? Isn't it just a wee bit of hyperbole to imply that a mid-term change of party leadership in one of the two houses of Congress is a parallel situation of nationwide repentance from apostasy?

"And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, 'This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.' For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law." (Nehemiah 8:8)

Oh, pull-eaze!

What really concerned me, though, was to hear the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, lambasting the recently-enacted healthcare reform legislation and vowing to repeal it. I don't recall him ever mentioning the words "healthcare reform" without prefixing it with "job-killing." I lost track of the number of times he said "job-killing healthcare reform."

Is that all they've got? Just take their talking-point and repeat it again and again, ad nauseam? I don't recall potential loss of jobs being a major debating point when the legislation was first passed. Why didn't the opposition make a point of it the first time? Even if a significant number of jobs were to be lost because of this legislation - seriously doubtful, but let's grant the point for a moment - is preserving a modest number of jobs worth it, if most of working America continues to be just one medical crisis away from destitution?

Come to think about it, in making the job-loss argument, isn't Mr. Boehner conceding that the healthcare-reform legislation is, in fact, creating a system that's more cost-efficient than the one we've presently got? Wouldn't the elimination of a limited number of administrative-support jobs be, sadly, necessary, in order to accomplish the financial efficiencies that everyone agrees must be the goal if healthcare is to become affordable again?

Mr. Boehner, by the way, is the same man who, in the midst of a debate on tobacco-growers' subsidies in 1995, personally distributed campaign-contribution checks from tobacco lobbyists to his fellow members of Congress on the House floor.

Yes, he did. On the House floor. (He later apologized for it, explaining that it wasn't technically against House rules, then led a campaign to reform the House rules to prohibit what he'd just done. To protect the country from people like himself, I suppose.)

Mr. Boehner went on to repeat another phrase endlessly: "the best healthcare system in the world" - as in "they are trying to take down the best healthcare system in the world."

Mr. Boehner can be admired, perhaps, for his patriotism, but it's blind patriotism when it ignores the facts. The last time the World Health Organization published a healthcare-ratings table of the nations of the world, in 2000, the United States ranked 37th. France was number 1 - something even the conservative magazine Business Week admitted, in 2007, is a pretty impressive achievement.

In claiming the U.S. healthcare SYSTEM is the world's best, our new Speaker of the House is at best mistaken, and at worst engaging in a baldfaced lie. Yes, the healthcare available to certain people in the United States, and to certain well-heeled foreign nationals who fly here for treatment, is among the world's best. Yes, our nation is at the forefront of medical research. But our healthcare system - the overall structure whereby healthcare is delivered to the citizenry at large - is costly, inefficient and just plain broken for huge numbers of sick people. Worst of all, the sicker you get, the more you pay.

(That, by the way, is one thing the author of the Business Week article cited above admires about the French system. In France, the sicker you get, the less you pay.)

I don't seriously think this move to repeal last fall's landmark healthcare bill will succeed. There are still enough votes in the Senate to protect it. Contrary to the anti-healthcare talking-points, a huge majority of the American people still favor it. This is mere political posturing, just as reading the Constitution aloud on the floor of the House is political posturing.

Yet, those of us who are concerned for the health of all Americans - not just the holders of Cadillac medical-insurance policies like members of Congress - ought not to be complacent. This move is a major threat to the health, happiness and survival of millions of hardworking people. It seeks to perpetuate a corrupt system whereby big-business interests siphon off billions of dollars in profits, while poor and middle-income people die unnecessary deaths.

Remember, this is the man who once handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists on the House floor. That shows whose side he's really on.

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