How the Rest of the World Views Us

Aug 17, 2009 at 6:03 pm

A political firestorm has erupted about the Obama Administration’s mixed signals over the weekend on its willingness to eliminate the so-called “public option” from proposed health care reform legislation in Congress.

Once some administration officials began giving indications on the Sunday political chat shows that Obama might discard his calls for a public insurance system to compete with the private sector in order to win Republican votes, many progressive Democrats and grassroots groups began a revolt.—-

If the public option is scuttled, it now appears as though there won’t be enough Democratic votes for any reform bill to pass the House of Representatives. With 435 members in the House, that means 218 votes are needed for passage.

Because it’s highly unlikely that any of the 178 Republican members would vote for the bill no matter what changes are made, that means no more than 38 Democrats can be opposed to still secure passage. But 57 Democrats signed a letter in July stating they wouldn’t vote for a bill unless it contained a public option. If each of those Dems remain true to their word, Congress might be at an impasse.

It’s hard to tell, though, as Obama hasn’t made it clear if he’s ready to abandon the public option.

The public option involves the creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan to compete with private insurance providers. It’s important because it would provide a fallback for people who private companies simply won’t insure. More importantly, it would use economies of scale to negotiate lower prices from physicians and drug companies, providing an incentive for private plans to do the same and finally get serious about eliminating waste and curtailing excessive profit.

Forget all those phony, “Astroturf” Town Hall meetings with the highly manipulated outrage. Sometimes it takes outsiders to give us a clear view of just how bad our current health care system is.

One such sobering account was published Saturday in The Independent, a British newspaper. It detailed how more than 1,500 people — all poor and uninsured or under-insured — recently showed up at a Los Angeles stadium to receive free medical care offered by Remote Area Medical, a charity.

Here’s an excerpt:

Along the hall, Liz Cruise was one of scores of people waiting for a free eye exam. She works for a major supermarket chain but can't afford the $200 a month that would be deducted from her salary for insurance. "It's a simple choice: pay my rent, or pay my healthcare. What am I supposed to do?" she asked. "I'm one of the working poor: people who do work but can't afford healthcare and are ineligible for any free healthcare or assistance. I can't remember the last time I saw a doctor."

Although the Americans spend more on medicine than any nation on earth, there are an estimated 50 million with no health insurance at all. Many of those who have jobs can't afford coverage, and even those with standard policies often find it doesn't cover commonplace procedures. California's unemployed – who rely on Medicaid – had their dental care axed last month.

Most Americans like to think their nation is the best in everything, but it’s clear we’ve lagged behind other industrialized democracies when it comes to health care. Other nations — like Britain, Germany and Japan — spend less for medical care and have better outcomes.

It’s time we fix this national tragedy, and put people before corporate profits.