Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Reviewing the Health Care Reform Debate

By Levi Asher on Sunday, March 21, 2010 07:12 pm

I can't focus on the New York Times Book Review on a historic weekend like this one.

I am glad the health care reform bill has passed, for the following simple reasons:

• The insurance industry is as rotten as every other sector of high finance, and needs reform badly.
• Health insurance is ridiculously expensive.
• I'm not worried about socialism, Marxism or Maoism in America. I believe the most dangerous 'ism' in American government is militarism.
• I find it hard to believe Republicans are suddenly worried about deficit spending when they didn't mind spending a trillion dollars to let George W. Bush play war hero in Iraq. (See above, "the most dangerous 'ism' in America is militarism").

I'm definitely caught up in the political "game" right now, but I would like to take a moment to rise above my partisan point of view and look critically at the whole process that is about to culminate in Barack Obama's signing of the bill, a process that began the day Barack Obama got elected in November 2008.

Instead of reviewing the Book Review today, let's review the health care debate. I'd like to talk about seven different politicians and journalists who played a big role in the public discussion of health care reform, and examine how each of them performed. I'd also like to hear (in the comments) what you think.

Two television journalists closely embodied the partisan points of view in this yearlong public discussion: Rachel Maddow of MSNBC on the pro-bill side and Glenn Beck of Fox News on the anti-bill side. Both of these energetic television personalities are still fresh faces on the news scene -- a new generation filling the roles that Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly played during the Bush administration.

I always love Rachel Maddow, but I was very disappointed that her coverage of the health care battle never focused on the real villains in the story: the corrupt financial executives and wizards (it's the same crowd, basically, that crashed the banking economy two years ago) who have turned health insurance into a cash machine while denying coverage to the people who need it most. Where, Rachel, was the investigative reporting on insurance company practices? Rachel Maddow wields sharp weapons, but all too often in the past year her villains were Republican politicians (from Alaska and elsewhere) and Fox News journalists. By reacting so often to Republican/conservative provocations, she allowed the bill's opposition to play offense while her news show played defense. In general, MSNBC (as, let's face it, the "liberal cable network") missed a big opportunity to get the American public enraged about the real obscenities of our current health care system.

Over at the "conservative cable network", Glenn Beck entertained America night after night. If Rachel Maddow was playing defense, this is the guy who was constantly moving the ball (when he could wrest it from Sarah Palin's hands, at least). I disagree with just about everything Glenn Beck stands for, but I was impressed by the way he defined and dominated the public debate about health care, getting himself on the news every night and getting other news shows to spend their time talking about him (see above, Rachel Maddow). This shows how clever Glenn Beck really is, and I wish my fellow liberals would stop playing into his game by mistaking him for a clown. He's no clown. Glenn Beck's whole trick is this: he's smarter than he looks.

Paul Krugman recently compared Glenn Beck to Abbie Hoffman, and this comparison is exactly right. Like Abbie Hoffman, Beck uses street theater techniques to get attention, and he knows how to disarm opponents with indirect humor. Glenn Beck also knows quite a bit about history, and in fact I wish there were any liberal news anchor who would spend so much time discussing, say, the legacy of Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, or why Woodrow Wilson couldn't get Congress to approve membership in the League of Nations.

Even though I'm a "progressive" (Glenn shudders with fear), I have to admit that I watched Glenn Beck's show more than any other this year when I wanted to get a quick pulse on the health care debate. Often, Glenn Beck was the pulse. In the end, he got his ass kicked (and he looked terrible on this Friday's show, once it finally sunk in that Obamacare was going to pass). And I enjoyed watching him get his ass kicked. But let's give it up to him for being the scrappiest player on the field.

Next, the chief politicians: Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid championing the bill through the House and the Senate, and John Boehner and Mitch McConnell running the opposition in these chambers. My favorite of the four is Nancy Pelosi, who appears to have been a bar of steel through this whole debate. I don't understand why people speak the name "Nancy Pelosi" as if it were an insult. Does it have something to do with her being a woman? I think we'll be seeing statues of Nancy Pelosi in Washington DC in the future, so I wish her contemporaries would treat this very skilled and determined Speaker of the House with more respect.

As far as popular appeal goes, all four of the chamber chiefs lack charisma. Is that a requirement for the job? John Boehner is always crabby and has an absurd fluorescent tan (can it really be that sunny in Ohio?). Mitch McConnell has all the charm of an insurance accountant (hmmm ...). Harry Reid occasionally tries to crack a joke before thinking better of it (but we wish the Reid family the very best since his wife and daughter were injured in a car accident last week, and we hope they're recovering well).

In summary judgement, I found Pelosi and Reid's performances to be perfect (I'd feel differently, of course, if they hadn't prevailed). And I wouldn't buy a used car from John Boehner on a prayer.

Finally, I am impressed as hell by Mr. Barack Obama (who, to be fair, I've always liked). Obama's most brilliant moment in this long process came a month ago, after the Scott Brown election doomed his Senate vote. Obama waited a couple of weeks before formulating his next move, then called for a health care summit meeting, forcing John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the other opponents to come and sit in a room together and talk in the same language to the American people on TV. The self-control, patience and generosity Barack Obama exhibited on that day reassured the American people about his leadership and his principles. It's hilarious that some of the coverage after that summit claimed it hadn't been a win for Obama. It was the first play of the final drive.

This must be the most praise I have ever given an American president: at one or two moments during the last few weeks, Barack Obama's generosity and graciousness towards his opponents reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi. That's about the highest praise I could ever give anybody.

It's because I admire this President so much that I took a day off from work on Friday to catch him in person at the last health care bill reform rally, in Fairfax, Virginia. Thousands of us gathered in a basketball stadium on a college campus. I saw a few college students and people of all ages protesting against Obama and I saw many, many more college students and people of all ages eager to support him. He delivered an exciting speech.

It's not hard to judge this year-long debate. At many points, it seemed like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid would lose, and the opposition put up a hell of a spirited fight. I think they lied and exaggerated a bit, but this isn't the first time that's happened in Washington DC. I hope we all learned something from this long debate.

And now I think we're all going to gradually start getting some better health care at more reasonable rates, and I'm looking forward to that. What do you all think about the bill that is about to pass? Please post a comment and let's talk about it.


This article is part of the Reviewing the New York Times Book Review series. The next post in the series is Reviewing the Review: March 28 2010. The previous post in the series is Reviewing the Review: March 14 2010.


52 Responses to "Reviewing the Health Care Reform Debate"

by George on

All well said. And you'd convince me if I weren't convinced. And Canadian.

by mtmynd on

Good report, Levi. However, I thought you were far too generous and nice to the Republicans you mentioned. IMPO, I've never disliked the GOP as much as I have since Obama took office. They have collectively been a gang of liars and thieves who have never given either Obama or the Democrats one positive word... at a time when Obama has inherited the worst economy the country has ever seen since the Great Depression which he had very little if anything to do with.

You mention Glenn Beck... I despise him and his lies and hatred he spews regarding our President and the Dems. Beck and the other right wing talking heads (Rush and Hannity), I feel have done more to divide this Nation than the Republican Party could ever hope to do. (I would like to see a chart or any other evidence showing how the divide began growing since Limbaugh began his national show in 1988 on WABC, NY. I believe one would see a direct parallel between his extremism and that of the Conservative movement nationwide).

I haven't been thrilled with the Dems and their inability to stand up against the Republican attacks, but when this Health Bill is signed into law by Obama I will finally congratulate them for standing together to pull this bill off.

But as happy as we are, we should not underestimate the Republican Party and their nasty ways. They could do virtually anything they think they could get away with to overturn the success of this bill, and I have no doubt they would. I simply do not trust them given the outright deceptions and lies they have churned out for the past 16 months.

by danf on

Agree with mtmynd. The Republicans have no principles, no ideology. They are the paid spokesmen of the banks, health insurance companies, and other big interests. Nothing more. They will stop at nothing to earn their money, and they know a lot about the American people -- for instance, that old, tired emotional triggers like 'government takeover,' 'socialism,' etc., will hook the rubes every time.

I hope that this great win for the average person will make Obama a force to be reckoned with, and ensure his place in history as one of the great presidents.

Levi, this is finally a win for the people, not the banks, not the corporations, and certainly not for the party of no. Now if big O can get American back to work again we can all breath more freely. If Woody Guthrie were alive today he would have written a hell of a song. Maybe Arlo could come up with one.

by Levi Asher on

I can't agree that Republicans have no principles or ideology, and I don't think it's fair or helpful to characterize them as inherently dishonest or "nasty". As a liberal supporting health care reform, I have often impulsively felt the same way. But, as a rule, I never let myself stop there.

Instead, I talk to the (several) people among my friends and in my family (and my wife's family) who are principled conservatives, and I try to understand where they're coming from. I try to conduct friendly but serious debates with friends and relatives who disagree with me, and this has been extremely helpful in widening my perspective. One thing I know for sure: Republicans and conservatives who oppose health care reform and oppose the Obama administration are not stupid, nor dishonest, nor ignorant of history. They have strong principles that make sense in their own context, just as progressive liberals like me have strong principles that make sense in our own context.

My 10,000 foot view of the whole political landscape is that the military and economic horrors of the last couple of centuries -- the frightening advent of mass-produced violence and world war in the age of technology, the incredible human crimes committed in the name of fascism, communism, capitalist imperialism, fundamentalism and terrorism -- make it very difficult for us to trust in the power of rational debate and discussion. And yet, rational debate and discussion are the only tools available to help us (nations, governments, societies) solve our problems in positive and humane ways. The first step, no matter which side of an argument you are on, is to treat the opposing side with respect. Even when they don't appear to deserve it -- treat the opposing side with respect. This, I believe, was the essence of Gandhi's political method as well.

Good Morning Levi,

I am convinced that a large amount of racism, intolerance and selfishness has played a role in our national debate. Nobody can convince me that the "haves" don't want to give an inch for fear of having less.

Is the core of capitalism as deranged, white, dangerously out of control and as corrupt as it appears?

Why yes it is! It is all about the distribution of wealth in one direction.

Further, I am pessimistic that corporate endowed charities are 100% for good. If there wasn't a tax incentive, I don't believe charity would enter their collective heads.

Yesterday's vote is exactly what people voted for last year... Change. It isn't easy, but the president will possibly become my lifetime hero.

Is this a good moment to mention that when Cooperative Village was published I sent Nancy Pelosi an inscribed copy of the novel with the wish that it would make her laugh and that the (extremity of the) laughter would further embolden her. I am looking at her thank you note to me on Speaker's stationery with the raised gold seal, dated July 27, 2007. Her note is instructive. After some preliminaries she thanked me for my thoughtfulness in sending it to her. Thoughtfulness.

Sometimes wishes do come true.

by Steve on

The problem with health care isn't health care, it's the insurance companies. They are the root of all the medical care problems in this country.

Believe it or not, the solution is very simple: make all insurance companies non-profits.

I know some people will rant and rave about that idea, but think about it. Making them non-profits cuts out all (ok most) of the corruption and it keeps health care costs down. Take a look at Japan's national health insurance/health care system. All the insurance companies are non-profits and it seems to be working great for them. Not saying it's perfect, but a hell of a lot better than here! People who work for the insurance companies there still get their salaries (minues the gazillion dollar bonuses) and procedures like MRIs only cost about $80 compared to $300+ here in the US. And in Japan, profits go right back into the system, not the executives pockets.

Oh, and the Japanese insurance companies don't waste their money hiring people for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year whose sole job description is to find a WAY OUT of paying the doctor bills so the customers get stuck with them. That kind of mentality doesn't even exist with their insurance system.

IMHO, there is something seriously wrong with a government that allows health insurance companies to dictate health care based on bottom lines/profit and NOT on the general well-being of the populace.

Call me naive. Health insurance companies in this country make me sick. There should be a revolution just on this issue alone!

Nonprofit status is no guarantee of just executive compensation. Check out the annual IRS forms non-profits (hospitals and home health care agencies, for instance) are required to make public, on Guidestar for example. Look at both salaries and deferred comp, which is where they hide the really huge payoffs. It will also make you sick.

by Levi Asher on

That's cool about Nancy Pelosi, Frances!

I agree with Steve about the need for strong mechanisms such as non-profits (or, of course, a good ol' public option or single payer system) to make the system work. I do trust that these will be put into place, and yeah, I wish they were there now. And I also agree with Frances that "non-profit" can be a subterfuge. The non-profit agencies that help people pay off their credit card debt, for instance, are really fronts for the credit card companies themselves -- that's not to say they aren't useful to consumers in some cases, but they were created to help credit card companies collect their money.

Viva la parenthesis! (And as someone who worked at a billion dollar home health care agency as a direct report to the CEO, with a dotted line to the VP of Legal and Government Affairs, I'm available to offer expert testimony when the public hearings on same are called. Or, you could just read Cooperative Village for a rather bracing critique, if I do say so myself.)

by C. Godot on

Yes, the insurance industry needs reform. No, this law does not accomplish any of the serious reforms needed (such as an option for people who cannot afford private health care). Yes, the law makes some minimal attempts to regulate costs - but no, those don't kick in until 2014, and even then will be based on the rates insurance companies have set with other plans. (Notice how every insurance company raised premiums by over 30% in the last six months?) Yes, the law will establish a "marketplace" for people to "shop around" for an "affordable plan." No, there is no system that will fairly assess what is "affordable" to each person; instead there will be "affordable" plans; if you cannot afford one, you cannot get one. No, there is no "public option" for people who cannot afford an "affordable" plan, but YES, the law does make it ILLEGAL for you not to have insurance, and further makes the crime of not having insurance a tax crime that the IRS will enforce. So, in effect, what the oh-so-concerned for the poor Democratic party has passed is a law that guarantees more Americans will buy private insurance, and further guarantees even more victimization and criminalization of the poor.

Here's the challenge I put to everyone who says they support this bill: How do you justify passing a law which makes a criminal out of a person who is too poor to afford insurance?

It's deeply depressing how not only the media failed to cover so many aspects of this (including the criminal behavior of insurance companies throughout history), but what is also deeply depressing is how so many uncritically bought into this plan; the vast majority of the people who supported this plan, as it was whittled down from "good idea" to "yet more atrocious anti-poor legislation," seemed merely to do so because of the fear engendered by Democratic Cassandras - the claim that "it will be generations before we can have this debate again" is a false claim, and if true would also suggest that we can't revisit and tinker with this law for a generation. The oft repeated scare message noting "millions will die" is ridiculous - millions will still die under this plan, and they'll die with a criminal charge of not having insurance (and a fine will be assessed on their heirs). You may as well force people to buy Volvos because "millions will die" in cars less safe.

No, the only thing that anyone actually gains from this: Democratic politicians now have a feather in their cap that uncritical citizens will see as a victory for themselves, while those same fathered Democrats take more and more money from insurance companies. And now, when your rates go up, when your plan gets altered, or when you get kicked off the rolls, you'll have nowhere to go - no public option: you'll have no choice but to buy private insurance, at rates set as "affordable" by private insurance companies; and if you refuse, the entire might of the US government is on you. Meanwhile, insurance company profits go up, and lobbyists have more money to throw around DC and make sure this law (which everyone in favor of it admits is not great) stays crappy.

Congratulations, Democrats. You've sold out the poor in order to stroke your own political egos. Now there really is no difference between you and the Republicans.

by mtmynd on

Re: "I can't agree that Republicans have no principles or ideology, and I don't think it's fair or helpful to characterize them as inherently dishonest or "nasty'"

Sorry, Levi, you can't convince me with that line. What I have seen and heard in the political world prior to Obama's election and since is a Republican Party completely unhinged and desperate to regain control at any cost. They have sent out negative messages to strike fear in the populace. The GOP leadership bows to the words of Rush Limbaugh and is even known to 'encourage' their underlings to apologize to this man for saying something that differs from the party line. This is mostly the same GOP leadership that never once said no to anything G.W. Bush wanted and Bush in turn gave the Republican Congress anything they asked for. This is the same Party that swears large government is evil and will do anything to reduce the power of the government to the point of wiping out the U.S. Treasury without a whimper of sorrow or even a "thank you, America" for enriching the already excessive wealth of the 1%'ers who are the actual leadership of the GOP (Greed Over Principle). This is the same Group of Pirates (GoP) who spent the money we Americans paid our government to pay the bills, not pay the thieves and borrow from China.

If your friends and family are indeed Republicans, please ask them what they think of these political liars and crooks who ran amok with America's future by deregulation, invasion of countries through lies and deception and not giving one idea or suggestion when they ran Congress to bring aid to the health care crisis this country is embroiled in.

As long as we, the opposition to those criminals, treat them as simply misunderstood people who had no idea what they have done to our country, they will look you straight into your eyes and tell you "It wasn't our fault. It was Clinton who started it all." They need to be reminded of every fault, every lie, every deception they have wrought on the public along with that group of Media Madmen, Rush, Beck and Hannity who misuse the Freedom of the Press to incite people into yelling racial remarks at our duly elected and continue spewing the same fears they hear from these media monsters.

The divide in this country is getting farther and farther apart, Levi, and I'm surprised you don't see what those on the Republican/Conservative side foresee in the future for our country, but that is another subject.

by Mickey Z. on

Thank you, C. Godot, for challenging the George W. Obama lovefest going on here. It's astonishing how the Pope of Hope can spit on anything that even sounds "leftist" and the liberals still swoon for him.

As for the health care bill, to paraphrase Malcolm X: "If someone sticks a knife in your back, you don't thank them for pulling it out one inch."

Context on the bill:
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_health_care_hindenburg_has_lande...

by Milton on

The comparison of Glen Beck to Abbie Hoffman disturbs me immensely, and I think it does so because it's probably 100% accurate.

So does this mean we can look forward to Beck spending several decades underground and out of sight in the near future?

by Levi Asher on

Enjoying the discussion so far.

Mtmynd, my natural inclination is to agree with some of what you say, but I don't think we should always follow our natural inclinations. I won't characterize all Republicans according to their worst and loudest representatives. I do think, though, that many conservative politicians, journalists and broadcasters cashed in some of their authority and credibility in the last few days. I couldn't believe John Boehner's crybaby speech on TV last night, right before the vote, for instance. I also think it's hilarious that many Republicans have been citing popularity polls as the main case against the health care bill (when polls showed that America was against the war in Iraq, I thought their line was "we don't govern by polls"). So, yeah, I think their credibility is pretty low right now (and I definitely do *not* think there will be a big Republican victory in November). Still, though ... I'm sticking with the high road here. I like intelligent and in-depth discussions about politics, and you can't have an intelligent in-depth discussion if you caricature your opponent as a moron.

Meanwhile, I think my friend Cal Godot is caricaturing me as a moron when he talks of those who "uncritically bought into this plan". I understand the argument that the health care bill doesn't go nearly far enough (another of my friends, Ed Champion, recently wrote about this). I also wanted a public option, and I personally thought Dennis Kucinich's single-payer plan was solid. But there is no way anybody can tell me the bill that passed last night doesn't represent real progress. It ends the practice of filtering out applicants based on pre-existing conditions, and the practice of dropping patients who got sick. It vastly increases the size of the insurance pool (pooling of risk, after all, is what insurance is all about). And in return for forcing citizens to pay for insurance whether they like it or not, it gives these citizens health care in return for their payment. I have a feeling they won't mind that when they need it.

by Mickey Z. on

Ralph Nader sez:
The health insurance legislation is a major political symbol wrapped around a shredded substance. It does not provide coverage that is universal, comprehensive or affordable. It is a remnant even of its own initially compromised self — bereft of any public option, any safeguard for states desiring a single payer approach, any adequate antitrust protections, any shift of power toward consumers to defend themselves, any regulation of insurance prices, any authority for Uncle Sam to bargain with drug companies, and any reimportation of lower-priced drugs.

by Mickey Z. on

"it gives these citizens health care in return for their payment. I have a feeling they won't mind that when they need it."

You assume they can afford it...

by Levi Asher on

Hey Mickey -- no, really, I understand that many, many people won't be able to afford it.

I can relate personally, because there was a time in my life (in 2002, after the dot-com crash, after I got laid off) when I found myself unable to provide for my own kids, not to mention myself. As I wrote in my memoir, I dealt with this by getting public assistance to help me through until I was able to start working again.

People who can't afford health insurance are in a tough position with the new health care plan, just like they're in a tough position without the health care plan. Without the health care plan, they will get substandard medical care (if they get any care at all). With the health care plan, they will be hard-pressed to pay for insurance and will probably have to resort to public assistance (I trust that it will be available in the future, as it has been in the past). There are no easy answers for this, but the health care bill was not designed to solve the problem of poverty and financial inequity, just like it was not designed to solve the problem of abortion. It was designed to solve the problem that corrupt insurance companies were defrauding their customers. That's the problem that it will solve, and again, you can't tell me this will not significantly improve the lives of many Americans.

by Mickey Z. on

I disagree. There is one very easy answer to this: single payer.

by mtmynd on

I think Mickey and others like him that believe we all have to pay for insurance is not really something to be fearful of. After all, everybody gotta serve somebody, as one Bob Dylan so aptly said.

A quick google with "health reform insurance" may provide those who bother to search some consoling facts, i.e. there are subsidies based upon income which are rather generous, unless of course, one is in a $200,000.+ income bracket, then their taxes will go up accordingly.

Yes, it is not perfect. But it may never be a perfect solution and to wait one out while others are in dire need of health care is a foolish alternative that has proven to be a complete failure.

Let's face facts: America is the last democratic, industrialized, freedom-loving republic Nations on earth to finally approach a nationalized health care system. An odd fact when we are repeatedly told of our greatness as a country while so many do without because they can't afford good health. It's long overdue and I'll be content in knowing that the tables have finally turned in favor of the people rather than the alternative.

by Levi Asher on

Mickey, I don't see why you can't advocate for a single-payer system or public option and also celebrate the fact that some progress has been made.

I believe the Obama administration is committed to making this a long-term success, and for exactly the reasons you mention, a single-payer system or public option will help here. There is absolutely nothing about the health care bill that was signed yesterday that precludes this happening.

by Mickey Z. on

Did you even read the links I posted. Levi? The health care bill passed yesterday is a nightmare and its passing will serve to pacify the masses enough to squash further debate. For Obama, it'll be on to another issue where he'll pretend to be liberal for a few months and then take orders from his corporate owners.

Shame on anyone over the age of 22 who still falls for the same act.

Barack Obama is Ronald Reagan in blackface.

by Levi Asher on

I've been following this for a year and a half. I know all of these arguments. I'd already seen two of the links you sent before you sent them.

I guess we'll never come to agreement on this, Mickey, because I think we're coming from different starting points here. And that's okay. I didn't find much that surprised me in the links you sent, but I'm glad to have them up here so that others can read them and form their own opinions.

by Mickey Z. on

If nothing in my links surprised you and yet you still celebrate this bill, we are indeed coming at this from different starting points.

I think that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that the federal government's power to regulate interstate commerce does not give it the power to force people to engage in that commerce in the first place. It will rule the requirement that every individual purchase insurance from a corporation to be unconstitutional. I see no way around this. I'm for reform, but I'm also a big fan of logic.

A conservative Supreme Court is going to dismantle major parts of this law.

by Levi Asher on

Alessandro -- well, I'm surprised to hear that prediction. I'm seeing a lot of wishful thinking about repealing the bill or declaring it unconstitutional at Fox News and other Republican outlets, and I think it's pretty funny that they're wasting their time, and expending their credibility, on this nonsense.

What I don't understand about all the intense opposition to the bill (from those who think it does too much, as well as those like Mickey Z. who thinks it doesn't do anything) is the unwillingness to see the practical side of this legislation. The fact is, the health care bill will gradually have a positive impact on many people's lives. Yeah, it won't make health insurance as affordable as it should be, though I hope a public option or single-payer system will follow soon and bring down prices a lot more. But it gets rid of pre-existing conditions and stops insurance companies from dropping clients when they get sick. These are two very tangible changes that will have real positive consequences in the lives of millions of Americans. People who weren't able to get adequate health care will be able to. I'm sure Mickey Z. will consider what I'm saying ridiculous, but I believe it's a fact.

So, I don't think the Republican party is being very smart in putting all their efforts behind repealing the bill or challenging it in court. But I think Democrats will be happy to sit back and watch them try.

by Mickey Z. on

Believing it to be a fact and it being a fact are often two different things.

by mtmynd on

Alessandro does bring up a concern that I have and that is if this Law eventually ends up in SCOTUS, the possibility that the five Republican-chosen Justices who unwisely passed their latest law will stop this latest to favor the Republican's concerns. These five are a part of the Congressional divide that is clueless about the direction this country must go to stay afloat in the 21st Century.

Levi, I should probably clarify that I am for the most part for what this new law does. However, I can see the problem with the Supreme Court coming very clearly from miles away. You cannot force people to engage in interstate commerce even though you have the power to regulate that commerce. The requirement that all Americans pay money to corporations just for the right to be alive is not going to stand a review by the Supreme Court. Absolutely not. There are great things in this legislation, but it overreaches and made a bad deal with some very nasty corporate folks.

The Republicans may be mad at this law for all the wrong reasons, but they are going to damage it severely because it is not fully Constitutional.

by C. Godot on

Here is what we have come to in America: a law which forces people to buy a corporate product that they may neither want or need is referred to as "progress." A law which forces us to pay money to the very companies which created this problem is called "reform." I find it chilling (but also amusing) that "liberals" support a law which takes away people's choice. But you know, I can't say I didn't see it coming: throughout history, when fascism overtakes a nation, it does so with the willing acquiescence of the citizens, who applaud their oppressors for assuaging the very fears their oppressors create. Congratulations, Democrats! You really are Republican-Lite!

by Levi Asher on

Cal, every law takes away people's choice. That's what a law is.

Sorry I can't throw down for the "anarchy" option here, but unlike you and Mickey Z., I'm not judging the health care reform bill on the basis of ideology at all, nor am I judging it on whether or not it adequately punishes the insurance industry for its unethical practices (it doesn't).

I'm judging it on whether or not it will make a concrete difference in the lives of actual people like me -- people who work hard for a living, have kids, change jobs, get sick, etc. Here's the answer: it will make a difference.

by Mickey Z. on

Straw Man alert.

by Mickey Z. on

Here's some of Levi's "concrete difference" for people like him who work hard, have kids, etc.:

About 23 million people will remain uninsured nine years out. That figure translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths annually and an incalculable toll of suffering.

Millions of middle-income people will be pressured to buy commercial health insurance policies costing up to 9.5 percent of their income but covering an average of only 70 percent of their medical expenses, potentially leaving them vulnerable to financial ruin if they become seriously ill. Many will find such policies too expensive to afford or, if they do buy them, too expensive to use because of the high co-pays and deductibles.

Insurance firms will be handed at least $447 billion in taxpayer money to subsidize the purchase of their shoddy products. This money will enhance their financial and political power, and with it their ability to block future reform.

The bill will drain about $40 billion from Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals, threatening the care of the tens of millions who will remain uninsured.

People with employer-based coverage will be locked into their plan’s limited network of providers, face ever-rising costs and erosion of their health benefits. Many, even most, will eventually face steep taxes on their benefits as the cost of insurance grows.

Health care costs will continue to skyrocket, as the experience with the Massachusetts plan (after which this bill is patterned) amply demonstrates.

The much-vaunted insurance regulations – e.g. ending denials on the basis of pre-existing conditions – are riddled with loopholes, thanks to the central role that insurers played in crafting the legislation. Older people can be charged up to three times more than their younger counterparts, and large companies with a predominantly female workforce can be charged higher gender-based rates at least until 2017.

Women’s reproductive rights will be further eroded, thanks to the burdensome segregation of insurance funds for abortion and for all other medical services.

But what do I know, I merely judge on the basis of ideology...

by C. Godot on

I'm judging this bill based on ideology? I don't espouse or profess an ideology, expect perhaps other than "more liberty, not less" (and that is far too simplistic to be considered an "ideology"). As someone who is calling for a taxpayer-funded "public option," I can hardly be classed as an "anarchist" (though I admit I hold very anarchist-like views regarding government and the State). You can't even say I'm a "libertarian," since I'm calling for increased government regulation of the insurance industry (something this bill does little to provide). You couldn't be more off-base in characterizing my position.

Laws are not always restrictive, especially of individuals, unless you want to discount the Constitution and Bill of Rights (which enable personal liberty). I'll say little more about this notion that "all laws restrict," as it is unsupportable on its face.

As for "concrete differences" this bill will make, neither you nor I are in any position to judge those just yet (unless, of course, you are further along on your time machine than I am). Almost none of the provisions in the bill will be active until 2014; supporters are more than hasty to base their support on the legislative and economic atmosphere that will exist after three more national elections (including one Presidential one). It reminds me of Republicans justifying the Iraq invasion based on the vision of Iraqi citizens greeting us with flowers and open arms; it reminds me of the continued refrain (now of course being sung by Democrats) that we can enable a great future in the Middle East by bombing the fuck out of it today.

All along, reform proponents have said the insurance companies created this situation; all along, reform proponents have derided insurance companies as "the problem." All along, reform proponents have declared the insurance marketplace needs more competition.

Now "reform proponents" have passed a law which guarantees increasing income for the companies who created the problem, and guarantees they will have no competition for those dollars; by force of law, you will have to pay money into an industry that was previously described as corrupt, greedy, incompetent, and anti-American.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. While we're at it, we should start funding Hamas.

by Mickey Z. on

What's that Hamas crack supposed to mean?

by Steve Plonk on

I joyfully helped vote Obama in as president and I am a lifelong moderate Democrat. However, I've been known to split my ticket in the deep past. I once voted for Alexander for Tennessee Governor during his first term. Since then, I've been disappointed in Sen. Alexander. I especially don't like his stand on health legislation. I approve the President's current plan.

I'm glad the Health Care Reform Act was signed by the president and I have a column on a "Studio Eight" forum supporting the legislation. My column is called "Life in the Horse Lane". The topic is "On Health Care". The signing was a victory for individual rights which are coined in the constitution. Health Care is an individual right, not any kind of state right. State's rights advocates are just barking up the wrong tree. Health insurance is just as important as car insurance and should be treated the same. All should be required to participate.

Furthermore, Sen. McCain was FOR the individual mandate back in the nineties. So, all the republican whining about the signing of the Act is just hogwash and belly-aching. All the stupid amendments they have tried to attach to the Reconciliation Bill are also full of it. This legislation could have been passed many times if it hadn't been for stubborn partisanship. We could have had this type of bill passed during the Carter administration or earlier. I wasn't born yesterday and I remember the Medicaid opposition by the republican "party of NO" back in 1966.

So, maybe Ted Kennedy can rest in his grave knowing that much of what he wanted is now part of law in this country.

by Subterranean Soul on

Levi, You're judging this based on one set of conditions that are beneficial to you, or people like you while outright stating that you are not judging it by its flaws. Of course you are saying that you do see its flaws but that they are far outweighed by its benefits and so are of little to no consequence. You're appear to looking at this through a lens of hope and not at its actual present condition. Of course its fine to be optimistic about a enormous change like this, but to nonchalantly cast aside the very obvious negatives and threats to liberties that this bill enshrines makes you appear blinkered by your admiration of Obama. And as the wise words say, "he who dines on hope alone will die fasting."

I also have to agree with C.Godot that laws are certainly not restricted to restrictions. That is why there are the concepts of positive and negative duty. That is why there exists The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of it restricts tyranny but it also enables freedom from these restrictive entities.

by Levi Asher on

Well, I'll just respond very briefly on specific points, and will not bother repeating myself on the main points. I say Cal's argument is ideological because he wrote this:

"Here is what we have come to in America: a law which forces people to buy a corporate product that they may neither want or need is referred to as "progress." A law which forces us to pay money to the very companies which created this problem is called "reform." I find it chilling (but also amusing) that "liberals" support a law which takes away people's choice."

It sounds to me like Cal is judging the bill based on some theoretical principles here. "Ideological" is not a dirty word (far from it), but I have no interest in analyzing the health care bill from the point of view of what words like "progress' and "reform" ought to mean.

And, okay not *every single law in the universe* takes away people's choice, but a whole lot of laws do, so I think it's silly to act shocked that the health care bill takes away people's choice.

I say that Mickey Z's objection is ideological because I know that Mickey believes Obama's whole presidency is a pseudo-progressive fraud, and I've never once heard Mickey approve of a single thing Obama has done.

What really pisses me off, honestly, is the condescending attitude I get from many anti-Obama liberals (as well as conservatives) when I praise Obama. Supposedly I'm drinking the kool-aid, or I'm having an Obama love-fest, or I've got starbursts in my eyes. Well, I'm really not into celebrity worship, and I don't agree with Obama on everything, especially when it comes to foreign policy. I don't think I should have to be accused of being deluded or starstruck because I approve of something the President has done, especially regarding an issue that I have followed closely and independently for the past year.

I'm glad we have a diversity of opinions here (I wish we had some more Republicans in the conversation, though). Maybe the one thing we can all agree on is that this health care bill will impact a lot of people. As Joe Biden said, it's a big fucking deal.

by Mickey Z. on

Why are you ignoring the facts I've posted and instead turning this into a personal argument? I provided links and facts as to why this bill is a sham. You call that ideology. I call it debating.

by Levi Asher on

Mickey, I'm ignoring it because I agree with you. I also wanted a single payer system, and if that were not possible I wanted a public option.

But I think these points are irrelevant with regard to the current situation. The public option and single-payer plan were nowhere near getting passed. Meanwhile, a very major bill *was* passed that does some other good things. And I'd like to celebrate the positive progress that was made, even if it doesn't go far enough.

It's like this: say the Yankees and the Red Sox are in the World Series. Well, I'll root for the Red Sox. But there wouldn't be much point in me rooting for the Mets. Gotta pick a team that's actually in the game. The single payer plan wasn't in the game this week.

by Subterranean Soul on

Joe's comments probably sum it up more succinctly than all the to-ing and fro-ing amongst all the voices consent and dissent on this subject ever will. And its good to know that these guys still know how to speak a language we can all understand.

And I don't intend to mean that you have some Obama fetish, but from your previous writings on the man you certainly seem to have an overwhelmingly agreeable nature towards his efforts as president (which leaves me wondering where you stand on the escalating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but discussing that here is not really keeping within the context of responding to this article) and I hope that you're judging this bill on its merits and not on his. That said, I hope the voices from the other end of room are not letting their disdain for government get in the way of their analysis.

by Mickey Z. on

The Yanks and Sox are both in the American League...

Anyway, to use your analogy, you have pointed out the futility of being an Obama "fan" as you are or "following" these debates, as you do. It's all fixed. It's a game. No matter who is in the World Series, they're still playing baseball. No matter who is in the White House, they're still playing by the same corporate-written rules.

If we want change, the exact thing we have to do is challenge the game, not the players.

by Levi Asher on

Hey Sub-Soul -- well, I really admire Barack Obama's skill. Agreements or disagreements aside ... he's a HELL of a poker player. He made John Boehner and Mitch McConnell go all in on weak hands, and then he smoothly laid down his winner. On the level of pure sport alone, this was a pleasure to watch.

Afghanistan and Pakistan? I am a pacifist. I don't believe good things ever come from dropping bombs from airplanes. I think of Barack Obama as strong on domestic issues but, unfortunately, very conventional on global issues. Bill Clinton was the same way. But, yeah, that's a separate discussion.

by Levi Asher on

Aggh! Mickey, you're right about the American League (of course I knew that). I think I was just trying to get under your skin because I think you once told me you were a Yankees fan.

by Mickey Z. on

Clinton good on domestic issues? You mean like ending welfare for the poor? Signing NAFTA? Maybe these: The passage of the salvage logging rider, continuation of the use of methyl bromide, weakening of the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, lowering of grazing fees on land, subsidizing Florida's sugar industry, reversing the ban on the production & importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil. Increasing the Pentagon budget by $25 billion, firing Jocelyn Elders, dumping Lani Guinier? Passing a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, & 58 more offenses punishable by death. The telecommunications bill, the Defense of Marriage Act, & not pardoning Leonard Peltier? Shall I continue?

by Levi Asher on

Why did I even mention Bill Clinton ... nahh, that's a separate discussion too.

by Jim on

Remember the Dems complained about deficits when they were out of power and the GOP was in power. Its all really part of the game, which is why I dislike politics as being played now. Granted we have to not turn away or ignore politics because it still has if not more influence on our individual lives and surrounding world. This health care bill as passed certainly has some important and needed reforms but really does nothing as to cost. Also behind all of this what does the government run well? Having been involved with the medicare system because of my mother, how it is run on daily basis is just terrible as to costs passed on to the government and then to taxpayers. I certainly am no fan of big insurance companies. I guess one can see this bill as a foot in the door that can be updated later.

by dustman on

You know, Medicare is a single-payer program administered by the government. Everyone in the United States who works pays into this program. Guess what though, in their 2008 report to Congress, they stated that they could run out of money as early as 2017 (they WILL run out, it's just a question of when). That's just trying to pay for the health-care of those who are eligible, imagine trying to cover all Americans this way. Medicare often pays primary care providers less than the cost of treatment. So guess what happens, the primary care providers have to charge those with private insurance more to cut their losses and remain in business. Guess what happens then, because insurance companies have to pay more than the cost of treatment, they have to raise insurance premiums so they can continue providing insurance.

Research the concept of 'barriers to entry'. Then look into the American Medical Association (basically a union for doctors), who funds the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (who accredits medical schools, note: no new medical schools have opened in the U.S. since the '80s). After the AMA predicted a surge in practicing doctors (finally admitting in 2002 that they were wrong), they effectively lobbied Congress to limit the number of residencies the government funds every year. If a medical student cannot complete their residency, they cannot legally practice medicine. Less practicing doctors, the more practicing doctors can charge. Supply and demand.

In this manner, as well as limiting the number of accepted applicants to medical schools, the AMA, through the LCME, and Congressional interference, has provided barriers of entry, preventing competition among medical professionals, also leading to higher health costs on top of the extra costs caused by Medicare.

So to those who believed the free-market failed, there is effectively no free market for health-care in the United States. The biggest problems have been caused by lobbyists with money and the resulting legislation passed by the government. You would have to be crazy if you think more government interference and taxes are going to fix this.

Isn't government interference in the private sector awesome? Regardless of the pros or cons of this health care bill, unforeseen consequences will result (like Medicare and Medicaid, which are completely unsustainable), which will only exacerbate the problems it was supposed to help fix. Instead of taxing the hell out of us for broken entitlement programs, let us keep our f**king money so we might be able to afford our insurance without crappy programs that underpay for treatment, causing everyone to adjust prices so they can stay in business. End the lobby, keep government out of the private sector.

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