Health Care: Fear Failure, not Reform

Jesse Jackson | 8/13/2009, 3:19 p.m.
The terrorizing has reached fever pitch. "Obama's health care reforms will kill your grandmother," they scream. Beware government "death panels" ...

The terrorizing has reached fever pitch. "Obama's health care reforms will kill your grandmother," they scream. Beware government "death panels" warns Sarah Palin. There will be a "government takeover" of health care. Bureaucrats will overrule doctors. Government will get its hands on Medicare. The lies and inanities keep on coming.

Right-wing demonstrators organize to take over town hall meetings. Republican leaders, intent on "breaking" Obama by stopping reform, repeat and abet the lies and distortions. Conservative Democrats cut backroom deals to benefit insurance companies and drug companies. This debate on health care is enough to turn your stomach.

Stop and take a deep breath. In fact, Americans should fear failure, not reform. Our health system is broken. The status quo cannot be sustained. Health care costs -- 31 percent percent of which are on administration, run up by insurance companies trying to insure only those who don't get sick-- are rising at twice the rate of inflation. We already spend about 50 percent more per capita than other industrial nations -- but they insure everyone and get better health results, while we have some 47 million and rising without insurance.

Those with insurance aren't much better off. Co-pays and deductibles are rising. Coverage is getting cut back. Businesses, large and small, can't afford the rising costs. More and more is forced on taxpayers and consumers. Right now, private industry pays only about 20 percent of our health care costs. Government (and you, the taxpayer) pay 60 percent. Individuals pay 20 percent. No wonder 14,000 people lose health care every single day.

And those with insurance find it covers less and less. Half of all personal bankruptcies are caused by a serious illness or injury. Two-thirds of those bankrupt have insurance -- it just doesn't cover the costs of a serious illness. And if you are sick, you get frozen in a job because you can't afford to risk moving, since insurance companies can deny you coverage for a pre-existing condition.

And yet, the insurance and drug company lobbies can terrorize Americans into fearing reform. They would, in the cynical words of Republican House leader John Boehner, prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't know -- a devil that Republicans and the lobbies paint as particularly gruesome.

We would all be better off with a single-payer system -- a sort of Medicare for all. The best-run in America is the health-care system administered by the Department of Veteran Affairs, which is totally government-controlled. The most popular system is Medicare, which is privately provided but government funded. The least popular and most inefficient are the privately run HMOs and the like whose insurance company bureaucrats tell doctors what treatments they can prescribe.

Obama's reform plan began with a fundamental concession. No single-payer system. If you like your current insurance, you can keep it -- if you can afford the soaring price of it.

He sought to add basic regulation of the insurance companies (prohibiting them from refusing to insure you if you are sick or from cutting you off if you get sick, banning discrimination against women, forcing them to cover preventive care like medical visits).