As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Principled Conservatism

The long-awaited health care summit is today, and dozens of members of Congress and stakeholders are at the White House in the first step to reforming a broken system. Here is an excerpt of the President's prepared remarks:

In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages, and an additional nine million Americans have joined the ranks of the uninsured. The cost of health care now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. And even for folks who are weathering this economic storm, and have health care now, all it takes is one stroke of bad luck – an accident or illness; a divorce or lost job – to become one of the nearly 46 million uninsured or the millions who have health care, but can’t afford it.

Well, let’s be clear: the same soaring costs that are straining our families’ budgets are sinking our businesses and eating up our government’s budget too. Too many small businesses can’t insure their employees. Major American corporations are struggling to compete with their foreign counterparts. And companies of all sizes are shipping their jobs overseas or shutting their doors for good.

That is why we cannot delay this discussion any longer. And that is why today’s forum is so important. Because health care reform is no longer just a moral imperative, it is a fiscal imperative. If we want to create jobs and rebuild our economy, then we must address the crushing cost of health care this year, in this Administration. Making investments in reform now, investments that will dramatically lower costs, won’t add to our budget deficits in the long-term – rather, it is one of the best ways to reduce them.

That's the basic mainstream Democratic argument at this point - that health care costs are strangling our businesses, our budget, and most importantly our families, and that we have to fundamentally address this before it spirals completely out of control.

I now give you the conservative counter-argument.

REP. ZACH WAMP: Listen, health care is a privilege. […]

MSNBC: Well, it’s a privilege? Health care? I mean if you have cancer right now, do you see it as a privilege to get treatment?

WAMP: I was just about to say, for some people it’s a right. But for everyone, frankly, it’s not necessarily a right.

Wamp went on to claim that many Americans are uninsured by choice because they “rejected” the insurance plan offered by their employers. Asked to respond to Wamp, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) remarked “Well my reaction is that it was said by somebody who has a really good health [insurance] plan as a member of the House of Representatives.” “More importantly than that [health care] is a right in this country,” Brown concluded. Watch a compilation:

This should be on a billboard in every city in the nation by Friday. It's a concise and sharp expression of the conservative worldview. They think health care is a privilege. And if you get shot at work trying to ward off an attacker, and your fast-food company's insurer (the name rhymes with Bickdonald's) refuses to pay your medical bills, tough, you don't have the privilege. If you aren't privileged enough to have health insurance, hospitals can use your lack of leverage or purchasing power to charge you ten times as much for the same treatment - sorry, you don't have the privilege. If you have insurance, and your insurer decides they don't want to pay your claims, sending you into a choice between treatment and bankruptcy or illness and solvency, well - you don't have the privilege.

(Interesting that Villager Karen Tumulty wrote that last link, drawing on the experience of her brother's travails through the health care system. It's the typical story of personal experience trumping the expected groupthink.)

In the upside-down value system of Republicans, they think that health care is a privilege, but the ability for health insurers to profit off of it is an inalienable right.

McConnell suggested there were areas in which Republicans won't compromise, particularly the creation of a new public insurance program to compete with private insurers.

"Forcing free market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition," the letter stated.

As David Sirota notes, these are the same people who claim that the free market is a universal good and nothing can be run more efficiently or excellently than private enterprise. Somehow, though, if a public option was offered to compete with the free market, it would cause the insurance industry to crumble. Those titans of industry, the masters of the universe, just can't compete with those government bureaucrats everyone is supposed to hate. This could be a mite bit of a flaw in their logic.

The GOP sees polls showing the public supports the concept of government-sponsored health care (and loves government programs like Medicare) - that is, the party knows that if given the choice, many Americans would choose a government-run program over private health insurance. But because the party is so owned and operated by the private health insurance industry, it is willing to effectively undermine its entire macro-argument about the supremacy of the free market so as to shill for its moneyed benefactors.

The health care industry as a whole is generally supportive of the initial Democratic plans because they think they can deep-six the public option and negotiate a "reform" favorable to their interests, that maintains the for-profit insurance middleman and maybe even gives them a forced market. To the Administration's credit, there are also single-payer advocates at the summit, and their argument for a side-by-side Congressional Budget Office comparison of HR 676 against any other proposal is completely reasonable and worthy of consideration. If the numbers are presented, it will become clear that the most "radical" system also happens to produce the best savings for the taxpayer as well as providing the most care to the greatest number.

So let's be clear. The GOP thinks health care is a privilege and that insurance industry gouging is a right. More people besides blog readers should know this.

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