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

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Ether

As you know, conservatives are injecting mountains of B.S. into the societal ether around health care, stuff that's hard to debunk once it's "out there" no matter how full of lies it is. Here's a typical example.

AD TITLE: "Squeeze"

SPONSOR: Conservatives for Patients' Rights

SCRIPT: "Some of Congress' health care plans could squeeze you four ways. It could raise taxes by $600 billion—even taxing soda. It could add a trillion to the federal deficit. New rules could hike your health insurance premiums 95 percent. You still might end up on their government-run health plan. Tell Congress you've been squeezed enough. Say no to a government-run health plan." [...]

ACCURACY: Although CPR lists individual sources for each statement in the ad, the facts are largely taken out of context, come from biased industry groups or have been discredited. "There's absolutely nothing here that's right. It's unbelievable," says John Holahan, director of the Health Policy Research Center at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

I think at this point a lot of these ads get drowned out and turn into just background noise. What's far more insidious is that we're seeing the return of the notorious email forward.

This week I received a mass email that exhorted the recipients to pray for our country because of the disaster surely to befall on us if health care reform is passed. It is very important for all of us to understand what health reform is about because being able to respond to these distortions is important. So I went through every charge and answered it and sent it back to the huge email list to which it had been distributed. I wish I had seen the excellent rebuttal done by Politifact before I spent all this time, but it's encouraging to know we have multiple ways to toss this stuff back.

All the Politifact analyses in the world won't get decent information out to the millions if not tens of millions of people who received this email. In it, there are 45 charges made about specifics language in the bill, every one of them false. When you go out in the world and wonder how everyone has appeared to swallow these talking points, this is at least one way that message goes out.

At some point, you have to fight fire with fire. It makes me wonder why something like this column isn't sent virally to every inbox in the country.

So it's proper to remind ourselves what that American way entails. For if the insurers have proved anything over the last 15 years as the health crisis has gathered speed like an avalanche roaring downhill, it's that they're part of the problem, not the solution.

The firms take billions of dollars out of the U.S. healthcare wallet as profits, while imposing enormous administrative costs on doctors, hospitals, employers and patients. They've introduced complexity into the system at every level. Your doctor has to fight them to get approval for the treatment he or she thinks is best for you. Your hospital has to fight them for approval for every day you're laid up. Then they have to fight them to get their bills paid, and you do too.

One Wendell Potter reminded a Senate committee in June that health insurance executives had assured Congress in 1993 that they would work to secure universal medical coverage and end denials of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Then they moved heaven and earth to kill reform.

They've made the same promises now, Potter observed. But they're in an even better position to throttle reform. Mergers and acquisitions have turned the industry into a cartel of huge corporations.

"The industry is bigger, richer and stronger, and it has a much tighter grip on our healthcare system," he said. The last thing they want is a government program set up as their competition.

Actually, I'd make it simpler than that, as Kevin Drum did - why does health insurance exist? They are nothing more than middlemen who in theory smooth the payments for your health care over time so that you're not hit with a big bill when you need treatment. But that's not how it works in practice. So really what they have become is a middleman, taking a 30% profit off the top for the service of moving your money to your doctor.

But for some reason we're supposed to care about whether they continue to exist or not. Why? I care about the quality of my doctors, my nurses, the hospital I go to, and the drugs I take. I don't really care who takes on the administrative task of paying the bills — except that I wish they were handled a lot more efficiently and with a lot less hassle than private insurers typically do. Frankly, a world without private healthcare insurers sounds pretty good to me.

If that kind of sentiment pinged from computer to computer for a few weeks, with the intent of openly questioning why this large industry even exists or what purpose it serves, maybe there would be a choice in the level of dialogue "out there".

Now that insurance companies are no longer friends to Democrats, maybe someone should give it a try.

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