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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Who Runs The Death Panels, Again?

It's been clear for a long time that insurance companies make their money off of denying care to those who need it. Under any reasonable standard, that would be credibly seen as insurance company bureaucrats making decisions over a patient's life and death. But we live in America, where any old Alaskan can come up with a phrase and have it repeated endlessly by corporate media, to make the argument that a government-run insurance choice, not the for-profit insurance companies, engage in such behavior.

My friends at Americans United For Change have the evidence on who has created the REAL "death panels".

This Linda Peeno clip comes from Michael Moore's movie Sicko, and so we've known about how insurance companies profit from denying care and allowing people to die for some time. I guess it's impolite for Democrats to actually make this point; Republicans don't have the same respect for decorum.

The truth is that you do not have health insurance, even if you think you're covered. You have a premium that you pay every month, but that does not guarantee that you will be covered if you get sick. It does not guarantee that you can get new coverage if you lose your insurance. It's more a fantasy of coverage than the actuality. Everyone under 65 assumes that their insurance will be there for them when they need it, but ask Linda Peeno - your insurer makes their money on not being reliable.

And if that doesn't convince you, consider the curious truism that most people living under a system of guaranteed care really like it and zealously guard it. There are anecdotal stories, like Harry Shearer's tale of a friend in America versus a friend in Britain, or veteran Jon Soltz, who sings the praises of TRICARE and the VA and has voluminous polling and quality studies to back him up.

But I prefer to look at the case of David Cameron, the would-be Prime Minister of Britain and the head of the conservative Tories. Viewed through the left-right lens in this country, one would assume that the conservatives in Britain, suffering under the National Health Service, would want to dismantle it and return to a private market. There's just one problem; Cameron wants to get elected, and his countrymen, having lived under the NHS for decades, actually appreciate it. At least, that's what you have to conclude from Cameron's words this week:

David Cameron will today face down the Tory right when he pledges to deliver real-terms increases in NHS spending and casts the Conservatives as the party best placed to intensify Labour's "good" reforms.

In an attempt to regain the initiative on health after Tory MEP Daniel Hannan dismissed the NHS as a "60-year mistake" on US television, Cameron will disregard calls from the right for a freeze in spending as a step backwards.

Cameron, who was alarmed by Hannan's intervention during last week's transatlantic row over health reform, will say that only the Tories are offering the NHS a funding guarantee.

"Spending on the NHS cannot stand still, because standing still would be taking a step backwards," Cameron will say in a speech in the north-west of England before visiting an NHS hospital. "That is why we have pledged real-terms increases in NHS spending – unlike Labour – a fact which, to put it mildly, takes the wind out of their point-scoring sails."

You cannot win office in Britain, be you Margaret Thatcher or Tony Benn, without promising to protect and even expand the NHS. That's a measure of customer satisfaction, to borrow a phrase from the business world. I don't see a similar enthusiasm in this country to expand the private insurance market, to take over Medicare, or the VA, or any of the other public programs. At least nowhere this side of Tom DeLay, a disgraced politician who will never have to face voters again. I notice DeLay didn't move to do anything of the sort when he had control of the House and conservatives were firmly in charge of all three branches of government.

The lived experience of Americans who've actually used the health care system is one where insurance companies profit off denial of care, and government-run programs actually work pretty well. Absurd statements like "Get your government hands off my Medicare" only works as a scare tactic because of Democratic weakness in arguing loudly for government that can expand opportunity and access and deliver health care cheaper and with better quality. The rest of the industrialized world has figured this out. They don't like insurance company CEOs having to choose between obscene profits or caring for their customers, because they'll always pick the former. They'll resort to the Limbaugh rule, named after the head of the GOP, who this week told a caller struggling to afford $6,000 to treat a broken wrist: "Well, you shouldn't have broken your wrist."

We can either have that kind of "compassionate conservatism," complete with insurance company death panels, or real compassion. That's the choice in health care reform.

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