Marilyn Clement is the national coordinator of Healthcare-NOW.
As I thought about the president’s speech Tuesday night, I imagined his handlers sitting together joking conspiratorially about how to twist the issues and help the president’s plummeting popularity. How could his handlers sneak through more support for his primary agenda, and that of right-wing fiscal conservatives, to decrease entitlements to Social Security and Medicare and transfer more of the people’s tax money into Wall Street—while couching this scheme in the language of “health care for all?”
I thought of them saying to each other, “Wow, now that the voters have made clear that a universal health care system is their number one domestic priority—why don’t we grab that issue from the Democrats? Since the Democratic Congress hasn’t gotten the message and isn’t really creating a new health care system, let’s make it work for us!”
The president got it. One obvious thing he realized was that the American people want a national health care system for themselves and their children as much as they want our troops out of the killing fields of Iraq. So he offered several unworkable and ridiculous suggestions: relief from payroll taxes and a tax credit to the uninsured. What is he thinking? That the uninsured have big salaries and are seeking some kind of tax shelter?
His proposed $15,000 income tax deduction for middle-class families would jeopardize both Medicare and Social Security while not providing enough money to purchase real health insurance, projected to cost $16,500 for a family of four by the year 2009. And employers would be encouraged to bail out of the health care system even faster than they are today.
His plan for fixing the health care system is more of the same—more big bucks for the insurance companies. He believes that government has a responsibility for the children, the elderly and the disabled—but for everybody else, “private insurance is the best.” Then he offers several plans to provide more billions of federal dollars to the private insurers who have driven the cost of the health care system up 73 percent since 2000.
I guess he means the private insurance companies that use up 31 percent of every health care dollar for their own CEOs’ salaries, payments to lobbyists, media campaigns and the multiple bureaucratic costs of thousands of insurance companies rather than a single payer such as Medicare. Those same private insurance companies provide no health care to anyone in this country. (Well, maybe they provide health care for their own employees, who number in the tens of thousands.)
He must mean those same private insurance companies whose highest-paid CEO (at United Health) gets $122.7 million dollars a year—enough to cover the health care costs of roughly 34,000 American citizens.
The president also gave a big plug for the idea of so-called federal/state partnerships. He said he will be urging the provision of federal funds to the states so that the poor and the sick can be covered to purchase insurance—with an “affordable choice.” More money for these same insurance companies! In every one of these instances, the president is talking about reckless additional spending for health care “insurance”—not a net savings such as that which we would get from a single-payer system. That’s why his highly applauded promise to balance the budget rings false—and cold-hearted.
Of course, he wants expanded money to help develop health savings accounts that help the very rich. It’s yet another tax break for them, since they can earn interest on all the money they save and continue to have their health care benefits provided from their employers—or they may even be the employers. Small business health pools, supplemented by government, for small businesses is another recycled idea. Both of these plans would provide yet more of our federal dollars to the insurance companies.
Other ideas, like new money for medical technology to decrease medical errors, sound like a good plan.
But “junk lawsuits?” Give me a break! This whole line of argument has been fully discredited by the facts. Only about four-tenths of a percent of medical malpractice lawsuits succeed in the courts. It is a big bugaboo to try to stop the common people from being able to bring lawsuits against the monied interests when we are injured. And guess who has been fueling the fire? It's the insurance companies, who convince the doctors that they must spend millions of dollars by purchasing insurance to protect themselves from lawsuits.
A single-payer system would end a lot of the problems of medical mistakes and malpractice because the medical costs of the miniscule numbers of suits that win in the courts would be covered in a universal system that would cover all health care costs for an injured person for the rest of her/his life.
So the president and the other administration ideologues hammered together a cruel package that would continue to send billions to “market-place” solutions rather than providing a less expensive, high-quality health care system for everybody in the country, a system more like those enjoyed by the 37 advanced nations of the world who have a better health care system than ours.
Let’s hope the Democratic Congress gets the message. The voters did indeed vote for a national response to the health care crisis. They desperately need it. The Democrats must get over the chilling effect of the Newt Gingrich attack that left them trembling in their boots.
So much has changed, and the American people have made it clear through the polls and through their votes that they expect their new leaders to lead.