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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Audacity of Option

The United States stands alone among advanced nations that do not guarantee basic health care for its citizens. We spend half a trillion dollars a year on our military, and accept this on the premise that the government should protect the lives of its citizens. In most other countries, this logic extends to health care; every citizen has basic health insurance, paid for by the government. Everyone is insured. But in the United States, over 47 million Americans are not insured, mainly because we live in a system where you have insurance if you can afford it; if not, you are screwed. We are a country, to paraphrase Senator Kennedy, where the state of an individual’s health depends on the size of a individual’s wealth.

But to say the United States has no public insurance would not be true. There are several public programs. The largest one is Medicare; and it’s very simple. Every American age 65 and over automatically has health insurance for the rest of their life, paid for by the government. It is a very popular program, and it’s key to understanding the current health care debate in Washington.

President Obama, aiming for universal health care (and dismissing the much more sensible single-payer model) proposed a system based on choice. If you want to purchase health insurance from a private corporation, go ahead, no one will stop you. If you would rather have “Medicare” like government coverage, then you can have that. Everyone can choose what they want.

This is called the “Public Option”, and according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, it is supported by 76% of the American people. Yet the White House is now giving indications that it may completely drop the Public Option from its health care reform, again leaving us at the mercy of the profit hungry corporate system. What happened?

While most Americans support the option, most insurance companies do not; and they are moving hell and earth to get their way. Private insurance companies are, by any measure, highly inefficient and are essentially worried about competing with a much better run government system (private insurance companies spend a fortune on things like researching your background for pre-existing conditions, looking for ways to deny care, and of course paying profits to their investors.)

The health insurance industry is thus terrified of any sense of real competition and wants to deny Americans the ability to choose between a private or public plan. They are very powerful and willing to spend whatever it takes to get what they want. That is why they are currently spending $1.4 million a day lobbying Congress. That is why they have hired six lobbyists for each member of Congress (for a total of 3,300 lobbyists) and that is why in the first six months of this year they spent over a quarter of a billion dollars on members of Congress. It looks as though they may be succeeding, as Senator after Senator has either disavowed the Public Option or expressed willingness to drop it (proclaiming a desire for “compromise” or “bipartisanship” while accepting a fortune in campaign funds from the health insurance lobby.)

And where is President Obama in all of this? While the president expresses mild support for it, he is quick to tell any opponent that it is not essential and he is willing to drop it. Where is the man who promised to fight for the American people? Instead of a popular president rallying around a popular cause, he is bending over backward to placate the same groups of politicians who fan overtly racist theories that Barack Obama is an illegal alien from Africa. Instead of boldly countering idiotic town-hall lies about the health care proposals with speeches around the most popular provision in his proposal, the President has begun indicating a willingness to drop the Public Option altogether.Much has been said and will be said about the late Senator Kennedy’s ability to pass legislation by compromising with his opponents. If most Americans want a public plan, and the rest want a private plan, then I think allowing everyone the ability to choose for themselves is a terrific compromise. Taking away the Public Option is not. It is a sell out to Wall Street interests who want to continue their morally questionable practice of profiting off the illnesses of their fellow Americans. If the president cannot even get himself to rally around a proposal the vast majority of the country supports, that he himself proposed, then it will be more than audacious for him to expect support in 2012. Hope and change don’t pay the bills.