As Michael Moore�s �Sicko� continues to draw crowds and
spawn spontaneous health care reform advocacy groups across the country, the
health care industry is planning to hit back hard.
They�ll attack Moore�s credibility, discredit the movie�s
core thesis, conduct endless push polls, create case studies detailing the
horrors of other countries� health care systems, and build a phony but cogent
case for continuing the American way of for-profit medicine, along with its
disgracefully inequitable delivery system.
For-profit medicine -- insurance, medical facilities,
specialized equipment manufacturers and the like -- was a $1.3 trillion business
as far back as 2000, and it�s safe to say that figure has only increased in the
seven intervening years. The companies that have a stake in maintaining that
massive revenue stream will do whatever it takes to convince Americans that
they would be crazy to modify or dismantle �the best health care system in the
world.� As always, PR and advertising will be the preferred weapons of mass
Back in the early �90s, the �we�re number one� myth�s public
faces were a folksy old couple named Harry and Louise, who polluted TV
advertising every evening for months reciting industry propaganda and spreading
fear of �radical� change that could place our very lives in jeopardy. All this
as the ill-fated Clinton health care plan gradually sank beneath the combined
weight of its own complexity and the groundswell of public opinion, taught to
them by Harry and Louise, against reforming such a perfect system.
This time though, things are a bit different. Anger is
everywhere and sharply focused on the source of the problem. `Many have had
their own personal HMO moment by now, and it�s likely going to take more than
the estimated $100 million Harry and Louise campaign to sway public opinion
industry�s way. But never underestimate the vast amounts of money the health
care racket is willing to spend to keep its first class seat on the gravy
train. They could 10, 20, 30 times the $100 million Harry and Louise cost and
still consider it a bargain, given that they retain their ability to bilk
consumers out of trillions for another decade and a half. And that kind of
money buys some very clever, skillful media strategists and professional
Observers of the fine art of manufacturing consent are
eagerly waiting to see how the health care industry slithers its way out of
this latest assault on its revenue stream. One thing is certain, as the
ponderous purveyors of mass media claptrap like to say: If things get serious
enough that Congress actually moves Dennis Kucinich�s HR 676 single-payer, universal
access plan out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, we will be the
targets and/or victims of the most egregious assault on critical thinking and
common sense since the Supreme Court ordered the Florida recount stopped
because the results might be prejudicial to Bush�s contention that he had won
the state�s electoral votes. And that�s a tough one to beat.
The �S� word
Might as well get it out in the open, because as soon as
somebody raises the topic of a taxpayer-funded universal access health care
system for the U.S., the chorus starts bleating �socialized medicine,
socialized medicine� like a combination of Chicken Little and the last Cold
Warrior, until everybody starts looking under the bed for Commies and
Fact is, we�ve already got socialized medicine. It�s called
Medicare, and it�s absolutely astounding how the subversive evils of socialized
medicine for people aged 64 years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59
seconds are magically transformed into an untouchable entitlement program when
the clock ticks one more time.
It�s both comic and tragic to watch our elected
representatives fall all over themselves in an effort to defend Medicare while
denying its very nature. Comic because only a clown would try so hard to avoid
the taint of socialized anything while advocating tirelessly for that very
thing. And tragic because the rest of the world doesn�t have to do the free
market orthodoxy dance, and gets better and far more affordable health care as
a result. We can only look beyond our borders with appreciation and envy as
other populations get healthier and ours gets more sickly and desperate by the
And here's the crowning insult: The US taxpayer already
foots the bill for the bulk of all health care expenditures in this country. A
seminal Harvard Medical School study shows that, in 1999, the US taxpayer
shouldered the burden for just under 60 percent of all health care costs
nationwide. That percentage represented $2,604 per capita at the time, which
means government spending on health care in the US is higher than total per
capita health care expenditures in any other country -- including those with
single-payer, universal access national health care systems. So we're paying
for national health care; we're just not getting it.
More of the usual scare tactics
In late 1993, during the alleged U.S. health care debate, a
conservative academic and columnist named Thomas V. DiBacco wrote an article
that was picked up by a number of daily newspapers and whose headline read, �Health
Reform Could Kill Individualism.� This is in sharp contrast, one supposes, to
the current system, which only kills actual people while leaving prevailing
free market ideological mythology in place.
But this is the kind of inane argument advanced by
privatized health care apologists, as if anyone in his or her right mind gives
a tinker�s damn about the merits of individualism, American-style, while
they�re busy dying on a feces-stained, urine-soaked mattress because they
exceeded their lifetime benefits cap and couldn�t afford a hospital bed where
they might get treatment, or even a hospice where they might at least die with
Other phantom phobias and industry favorites include:
- Single-payer will force us to ration health care.
Nonsense. Health care is already rationed in this country. Or more
accurately, it�s auctioned off to the highest bidder. To the shock of no
one, study after study shows that the rich tend to recover from illness
far faster and far more completely than the middle class, who in turn are
doing way better than the poor. A single-payer plan erases those class
distinctions, which may well offend the 4 or 5 percent of the population
able to pay out-of-pocket for premium medical care, but will put the rest
of us on an equal footing.
Poverty as health risk is borne out by a late-�90s Tufts University study,
which concludes that poverty is the single most dangerous risk factor in
America -- ahead of genetic predisposition, bad habits, dangerous jobs,
extreme sports and poor diet combined.
Which leads us to the inevitable: According to a study released in
May 2002 by the Minnesota-based research firm Institute of Medicine,
approximately 18,000 Americans die each year because they lack the basic
medical coverage necessary to get proper health care. Only in America is
lack of private health insurance a capital crime.
will cost too much. Nonsense. The current debacle costs each American more
than anyone else, anywhere else in the industrialized world. And payment
doesn�t end at the pocketbook; there are some things you simply can�t put
a price tag on, like recovering from an illness because you had the right
care from the right people at the right time. Managed care, by making sure
that none of the above happens without throwing a huge bureaucratic hissy
fit, is simply a cruel hoax. After all, if they were so effective at
controlling costs, health insurance premiums wouldn�t be rising by
double-digit percentages each year.
will kill choice of physicians. Nonsense. Managed care killed your freedom
to choose a long time ago. If your doc is in the plan, great. If not,
you�re paying a fair percentage of your own medical bills along with your
bloated premiums. Single-payer, on the other hand, doesn�t place any restrictions
on who you see, despite industry propaganda to the contrary. And
logically, if all docs are operating under the same rules and are paid by
the same entity, why should there be any questions about freedom of
choice? The argument makes no sense.
will create an army of government bureaucrats who will have control over
our health care needs. Nonsense. There�s already an army of bureaucrats in
charge of our health care. The difference is private health care industry
bureaucrats advance up the corporate food chain largely on the basis of
how well they control costs -- which is code for how often they�re able to
deny coverage without incurring lawsuits. Public bureaucrats, such as
Medicare administrators, are also graded on how well they measure up to
their job descriptions, although those descriptions rarely include how
effective they are at killing off their clientele.
- Single-payer will turn over our health care to
the people who run the post office. Nonsense. For all their well-documented
inefficiency, the fact is the feds do many things pretty well -- one of
which is the Medicare system, which only takes about two or three cents on
the dollar to administer, as opposed to the 25 to 40 percent overhead we
pay the industry parasites so they can deny us coverage.
Moreover, many things are just too important to be subjected to the
bottom-line mentality. For example, would anyone really want the air
traffic control system privatized? There you are suspended seven
miles in the air when the captain comes on the intercom and tells you that
Glutco Air Traffic Solutions, Inc., has just laid off 40 percent of its
workforce, including most of the people who staffed the operation at the
airport you're heading to.
So we�ll eventually be presented
with a clear choice: Continue to squander huge sums of money on a scam that is
systemically incapable of providing decent health care for all. Or follow the
lead of every single other industrialized country -- and quite a few who aren�t
even close to industrialization -- and create a fair, universal access,
single-payer system that doesn�t limit its services to those with the fattest
wallets. Health care is either a right or a privilege: Ultimately, that�s going
to be the central question regarding any efforts at health care reform.
Most of the rest of the world has
decided in favor of the former. Thus far, the US has taken the latter position.
It�s up to us, the tens of millions of individuals most affected by this
hideous, malevolent, soulless system, to force our representatives to obey
their constituents, because other than a few gutsy people like Kucinich,
Congress certainly isn�t going to do this on its own. After all, when has
altruism ever been a property of governments, particularly when so many of our
alleged representatives are so well paid by the health care racketeers to look
the other way.
On the other hand, if anyone wants the kind of guys who ran
Enron (absent the dearly departed Mr. Lay), WorldCom, Dynegy, Qwest, Harken,
Arbusto, Peregrine, Andersen, Britsol Meyers Squibb, Merck, Adelphia and the
rest of the indicted corporate criminals to oversee their health care needs,
great. I understand all of them are now looking for jobs and may even be had
for a little less than their usual multi-million-dollar salaries. In some
cases, paying their legal fees may suffice.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
and gladden his lonely old heart (which may even be a covered procedure in my
usuriously expensive PPO plan).