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Health Care and the Ghosts of War

Speaking in a time of war, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Somehow this  madness must cease.”

Forty-one years later, young soldiers are returning to the United States  from terrifying zones of carnage. The old claims of a justified war have  melted away. So have the promises of a humane society back home.

Statistics about the war dead tell us very little about human realities. And  familiar downbeat numbers about health care — 47 million Americans with no  health insurance, perhaps an equal number woefully under-insured — tell us  very little about the actual consequences or other options.

“The shocking facts about health care in the United States are well known,”  Yes! Magazine noted in the autumn of 2006. “There’s little argument that the  system is broken. What’s not well known is that the dialogue about fixing  the health care system is just as broken.”

That’s an apt description. For all the media focus and political rhetoric on  health care, the mainline discourse is stuck in a corporate-friendly rut.  But there are signs that a movement for a rational, humanistic health care  system in this country is now gaining strength.

A few hours after writing these words, I’ll be at a large demonstration in  San Francisco. The lightning rod for this historic June 19 protest is a  national meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an outfit that  cheerily pitches itself as “a national trade association representing nearly  1,300 member companies providing health benefits to more than 200 million  Americans.”

As it happens, this meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans got underway  just as news broke that the congressional “leadership” has devised a formula  to fully fund more war. “Democratic and GOP leaders in the House announced  agreement Wednesday on a long-overdue war funding bill they said President  Bush would be willing to sign,” the Associated Press reported. The bill  would “provide about $165 billion to the Pentagon to fund military  operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for about a year.”

There’s a lot of profit in death. Under the guise of national security. And  under the guise of health care.

Today, across the United States, people are dying because they don’t have  access to health care. But policy solutions are available. In Congress,  about 90 co-sponsors are backing H.R. 676, a bill to provide “comprehensive  health insurance coverage for all United States residents.” Call it whatever  you like — “single payer” or “improved Medicare for all” or “universal  health care with choice of providers and no financial barriers.” What it  adds up to is the policy option of treating health care as the human right  that it is.

In the latest edition of “Health Care Meltdown,” author C. Rocky White  identifies himself as “a conservative Republican who has always held an  entrepreneurial ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ free-market  philosophy.” A longtime physician, White describes “the frustration I began  to experience while trying to provide compassionate, quality health care in  the context of a market in which the accustomed rules of business economics  don’t apply.”

Dr. White immersed himself in research on health care policy and finance.  Then he pored through reams of the latest data on the tradeoffs of reform  options. “No matter how I turned the cube,” he writes, “the answer never  changed. That answer was nearly impossible for me, a free-market Republican,  to accept.”

Here are Dr. White’s two key conclusions in his own words:

* “Until we remove the motive of profit from the financing of health care,  we cannot and we will not resolve our current health care crisis.”

* “Any group that proposes reform policy that maintains the use of  for-profit insurance companies in a so-called free market is being driven by  one single motive — to protect the golden coffers of their share of the $2  trillion cash cow!”

Dr. White adds: “To continue down this road is paramount to suggesting that  we privatize our fire and police services and turn them into for-profit  organizations. You do that and people will die — just like they are dying  now under our current health care system!”

Grotesquely, the insurance and hospital industries at the center of health  care in the United States are, in effect, profiting from priorities that  condemn many people to death and many more to avoidable suffering.

Meanwhile, corporate enterprises continue to make a killing from U.S.  military expenditures now in the vicinity of $2 billion per day.

During a wartime speech in 1969, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist George  Wald said: “Our government has become preoccupied with death, with the  business of killing and being killed.”

The preoccupation continues.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are  considered more important than people,” Martin Luther King observed, “the  giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable  of being conquered.”

Still, somehow, this madness must cease.

NORMAN SOLOMON, the author of “War Made Easy,” is a national co-chair of  Healthcare NOT Warfare. The  other co-chairs of the campaign, launched by Progressive Democrats of  America, are Donna Smith (featured in “Sicko”), Marilyn Clement (national  coordinator of Healthcare-NOW) and Rep. John Conyers, chief sponsor of H.R.  676.

 

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