Health Care Reform: DOA

I never thought I’d find myself thanking the women-loathing, Christian fundamentalist-pandering Democrats in Congress for anything, but here it is: Thank you Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Mich), for your outrageous amendment to the House version of the health insurance reform legislation in Congress, which bars any insurance company in the proposed health insurance exchange from offering a health insurance plan that includes abortion coverage.

This amendment, which would actually bar women or families from buying even with their own money and no government subsidy health insurance that includes funding for a medically recommended abortion, was supported by 64 Democrats along with all but one Republican in Congress.

Because it passed and was attached to the House health reform bill, it gives hope to the notion that the disastrous so-called health reform legislation in Congress will die.

And so it should.

Because of an utter lack of leadership from the president, and because of the massive corruption in Congress, which is wallowing in lobbying money from the insurance industry and other parts of the Medical-Industrial Complex, a historical opportunity to finally bring the US out of the dark ages on health care has been blown.

The legislation emerging in Senate and House does not reform the system. In fact it in many ways makes things even worse than they are today, with unfunded mandates that struggling working people buy insurance or be penalized, with taxes placed on better plans negotiated through long struggle by labor unions, with little in the way of cost controls on doctors, hospitals and the drug industry, and it doesn’t even provide coverage for all.

Way back in 1965, a different Democratic president and Democratic Congress passed landmark health reform that gave the US a pioneering single-payer healthcare program, with the only problem being that you had to live to 65 in order to qualify for it. Today that program, Medicare, while repeatedly shortchanged and underfunded by Congress, is relied upon by over 40 million elderly and disabled Americans, and is widely appreciated for its simplicity and its universality. Sure it could be better. We could do away with the gaps in coverage, and tighten the screws on payments to doctors, hospitals and the suppliers of tests, equipment and drugs. But it remains a beautiful model of what could be done for the rest of the country.

Instead of drawing on this excellent, time-tested model, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have pretended Medicare doesn’t exist. Obama went so far as to say on several occasions, including in his address to Congress on health care reform, that while single-payer plans like those in Canada and France might work well in those countries (indeed they do, and at much less cost than our insane "system" here!), introducing such a system here would mean "starting from scratch."

Come again Barack? From scratch? Those countries modeled their systems, in part, on Medicare, which we had here first! And Medicare is actually a bigger program than the entire Canadian health care system!

Medicare for all would have been the proper way to reform American health care, and in fact, it could have been implemented right away at a huge overall savings to all of us. This was never admitted by the Democratic leaders in Congress of by the president. In fact, bills in the House and Senate, sponsored, respectively, by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have never even been allowed to get a hearing or to go to a floor vote, for fear that the public would see what they are being denied.

Medicare for all, while it would certainly have meant higher payroll taxes for all of us, would have been a huge net savings, because it would have eliminated the need for the Medicaid program for the poor ($450 billion a year), the Veterans Administration healthcare system ($100 billion a year and mounting), and publicly funded charity care by hospitals ($300 billion). It would have eliminated over $150 billion a year in private health industry administrative costs and between $75-100 billion in health industry profits. Total it up: that represents savings of over $1 trillion a year. Since adding the under-65 population to Medicare would only add about $750-800 billion a year to the program costs, that’s a net savings of over $200 billion a year, without even counting the fact that businesses and citizens alike would no longer have to pay ransoms to the private insurance industry–a savings to individuals and employers of close to $1.5 trillion a year!

We need health care reform. 40 million Americans have no access to health care. 40,000 a year die because of lack of access. 30-40 million more have lousy care funded by state Medicaid programs, many of which are underfunded and few of which provide for routine care. The rest of us are indentured to our employers, afraid to unionize, afraid to strike, afraid to speak up on the job, for fear of losing our insurance coverage.

The health care "reform" bill in Congress does nothing to solve these problems. Aside from outlawing a couple of the worst abuses, such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, or pricing such people out of the insurance market, or dropping coverage when someone actually becomes ill, it leaves all the evils of the current system in place, and assures that the crisis will continue and continue to worsen.

But with the ban on abortion coverage, there is a chance that at least some principled members of Congress, backers of a woman’s right to unimpeded health care that she and her doctor say she needs, will reject the whole obscene package. If they do, this fradulent reform legislation will go down in flames.

Then we’ll be back to square one, and we can finally demand that Congress and the President give us the reform that will work: Medicare for all.

So again, thank you Rep. Stupak, and all you anti-women’s rights Democrats who backed the amendment barring abortion coverage in the health reform legislation. You may have coathangered this faux health “reform” legislation and given us another shot at real health system reform.

DAVE LINDORFF  is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com


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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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