Give credit to Howard Dean. This still practicing physician, former governor of Vermont, former chair of the Democratic Party and former Democratic presidential candidate has called for progressive members of Congress in both houses to join their Republican colleagues in killing what he rightly says has become "an insurance company’s dream."
Those namby-pamby, self-described "progressives" in the Democratic Party who claim that the health bill can still be saved with the inclusion of a fake, carefully circumscribed and thoroughly emasculated "public option" government insurance plan that at best would only be able to offer lousy coverage at high rates to a small number of self-employed poor people are wrong. This supposed attempt at reforming the US health care system–the costliest and least effective in the developed world–is simply past saving.
The only appropriate place for the bill at this point is a dumpster.
What could have been a transformational moment in American politics–an end to decades of corporate health care and the creation of a system in which all Americans were guaranteed affordable, quality care as a basic right of citizenship, the way people are in Canada, in all the countries of Europe, in Japan, in Taiwan, in Cuba and much of the rest of the world, has been squandered.
It has been squandered by President Obama, who was too gutless to take a leadership role, and left matters to Congress, and who then slithered up to the major players in the medical-industrial complex and cut secret deals with all of them–doctors, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the hospital industry–in return for their "support."
It has been squandered by many leading members of Congress in both houses, especially those who call themselves the Blue Dogs, but also by many who call themselves "liberals," who accepted the tainted coin of those industries (and their lobbyists have been flooding Congress over the past year with contributions in unprecedented amounts), and who have transformed the legislation into a huge gift for those industries, producing a bill that will leave employers as the main agency for providing health coverage (though not for paying for it–that will be the employees’ responsibility), require those without coverage to buy it themselves, guaranteeing a vast new market of mostly health young people for the insurance industry, and that will do almost nothing to control costs.
Doctors will get richer under this "reform." Insurance companies will get vastly richer under this "reform". Pharmaceutical companies will get richer under this "reform". But there will still be millions of people left with no access to health care. There will still be tens of millions of people who will get substandard or even pathetically trashy health care. And the cost of medical care, both for individuals and for society as a whole, already the highest in the world, will continue to soar. To make matters worse, taxes will also go up dramatically, by at least $100 billion a year. For extra laughs, while these costs would start hitting the public right away, the "benefits" of the bill wouldn’t go into effect until 2013, meaning that a likely resurgent Republican Party, ousting Obama from the White House, and the Democrats from the majority in Congress in 2012, would simply undo the whole thing anyhow.
Dr. Dean is right. This is indeed a bad bill. But it’s not just a bad bill. It is a morally outrageous, politically disgusting and economically dangerous bill. It moves the country in exactly the wrong direction–not towards the socialism that the right has been decrying, but towards an increasingly costly corporatist system that will be even harder to reform down the road.
There is only one hope, and that is that enough liberal members of House and Senate will recognize that nothing is better than something in this case, and that for the sake of their constituents they will refuse to support this legislative monstrosity.
The Health Insurance Enrichment Act of 2009 must be killed in the congressional womb before it can emerge to become the monster it has become.
The only positive thing I can see in this debacle is that perhaps if President Obama is slapped down by his own most ardent backers on what he has claimed is his number one legislative goal, he and his too-clever-by-half advisers will realize that they need to do a U-turn and rethink how they are trying to govern.
More likely, however, this defeat will be the beginning of the end of the Obama administration, which has now been revealed as devoid of principle, incapable of leadership, and in thrall to the most cynical and greedy corporate interests.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org