Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is Health Insurance Regulation Socialism?

I saw a woman on a video of one of the unruly town hall meetings who was truly, genuinely distraught. She fears that President Obama is a socialist, and health insurance reform is moving us towards socialism. There are enough people scared by this that it's worth some time and analysis.

First, let's separate the fears of people who genuinely feel that ensuring that everyone in the United States can afford health insurance will lead us away from capitalism from the views of the crazies, whose wacko views don't deserve a response.

In my opinion, the personal attacks on President Obama -- the so-called birthers movement of people who don't believe he was born in the USA despite his Hawaiian birth certificate, people calling him a Nazi, drawing Hitlerian moustaches on his photograph -- these are largely, in my opinion, fringe groups that really hate the fact that we have an African-American President. These are the militia groups, and people like the guy who thought it made sense to bring a loaded gun to President Obama's town hall meeting in New Hampshire earlier this week, the guy who was arrested for advocating killing President Obama.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors what they consider to be hate groups, things haven't yet gotten as heated as they were before the Oklahoma City bombing, but there's a definite up-tick in the activities of militia groups, organizing and training for the next apocalypse -- bank bailouts, the stimulus package, and now health insurance reform.

I have nothing to say to these people. They will always be there. They are nuts. They are Sarah Palin on acid. They scare me, but I know better than to try to argue with them. They are a lost cause. The only way to change them is to deprogram them! And since we don't do that in America, they will remain.

But what of the people who are not just attacking Obama and railing against any form of income tax, who stockpile guns and supplies and advocate the overthrow of our government, but who genuinely are afraid that health insurance for all means socialism, and that somehow means the deterioration of the fabric of America?

We have Medicare and Social Security already. These programs didn't turn us into socialists. We have Medicaid for the poor. We have the State Children's Health Insurance Plan or SCHIP. Still no socialism. Your tax dollars finance the VA health system, and health care for everyone in an American prison. No socialism.

But that's the easy response. Let's take this more seriously for a moment.

According to Wikipedia,

refers to various theories of economic organization advocating state, public or common worker (through cooperatives) ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods, and a society characterized by equal access to resources for all individuals with an egalitarian method of compensation."

So a socialist system would mean we the people would own the health care system. I've read the 1018 page House Bill and the Senate HELP Committee bill with all amendments, and there's nothing in them that says the people will own the health care system. I promise.

But the latter part of the definition -- "equal access to resources for all individuals with an egalitarian method of compensation" -- I suppose Medicare meets that definition, as does Social Security, VA health care, and prison health care. But that doesn't seem to bother folks like the young woman at the town hall.

What bothers her and many others isn't really health insurance reform in and of itself. If you ask them if people should have health insurance, most of them will say yes. Most of them are against pre-existing condition exclusions and the ability of insurance companies to drop people because they get sick. No. Before we dismiss this argument that health care reform is socialism simplistically, by pointing to Medicare, we really need to understand what these folks are saying.

The thinking goes like this: first we bailed out the banks, then we took majority ownership of the automobile companies, then there was the stimulus package, and now health insurance reform including subsidies for those who can't afford to pay on their own. We the people are handing out money left and right, and that's leading to government regulation and ownership of banks, auto companies, and now, a publicly run health plan.

Of course, we've yet to see whether there will be a public insurance plan that will serve as an option that people can choose as an alternative to commercial insurance. The core of what I believe will be passed will eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions, create a central marketplace where people can compare and choose a health plan to purchase, and probably a requirement that everyone must have insurance and, thus, subsidies for the middle class who can't afford the premium payments. There may well not be a public option. So no government ownership of the health care system other than what we already have -- Medicaid, Medicare, the VA, federal employees, the active military, and prisoners.

But really, this issue, the socialism argument, is about the size of government for some people, and about the size of the deficit for others. If health insurance reform weren't following on the heels of bank and auto bailouts and the stimulus package, I'm not sure you'd get so much of this socialism fear frenzy.

So let's unpack this.

Last September, BEFORE President Obama took office, the stock market went into a freefall and huge banks and financial services companies began to fail. I and most everybody lost about 40% of my retirement savings. The first bank bailout happened under George Bush, if you recall correctly. But it quickly proved to be insufficient to stop the economic melt-down, as bank after bank came to the brink of disaster.

Today, the stock market is relatively stable. It even has recovered a little bit. Some of the banks have paid back the money they were given. Have we fixed the problem? No -- as long as financial institutions continue to give huge bonuses to people regardless of their performance, the battle has not been won. And so the President urges Congress to pass financial institution regulation. We'll see how that goes. But I don't see how anybody can argue that, when President Obama took office, he shouldn't have done anything to save the banks. We might be in the midst of a depression right now if we had done nothing. So yes, it's distasteful. I hate the fact that my tax dollars are funding irresponsible institutions that have learned nothing from their failures. But I'm glad I lost only 40% of my retirement savings rather than all of it.

The auto companies. We're seeing unemployment at 9.4% and it may still get worse before it hits bottom. If GM and Chrysler had completely gone under, the job losses would have been extraordinary, not only for GM and Chrysler employees, but all the parts manufacturers and dealerships and everyone else that has a role in the auto industry in the United States. So yes, we gave them a lot of money and we took, in exchange, a large portion of ownership. I hope that, as these companies exit bankruptcy and begin to come back, our ownership in those companies will be worth more than what we paid for it. I hope that there comes a time when we can sell our shares of these companies. It remains to be seen. But letting them go under would have been worse, I believe.

The effects of the stimulus package have yet to be fully felt, but again, I believe it kept us from falling off the cliff. The COBRA subsidy alone has kept many thousands of people insured. We are starting to see public works projects get going. And in states without budgets like Connecticut, the stimulus funding is what will allow schools to open on time this year.

So for each step that President Obama has taken, there is a good rationale, and so far, pretty good outcomes. However, taken together, these programs are fodder for conservative advocates to use to scare people into believing that health insurance reform is a government take-over of the health care system, just like we allegedly took over the banks and the car companies. Regardless of how necessary these steps were and are, we've had to print a lot of money in the last 6 months, and our deficit has grown. This is enough for Glenn Beck and FOX news and Rush Limbaugh to make the argument that we are turning socialist. And people believe them.

And therein lies the problem. People believe them.

Those of us who are political and news junkies, and who are fighting for health insurance reform because we believe it truly is life and death, know that these fear-mongers are deliberately distorting the facts and fomenting revolution by the right. Limbaugh says the President's health insurance reform symbol looks like a swastika, and the next thing you know, there's a swastika painted on a Congressman's office. The Washington Times and Palin talk about death panels and you truly have senior citizens in hysteria. We know these charges are false and misleading -- indeed, deliberately so.

But it's also the case that most people aren't going to read the actual draft legislation. They don't spend hours each day reading newspapers or researching the truth for themselves. And they buy the claim that there's a liberal media elite that supports anything the Democratic President and Congress do, blindly, while they blindly believe that FOX news is a real news channel even though it refuses to cover things that are as important as a Presidential prime-time news conference.

So how do we calm these folks down? I have to tell you -- I'm feeling quite desperate about this. I have this little blog that is read by maybe 50 people if I'm lucky. I do all I can here to set the record straight, but truly, the Palinites would assume everything I'm saying is a lie anyway.

So I don't know the answer, but I know that these aren't all bad people. They assume Rush Limbaugh doesn't lie. They watch FOX news and think that's the truth. The only difference between me and them is that I take the time to do the research to learn the truth myself, and having learned the truth by reading the draft legislation, I am then in a better position to judge which news outlets are telling the truth. And since we can't expect every day Americans to do all that work, how do we resolve all of this?

Again, I don't know the answer, but I know that I'm scared. I'm scared for the young woman who is beside herself because she thinks we're turning socialist when what we're doing is addressing very critical problems -- the collapse of our economy, the crisis in health care. I'm scared that she and others like her aren't listening, can't be told the truth, can't hear it. And I'm scared that we will lose a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reform our health insurance industry because people believed the lies.

None of what President Obama has done makes us socialists. He's stopped us from sliding into a depression. He stopped the auto makers from going under entirely. And now, he wants to make sure that everybody can get and afford health insurance. Yes, it's been a lot, and it's been fast. But if the President moved slower, our country could be bankrupt.

As for health insurance, here's a fact. Four years ago, our insurance cost $450 per month. It now costs $1000 per month. Every day, I talk to people who can't get insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or who have to drop their insurance because of the cost. Something has to give; this is a crisis. And if you're really worried about socialism, remember that we all pay for the cost of care at free clinics and hospital ERs when people can't pay. It will help us all if everybody has insurance.

Socialism is a word. We've needed big, bold solutions and we've gotten them. As a result, the recession is starting to ease and there's the promise of health insurance for all down the road. I, for one, don't care what you call it as long as it works. Jennifer


  1. I found this by accident. It could be me talking. I am going to forward it to a lot of folks. Thanks!

  2. It is a scary proposition to think we are up against a machine that wants to preserve its own wealth and privilege with the pain and suffering of those less fortunate than themselves. I think all was can do is what you do, stay true, state the truth, go on record (thank you internet) and prepave for the generations to come that must get it right. Eventually, we will have to decide who lives and who dies because the technology will enable us to live to 150 but the resources to support the technology will be limited. What our grandchildren's children will have to figure out is a just and fair way to distribute the resources so everyone gets the same chance at hitting 150... or at least decide in a fair and just way at what age you stop getting life extending care and convert to making people as comfortable as possible as they come to the end of their lives.

    I think as the future unfolds, just as many of teh ugly racists who protested equal access for african americans are now ashamed of what they used to believe, so to will the protestors of universal healthcare look back and be ashamed that they were more concerned with wealth than justice.

    Okay putting my crystal ball away and back to today... I like that we are seeing multi million dollar punitive damages to unjust insurance companies. I like that there are people like Jennifer doing the good work she is doing.

    I think our own integrity is all we have here. Hopefully we can teach our children right so that the ripples of our efforts can take us to a future that is fair and just.

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