16 November 2009

Idealism, Capitalism, and Healthcare Justice

This is a letter to the editor of my school's newspaper, in response to a letter in last week's edition (which can be read here.) I'm working on trimming down this letter to fit in the word limit, and there's always a chance it will be edited even further, so I'd like to post the full version here, just in case my point gets obscured for the sake of brevity.

To the Editor:

The healthcare reform bill that passed the US House is certainly an impressive piece of legislation, and makes a strong statement about how Congress feels healthcare should be administered in the United States. However, the impressive parts of the bill aren't such notes like the numbers of the people that will how be able to have health insurance, or the comprehensiveness of the new “public” health plan. Rather, what makes the Affordable Healthcare for America Act (HR 3962) so amazing is as an example of political and rhetorical maneuvering, successfully passing off a coup for the health insurance industry- and most likely their lapdogs in Congress- as a significant “reform” to the benefit of working people.

To be fair, both to the bill itself and its supporters who may take issue with what I am saying, HR 3962 does include a couple things which, taken by themselves, are pretty good. Removing anti-trust legislation, and stripping health insurance companies of the ability to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or drop coverage when an insured person does get sick do represent some steps forward in curbing the power of the health insurance industry. However, these measures are but a small part of the overall bill, which couples each halting step in a potentially good direction with measures that will serve to further fatten the coffers of the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. For example, pricing in the “public option” is left to the private sector, a contradiction if I've ever heard one. Furthermore, mandating that all Americans have some sort of health insurance has the result of either herding people into high-cost, low-benefit private plans, or criminalizing their lack of health insurance, subjecting them to fines which they probably would not be able to afford anyway. How this will help solve the problem of medical bankruptcy is quite beyond me.

Of course, the amendment process in Congress means that this bad bill gets even worse. The now-infamous amendment proposed by Michigan congressman Bart Stupak (a Democrat, mind you) prevents people from using subsidies to buy insurance that would cover abortion, even if they use their own money to pay for that specific provision, as an article in the November 9th edition of the New York Times points out. Medicare funding is also being cut, which leads one to wonder how that system will survive as more and more people become eligible for the program. So, when the letter to the editor in last week's Lafayette mentions this healthcare bill as a step in the right direction, I have to wonder if he and I are in fact reading the same bill, or if the writer thinks that these regressive measures are in fact strides toward a “happy medium” between “idealism and capitalism."

Is there another option to this bill? You bet. HR 676, which in thirteen pages does more good than the 1,990 page HR 3962 by abolishing private health insurance companies and effectively creating a system of Medicare for the entire US population, would be an incredibly positive step forward by mandating that health coverage will no longer be administered through a system whose purpose is to make money off of people's pain and fear. In the context of our current healthcare system, this would certainly be a major reform, and one which would be met with outright hostility by the health insurance industry. It's also likely that, if brought to a vote in the US House, it would fail, as the Democratic Party is pathetically divided, and in many ways is just as much a heel to the health insurance industry (and capitalism as a whole) as the Republicans. But, contrary to the tortured logic of “bi-partisanship” that many political leaders like to put forward, and the spirit of “compromise” in last week's letter to the editor, the health of human beings is not something we should be dithering on. I, for one, proudly stand on the side of “idealism,” or perhaps more accurately, justice.

Update: the edited version of this letter was printed in the Lafayette without modification (so far as I can tell, at least.) However, it is somewhat frustrating to see my letter- which I edited down due to a claimed word limit on submissions to the paper- being published next to a rather lengthy letter from someone whining about the supposed persecution of Greek life on campus.

40 comments:

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