Thursday, August 13, 2009

Can The Silent Majority Save Healthcare Reform?

Maybe a better title would be “Where is The Silent Majority When You Need One?”

The public discourse over healthcare has degenerated into shouting matches and physical altercations between two highly partisan and passionate minorities. Civil discourse and rational discussion of policy differences and personally held beliefs has been thrown out the window like the proverbial baby with the bath water.

I call these groups’ minorities in the fervent hope that neither the radicals, nincompoops nor political subversives from either the left or the right represent a majority view. In my view there are many who have bought into the hype and scare tactics from the right and the false moral choices from the left. Because of a combination of overriding self interest, inability or unwillingness to thoroughly examine the issues and intellectual laziness many on both sides are exhibiting irrational fear and thought processes.

Though this iteration of political divisiveness, manipulation and gamesmanship is disturbing on multiple levels the lack of civility and increased hostility is somewhat frightening. Last Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos Cokie Roberts opined that the degradation of civility was due to a dearth of Catholic nuns teaching students good manners.

The panel had a good laugh but much truth is spoken in jest. Despite the partisan religious reference, Mrs. Roberts makes a valid point. Our society seemingly becomes more course and violent everyday. Public displays of anger and hostility have become almost blasé. Children from all economic strata display an alarming lack of manners and couth. Adults model the behaviors and their children emulate them or worse.

A society incapable of polite conversation while disagreeing or trying to reach a consensus is a society in moral and intellectual decline. To be sure, much of what has happened of late in the nationwide town hall meetings has been orchestrated chicanery.

That does not change the fact that large numbers of people have displayed a willingness to up the anti in terms of abandoning previously accepted social norms pertaining to polite public behavior. Even more distressing is the very real possibility that the participants lack the usual moral and social conscience necessary to the integrity of our social fabric.

That all being said the debate on healthcare reform has been manipulated and contrived to disseminate fear, obnubilate the real issues and forestall meaningful reform. The issue is allegedly framed by the differing political philosophies of the Republican and Democratic parties.

The right is for private healthcare and opposed to government interference or influence on the current system. The left espouses that quality healthcare is an inherent right and entitlement and anything that it takes to cover everybody is an acceptable cost. Obviously, it is a highly charged and emotional issue because of the impact on individual quality of life considerations. Those currently comfortable with the type and quality of their healthcare are prone to resist change. Those without healthcare or suffering under the enormous financial burden of paying out of pocket, even if only supplementing Medicare on a fixed retirement income, are desperate for relief.

A thorough and contemplative examination of the history of healthcare reform reveals some sobering, even startling facts. Theodore Roosevelt who was president from 1901 to 1909 was the first president to call for universal healthcare and national health insurance. For 100 years now, this country has failed to deliver on that.

Harry Truman, president from 1945 to 1953 delivered a speech on January 5th 1949 where he said that every citizen had a right to expect a fair deal from his government. One aspect of his fair deal was universal healthcare. Every time there has been a serious attempt to implement serious reform, it has been defeated by the insurance companies, their allies and minions.

The two most successful attempts at reform have been Medicare and Medicare part D. The first has a provision that currently pays insurance companies $800:00 dollars per patient per month to manage their Medicare. Part D requires the government to pay retail for subscription drugs resulting in the highest drug prices in the world and the infamous doughnut hole. The fraud, waste and abuse is systemic and of epic proportions.

In this latest battle royal between the forces for and against modifying our healthcare system truth and logic have once again been victimized; primarily by those opposed. Innuendo and outright lies of such a phenomenal nature as not to be believed by even the most obtuse individual are shouted across the landscape.

Even Sarah Palin’s outright prevarication about President Obama espousing death panels to determine who among us will be euthanized has been adopted and propelled forward by no less then three United States Senators. People of this ilk who possess either no usable intellect, moral character or both have no business in public office.

The insurance companies, drug companies and medical conglomerates have publically acknowledged a need for and willingness to participate in meaningful reform. Behind the curtain, they continue to pour millions of dollars into the pockets of the politicians on both sides of the isle willing to sell their souls for the modern day equivalent of thirty pieces of silver.

Additionally they fund organizations like 60 plus and other so-called grass root organizations that specialize in spreading the lies and twisted facts designed to scare the American public away from reform.

The left is not without its faults either. President Obama has squandered considerable political capitol and influence in a misguided and halfhearted attempt to reform healthcare. His lack of a clear-cut plan fully delineated and presented from the White House bully pulpit is stunning. The weak and even cowardly talking points he continues to spew forth while leaving it up to congress to come up with a bill shows a remarkable lack of leadership.

His failure to swiftly and aggressively refute the lies and prevarications of the opposition has allowed their propaganda to find fertile soil in which to grow. Scared seniors and others who mistrust the government all over the country have bought into the paranoia of a socialist government run plan that denies and rations care based on ones worth to society.

If people would only stop and think about it they would realize that medical care is rationed now. Insurance companies ration it with claims denials, preexisting conditions, health screenings and ever-increasing premiums. Healthcare like legal services in this country is largely a privilege of the wealthy.

An example is my sister who has worked for the state of Arizona for five years handling long-term care applications to the medicade system. She is supposedly solidly middle class. Still she can barely pay her bills based on her salary and often goes without medications because she cannot pay her co pays and still feed her family.

It is shameful that a hard working American citizen who put herself through collage and holds a meaningful full time job has to scrape by making subsistence wages from a state government. She and many more like her constitute the silent majority. Too busy working and striving for the American dream to protest and march in the streets they are the sleeping giant all politicians should tremble at the thought of.

When you are young and healthy it is possible to have deeply held personal beliefs on whether healthcare is a right of birth or privilege of prosperity. As you age and your health becomes increasingly problematic your view changes based on whether you are inside the system looking out or outside the system looking in.

The inability to care for a loved one stricken with a medical calamity because of a lack of coverage or the fact of a preexisting condition is an all too prevalent happenstance in today’s world. The fact is though that the most altruistic among us shudder at the possibility that reform will have a negative impact on our own care. There is a valid and rising groundswell of governmental distrust.

A healthcare system that goes the way of Amtrak or the Post Office is no improvement over the current state of affairs. Any change leading in that direction would be cold comfort to those currently under or uninsured much less those more fortunate. It is arguably the most important and complex priority facing this country. Our collective quality of life, economic prosperity and social conscience depend on getting this right.

The irrational fear of a government run system leading to socialism is refuted by the fact that there are no volunteers willing to forego their participation in Medicare in exchange for the insurance afforded by the private capitol market. Many countries spend less per capita and deliver better results with their single payer government run programs.

It is a shame that the apolitical pseudo intellectual illuminati that really runs this country is going to again finagle a deal that benefits corporate coffers more then the electorate who put their paid mouthpieces in office. The president has blown the best opportunity we are ever likely to have not from a lack of trying. More like a lack of political sophistication and a profound under estimation of his opponents.

We will get a bill but it will be a Band-Aid on an arterial bleed. It will not include tort reform, which is badly needed. It likely will not include a public option and it will not provide universal coverage. It will not be deficit neutral and it will taste like a sand sandwich to everyone.

The sad thing though is our children or maybe our grandchildren will have to fix what we fail to correct. They will pay the price in reduced life expectancy, poorer quality care and higher taxes. Unless of course that invisible silent majority rises up and like the elephant in the room dominates the conversation and demands meaningful reform now. The ball is in our court. Let’s play ball!

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