By Mark David Blum, Esq.
I wish to add my voice to the growing chorus demanding that the United States Senate kill the present pending health care Bill under discussion. Ranging from the entire Republican Party and their Tea Bagger consorts on the right to Howard Dean and Keith Olberman on the left, there seems to be a near unanimous call to end the Senate Bill. What was at its birth an overhaul of the weaknesses and infidelities of the nation’s health care system has deteriorated into nothing more than welfare for insurance companies. The White House seems more focused on getting any Bill signed than it is on assuring its contents are in the best interests of the American people. In the end, if the Bill is approved in its current form, then none of the intended good will filter down to the benefit of any of us.
My family is at ground zero of the current health care debate. We do not have health insurance available to us through employment. Because of pre-existing conditions, we are not eligible for insurance even if we could afford the near $13,000.00 annual premium for a family plan. With great hope and anticipation, we have followed the health care debate ever since the President brought the issue to the table as being his #1 priority. There was hope that we could get health care and afford treatment for issues that plague us.
Instead of a robust and universal health care proposal, we have been stricken down by the Senate’s Death Panel. Senator Lieberman, Senator Grassley, Senator Baucus, Senator Landreiu, Senator DeMint, and Senator Nelson are among those who have worked so hard to strip the Bill of any meaningful reform and set it upon a path of doing nothing more than feeding insurance company executives. There is no health care in the health care Bill. Instead, there is mandatory insurance (buy it or go to prison), no competition for insurance companies by implementation of a public option, no price regulation, no service regulation, and no prevention of caps for annual or lifetime benefits. Senator Reid who is leading the charge on this Bill has surrendered time and time again to objections by members of the Senate’s death panel to the point that the Bill pending has no teeth, no bite, and no solution to the nation’s health care crisis.
I question from where Congress believes it has the legal or constitutional authority to mandate that Americans buy private health insurance. Nothing in the explicit text of the Constitution says they are so authorized. Nothing in our nation’s history or in legal precedent supports the argument that individuals can be mandated to buy private insurance under pain of imprisonment. The argument raised about “we do it with auto insurance, surely we can do it with health insurance” is false and misleading. First, the federal government does not mandate auto insurance as each State has its own laws and rules. Second and most importantly, there is no mandate in any State requiring the purchase of auto insurance UNLESS you intend to own and drive a car. Millions of New York City residents do not own cars and do not have auto insurance. It is simply a red herring to argue that every citizen is mandated to buy auto insurance. In reality, auto insurance is mandated only to those who would own a car. Let me be among the first to end up on the public welfare roles by being imprisoned for refusing to buy private medical insurance at the point of a gun.
Perhaps mandating the purchase of insurance would be more palatable if there was a genuine alternative to the price fixing, piggish, and slovenly behavior of insurance companies. This was the great benefit of the public option, of opening up Medicare for everybody, or even (gasp) establishing a single payer system. If there was competition in the marketplace, prices would naturally come down, benefits would rise, and We the People would have a product available and affordable to everybody. Under the current proposal, not only do most Americans shoulder the burden of paying thousands of dollars for private insurance, but the government is going to step in for those who do not meet income standards and give billions of our dollars to private insurance companies to pay for premiums. Instead of spending those same dollars to build a world class public health care system, the Senatorial Death Panelists and the Republican Party insist that taxpayer money be given to private insurance companies. It is immoral, it is a violation of duty, and it is arguably unconstitutional for the Senate to mandate insurance and also give billions to the private sector. With a twelve trillion dollar national debt, we are hardly in a position to be giving money to anybody; least of all, insurance executives.
I say Kill the Bill. Start over. Send the Bill back to committee and don’t let Senators come out of their cloak room until they have a real Bill that really meets and addresses the deficiencies of our current health care system. There should be no fear of a public option. Senators should come talk to me about how life would be different if we could all access Medicare. Bring me a Bill that makes health care available to everybody. This discussion should NOT be about insurance. What good is it to pay extra money just to fund a third party intervenor? We do not need health insurance, we need health care. Insurance is nothing more than a ponzi scheme by which a premium is added to the cost of health care so as to provide for multi million dollar executive salaries, employees of insurance companies, and stock dividends. Better stated: Insurance begs the question of why pay $100 for a service when you can pay $130? This is what the public option would have solved. The failure to include a public option in the Bill makes it wholly unworthy of any further consideration.
The Bill does have its good points. It expands health coverage for the poor through the unfunded State mandates such as Medicaid. Doctors and medical providers will be paid more from Medicare. There are billions to be spent on wellness and education programs. Children can stay on their parents’ insurance policies longer. Business gets tax breaks for providing health insurance to employees. These are all fine and dandy proposals but amount to little more than decorations hiding a disaster. Forty six million Americans have no medical care because they are uninsured and cannot afford treatment. Forty five thousand die every year from lack of access to treatment. The Bill in its current form does not address this fundamental flaw in the ystem.
Cowardice seems to be at the core of what went wrong with the health care debate. Senator Reid is afraid he wont get a filibuster proof majority if a public option, Medicare option, or single payer option is included in the Bill. Reid is running for re-election in Nevada and polls show he is lagging behind. He needs this win. The same holds for many others in the Senate who are facing risky elections. Returning to office has taken priority over fulfilling their oath and doing what is best for the American People. The White House suffers from the same disease as President Obama demanded change and hope in the health care industry but the President did nothing more than direct Congress to “get ‘er done”. He did not lead, offered no concrete proposals, and in the end backed out of every one of his major campaign promises on the subject. He promised that there will be no tax increase for Americans earning less than $200,000.00. What is a mandatory insurance purchase obligation but a tax increase? This is especially so given the Congress’ passage of a Bill that authorizes the IRS to collect a fee from everybody who cannot prove they have sufficient insurance. Cowards took over the debate, cowards ran from the hard decisions, and in the end, cowardice has removed the fundamental requirement of any change in the health care system; an alternative to private insurance.
The insurance mandate must be stripped away from the Bill. Americans cannot be compelled under pain of imprisonment to buy private insurance in a market with unregulated costs and offerings. We need a buy-in alternative such as Medicare for everybody, another public option, or even a single payer system. Absent a public option or inexpensive alternative to the out of control insurance company costs, the fundamental problem facing all Americans is not resolved. These two issues must be addressed before the Bill comes to a vote.
The Senate is threatening to hold its vote on the Bill late night on Christmas eve. This is a shame and a sham. Under obvious pressure to get out of town for the holidays, Senators will be obligated to yea or nay without the opportunity for reflection. We are going to get a pile of garbage from an 11th hour Bill. Republicans should be widely condemned for this mess. Take for example the one Amendment proposed for a single payer system. Republican senators demanded that the entire 767 page Amendment be read aloud on the floor; something that should have taken almost ten hours. Rather than allow the delay to prevent a vote on the Bill, the offering Senator withdrew his proposed Amendment from consideration. This is but one example as to how far Republicans are willing to go to prevent a universal solution to our health care crisis. Prostituting themselves for the insurance industry, Republicans and a few democrats have made the substantive discussion of the Bill and the issue nearly impossible. They lie, they cheat, they manufacture facts and threats, and use every parliamentary trick to slow the process with the single goal being to prevent solving the underlying problem. Republicans are bitter about losing the last election and have gone to amazing lengths to punish Americans for the sin of having voted for a Democrat for President.
It is a fundamental human right to have access to health care. This issue seems settled amongst the vast majority of us. It is the same with education, fire and police protection, housing, and food. We recognize that as human beings, everybody should have access. Nobody should go hungry or homeless and billions of dollars are spent and millions of people work hard every day to eradicate hunger and homelessness in this nation. We spend incredible sums of money for protection and for education and nobody complains. No longer are we going to be a People who will see an injured or sick person laying on a sidewalk and wonder “gee, I sure do hope they have insurance.” We have seen the problem and seek out a solution. The notable part is how the solution is right in front of our noses. Treat health care like education, housing, food, police and fire and guarantee medical care for everybody. Do this not at the point of a gun but with the gentle giving that so speaks of our American conscience.
Something must be done to change or kill the Bill pending before the Senate. Without some form of public option, the Bill is a failure and boondoggle. So long as it has the mandatory insurance requirement, it is a major tax upon the citizens and provides welfare for insurance companies. People are going to die. They are going to suffer. With a mandatory purchase law and a lack of a public alternative, our nation is going to be dragged down into mud and become a mockery rather than being the shining city on the hill.
The Senate should get back to work and make this Bill right. Even if it fails, at least it will have been an honest effort. Americans will not forget or forgive lawmakers who scuttle a valuable Bill. At the same time, Americans will never forget or forgive cowardly legislators who abandon us to the vultures in the insurance industry. Let the Bill die. In its current condition, the Senate’s health care Bill must die. Let it die the same painful and horrible death like so many thousands of uninsured Americans.
Howard Dean, doctor, former governor of Vermont and once Chairman of the Democratic Party publicly declared, “If I were a senator, I would not vote for the current health-care bill. Any measure that expands private insurers' monopoly over health care and transfers millions of taxpayer dollars to private corporations is not real health-care reform. Real reform would insert competition into insurance markets, force insurers to cut unnecessary administrative expenses and spend health-care dollars caring for people. Real reform would significantly lower costs, improve the delivery of health care and give all Americans a meaningful choice of coverage. The current Senate bill accomplishes none of these.”
Hippocrates said it best. “Whenever a doctor cannot do good, he must be kept from doing harm.” The United States Senate is not only poised to do us no good, but they are about to commit great harm. Kill the Bill, end the debate, start over, and let us have real health care reform.