Kind of Red

August 11, 2009

Here’s to Your Health

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 9:41 pm

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It is often said when nations wage war, the conflict will inevitably become “the rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”  The phrase entered into the lexicon of the American people shortly after the promulgation of the act for “enrolling and calling out the National Forces,” signed into law by President Lincoln on March 3, 1863.  The Act served as the first effective draft exercised by the federal government, and it contained a provision that allowed for a draftee to gain an exemption by paying a $300 fee (about $5187.89 today) or hiring a substitute.  This led to the criticism that the draft and its exemption created the “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”  The phrase has since implied the rich have a means to escape the dangers of combat by hurling the poor into the thick of the fray.  In so doing, the rich and powerful  purchase protection of their interests with the blood of the poor.  While the phrase is commonly understood within the context of the theater of war, it also provides a fitting description of our nation’s current healthcare debate. 

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It goes without saying that our nation is presently in the midst of a healthcare crisis. Healthcare costs have continued to rise at rapid rates in recent years, which has caused major concerns in a multitude of areas, including, “the increasingly rapid unraveling of employer- based health insurance . . . the plight of Medicaid, and the long-term problem of the federal government’s solvency.”  Additionally, the Center for Disease Control recently reported that the data on health insurance from the National Health Interview Survey in 2006 showed a slight increase in the number adults with no health coverage, which now totals 14.8 percent of Americans (or 43.6 million)A study published in the August issue of The American Journal of Medicine showed “medical problems contributed to nearly two-thirds (62.1 percent) of all bankruptcies in 2007.” The study also showed “between 2001 and 2007, the proportion of bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6 percent.”  Moreover, a recent study conducted by Harvard University researchers found that the average “out-of-pocket” medical debt for those who filed for bankruptcy was $12,000.  The study also noted that 68 percent of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance.  Roughly 1.5 million families lose their homes each year due to unaffordable medical expenses.  An additional survey showed that 25 percent of those surveyed said their housing problems resulted from medical debt.  These reports have shed light on the public debate and informed the general public of the flaws in our system, but many do not need reports, because they have horror stories of their own to share.

out-fallview-surgeon Consequently, President Obama has made healthcare reform his top priority for domestic policy, and declared it is “critical to our nation’s long-term economic strength.”   The healthcare overhaul he proposes aims to allow Americans who are satisfied with their health coverage to maintain their current policies, ensure all Americans have access to affordable healthcare, secure veterans’ healthcare and benefit small businesses that provide coverage to employees. In sum, he has said,  “This isn’t about politics.  This is about people’s lives.  This is about people’s businesses.  This is about our future.”

Now that Congress has recessed for the summer, Democratic lawmakers across the nation have organized town hall meetings to describe the basic structure of the proposed changes in the healthcare overhaul.  The goal is to explain the plan and “listen to constituents’” concerns.  While the Senate reportedly had a contentious debate on healthcare reform before the August recess, the loudest clamoring came from outside of the Senate chambers.  As has been widely reported over the course of the past several days, these town hall meetings have been met with rowdy, disorderly attendants, intent of disrupting any meaningful discussion.  The “protesters” typically yell, scream and hurl personal attacks when lawmakers attempt to speak.  Their stated goal is to cause chaos and prevent any discussion from occurring.  The disruptions during the town halls have led to outbreaks of violencedeath threats to participants and other forms of coercion

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Congressman David Scott's (13th District-GA) office was vandalized after he held a contentious town hall meeting on healthcare reform.

These protesters have become incited by the likes of Sarah Palin, who erroneously insists the proposed healthcare reform will institute “death panels” (Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) has openly refuted these fictitious claims), Rush Limbaugh who compares President Obama’s healthcare logo to a swastika and other Republican lawmakers who have encouraged the disruptions.  The disruptions have become so distracting, President Obama flew to Portsmouth, NH to host a town hall meeting where he personally promoted the health care overhaul.  It remains to be seen whether he will successfully defuse fears about the plan.

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President Obama in New Hampshire August 11, 2009 addressing concerns over his proposed healthcare reform.

One of the foremost ironies of the protests for healthcare reform has revolved around the fact that the very people lamenting the proposed changes in healthcare are presumably those who most desperately need them.  They also have routinely demonstrated a lack of a fundamental understanding of the most salient issues within the debate. For example, at one recent town hall meeting, one man stood up and told his representative, “Get your government hands off my Medicare.”  President Obama mentioned in his town hall meeting that he has received letters saying virtually the same thing.  In another town hall meeting one Congressman listened to an attendant provide a litany of problems he had with the proposed plan.  When the representative asked what he wanted the plan to provide, the man could not offer an answer without the assistance of fellow audience members shouting out the talking points provided for those who would disrupt the meeting.  Others have chanted, “no national healthcare” at a recent town hall meeting even though that is not what the proposed reform offers.  Timothy Noah of Slate reported how one protester, Diane Campbell of Kingston, N.H., stood outside of President Obama’s town hall meeting holding placards that depict the president as a Nazi, compares President Obama to Hitler and alleges he is leading our country into socialism with his proposed healthcare reform.  Ms. Campbell’s mother has a rare autoimmune disease that requires expensive transfusions of gamma globulin.   This treatment is paid for by Medicare, the government operated health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.  Ms. Campbell’s sister also receives medical treatment paid for by Medicare. 

This is Ms. Campbell outside of President Obama's town hall meeting.  She wants him to get his government hands off the Medicare that pays for her relatives medical treatment.

This is Ms. Campbell outside of President Obama's town hall meeting. She wants him to get his government hands off the Medicare that pays for her relatives' medical treatment. If she only knew what that meant.

There are some legitimate ideological differences surfacing within the debate (some lawmakers legitimately oppose a public option in any form), yet many opponents merely have entered into the debate because of politics.  Simply put, many desire to undermine healthcare reform merely because the President has announced its importance.  This is the rationale behind statements such as healthcare reform is “Obama’s waterloo” by Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).  For him and others within his party, this represents an opportunity to stifle the efforts of a President from the opposing party rather than adequately representing the constituents they were elected to serve.  If Republican lawmakers truly desired to implement healthcare reform, they had ample opportunity during the Bush Administration, when a Republican held the presidency and they had a majority in Congress.  The truth is many do not because it has not proven politically expedient.  

r-town-hall-largeIf our nation fails to adopt measures to reform healthcare, Mr. DeMint and his family (along with the rest of Congress) will not experience any radical changes to their coverage, neither will any significant changes occur for cable television and radio talk show hosts who have encouraged oppositions to the proposed healthcare reform.  Those who will suffer most are those who have been used as pawns in recent weeks.  By encouraging constituents from actually hearing what is proposed and asking legitimate questions on how proposed changes will benefit or burden their ability to gain or maintain coverage, opponents of the proposed changes have successfully allowed for everyday Americans to fight their political battles at the expense of the American people.  These disruptions have prevented a legitimate public debate from transpiring.  It also denies dissenters the opportunity to offer viable alternatives to the the proposed plan. In so doing, the protesters impede vital reform at their own peril.  Those provoking them to do so have encouraged everyday Americans to thwart a public policy aimed at directly benefiting them simply so that the politicians inciting this public outcry may gain self-serving political leverage.  It would appear that the rich man’s war is yet again the poor man’s fight, but on this occasion, the poor man will give his health rather than his blood to preserve the rich man’s interests.

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