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In Response to the Health Care Bill

Rather than building a safer ship, the bill packs even more passengers onto the Titanic.
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House passes health care reform, photo by Pete Souza

In the Roosevelt Room of the White House, President Obama and Vice President Biden applaud as the House of Representatives passes the health care reform bill.

Photo by Pete Souza / The White House

I must confess that I’ve been out of the loop. Until just now I missed the latest flurry of legislative activity surrounding the most recent efforts of President Obama and the Democratic Party leadership to move forward with a House reconciliation bill that would allow the previously passed Senate health care reform package to become law. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since my virtual news blackout began three weeks ago. The previously passed Senate bill and the last-minute legalistic tinkering being undertaken by the House will do nothing to provide the people of the United States with any meaningful protection from predatory insurance practices, employer health insurance abuses, exorbitantly priced pharmaceuticals, and the very real ongoing risk of adding bankruptcy to the stress and misfortune of serious illness.

Max Baucus's early and vigorous exclusion of meaningful reform proposals, including the creation of a single-payer system, have stuck.

Rather than providing health insurance itself (or heavily regulating it, as Germany does), the government is compelling its citizens to buy an intrinsically flawed, market-based product.

The Senate bill's direct federal subsidies and lack of regulatory oversight make it a windfall for the health insurers. Not only will they not be held accountable for selling a fatally flawed product and profiteering on the backs of the sick and unfortunate, but now the power of the state will be employed to compel more people than ever to participate in the insurance industry’s extortion. Rather than providing health insurance itself (or heavily regulating it, as Germany does), the government is compelling its citizens to buy an intrinsically flawed, market-based product.

Rather than building a safer ship or even installing better navigation equipment or improving navigation procedures, the Senate bill packs even more passengers onto the Titanic. This ship of fools, too, will come to grief and seal the fate of even more potential victims of the U.S. health care system, adding to the estimated 45,000 excess annual deaths already caused by lack of health insurance. The only really good news is that this travesty of “reform” won’t even take effect until 2014. But it’s highly unlikely that this four-year hiatus will allow for the replacement of this legislation with something like a single-payer system, which could actually save the government $400 billion a year or improve the dismal health outcomes so often found in the United States. No, even if the bill passes, I fear the Democratic leadership will declare “mission accomplished," and we’ll be saddled with yet another crazy quilt “system” that reinforces the rest of the developed world’s impression that U.S. health care is corrupt, inhumane, and just plain bizarre.

Perhaps saddest is the sense of resignation that has resulted in the capitulation of even some of the most passionate advocates of meaningful reform like single-payer. I’m referring specifically to the disappointing announcement by Dennis Kucinich that he would vote for this bill in an effort to get something, anything, passed. I really don’t fault him, though, because he has had no support whatsoever from the Democratic Party. The absence of leadership from Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi is simply breathtaking—and in my most cynical moments I think is simply indicative of the crying need for campaign finance reform and reclaiming our democracy from the power of corporate lobbyists and influence.

Dr. Ken Fabert wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Ken has been a practicing primary care physician in the United States for 28 years, from rural New England and South Carolina to urban Chicago and metro Seattle. A member of Physicians for a National Health Program, he is spending three months as a roving clinician in New Zealand to find more about how their single-payer health care system works.


Read more of Dr. Ken Fabert's blogs from New Zealand here.

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