September 4, 2009

Just How Socialist Is It?

With our execrable corporate media continuing to mire itself in he-said-she-said reporting - "Republicans claim that health reform legislation passed in the House contains provisions for "death panels" staffed by government bureaucrats who will decide whether or not senior citizens receive treatment or are allowed to expire; Democrats disagree" - instead of actually, you know, looking at the bill and refusing to report such nonsense, there is a desperate need for factual reporting and the journalistic spine to call a lie a lie.

Realizing that, it is worth taking a deep breath and re-focusing on the central question at the heart of this controversy, which, plainly asked, is this: Are private health insurance companies the best mechanism for providing health care coverage to all Americans?

As one looks at not only anecdotal evidence - like the woman who divorced her dementia-stricken husband in order to avoid bankrupting herself and her children when their health insurance ran out - as well as quantitative analysis - such as a new report that shows California's largest insurers reject 1 in every 5 claims, even when treatment is recommended by a physician - it becomes harder and harder to come to any answer other than "no." If the primary goal of an insurer is to make money rather than to insure patients, there is a fundamental conflict at the very heart of that relationship. It's not that private health insurance companies are evil; it's that their interests do not match those of the people they ostensibly cover.

If this, then, logically leads us to conclude that a public option that would compete against these companies - and whose sole interest is to insure rather than make money - is a good thing, it is easy to understand why those aligned with the private health insurance industry have resorted to outright lies. They lost the central argument a long time ago, and their only hope is to obfuscate, confuse and fear-monger.

Don't believe me? analyzed 48 claims about the House health care reform bill, HR 3200, currently making the rounds among those opposed to health care reform. They found that twenty-six of the claims were totally false, 18 were misleading, and only four were true. (If you've been listening to the debate at all, I practically guarantee you've heard some of them yourself.)

Even so, are those fighting reform right? Are there larger issues we should worry about, like creeping socialism? It's a potentially interesting question, so the editors of Miller-McCune thought it would be helpful to take a look at just how socialist different health care systems around the world - including the one proposed in HR 3200 - actually are. In an article published Wednesday, they devised the following guidelines:
The idea is to show (crudely) how much direct involvement the state has in health systems around the world and how the bills moving through Congress compare. The metric is over-simplified but for our purposes: Your health scheme is monolithic when the government 1) collects your money, 2) handles your insurance, and 3) administers the health care.
It's worth reading the short article that accompanies the graphic at right [click image to see at original size] to more fully understand how these criteria were applied, but the conclusion is pretty simple: Even with the inclusion of a public option, HR 3200 falls far short of systems like those in Canada, - and more starkly the United Kingdom - in terms of being "socialized medicine."

It is safe, then, to conclude that the provisions of HR 3200 are neither an attempt to insert the government between doctors and patients, nor to kill off the elderly. It is also safe to conclude that implementation of reform legislation is highly unlikely to fundamentally alter the character of the United States in any meaningful way.

If you're getting the sense, from this and other posts, that those protesting loudest and most theatrically against health care reform - and I'm looking at you, Glenn Beck - don't really have a fact-driven leg to stand on, I think you may be onto something. It might well be that there are very good reasons not to pursue a public option, but I've been listening - closely - and I'm still waiting to here them.

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