Answering The Right's Deadly Lies In The
Health Care Debate
hyperlinked to sources. For all
sources, see the data
Your sources today include: the New
York Times, mediamatters.org, Reuters, commondreams.org, mckinsey.com, Business
Week magazine, oecd.org, cnn.com, the website of Physicians for a National
Health Program, the Associated Press, newsmax.com, and The Nation magazine.
To me, the health care reform debate
isn't primarily ideological. It's
about life and death, as you'll see.
Probably the most important
right-wing lie to counter -- because so much else flows from it -- is that the
U.S. has the best health care system in the world.
Listen to George W. Bush and Sean
audio: George W. Bush
I mean, people have access
to health care in America. After
all, you just go to an emergency room.
There's not a person in America that doesn't get the
best health care…We have the best care.
If that's true, then all we need is
some trim around the edges.
But if in fact, we have one of the
worst-performing health care systems in the developed world, then major major
structural reform is called for.
Which is it?
Let me say at the outset, there's no
doubt we have one of, if not the most technologically advanced systems.
But that ultra-high-tech care level is not where the bulk of the health
care system functions. And that
ultra-high tech care is meaningless if you can't afford it.
Let's look at the facts.
That's why 60%
of bankruptcies in our country are due to medical costs, and the vast majority
of those people actually had insurance.
As many as one-third
of Americans are not taking their prescription medicine as often as they should,
because they can't afford to.
And as far as George W. Bush's
emergency rooms, you can't get preventive care in an emergency room.
Go there and ask for a colonoscopy or a breast cancer exam and see what
The American Cancer Society found
that cancer killed more often when someone didn't have adequate health
And kill our current health care
system definitely does. Here are
three numbers for you: 12,000, 18,000 and 100,000.
If our shamefully high infant
mortality rate were as low as, say Japan's or Sweden's, 12,000
American children would live, not die, every year.
The national Institute of Medicine
Americans die every year because of lack of health insurance.
These people don’t receive such
necessities as preventive care, timely diagnosis, or appropriate treatment.
Americans would live, not die every year, if our health care system did as good
on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions, as the health care systems in
countries like Japan, France and Australia.
The US is dead last in this category.
I've been speaking only of death, but
imagine the incalculable amount of additional pain and suffering that's caused
by our failed health care system, even when the result isn't fatal.
All this, and we spend over twice
as much per capita on health care as many of the other countries which
So, where is the process at in
Congress right now?
I've said many times I'm not
ideological, I consider myself a humanitarian pragmatist.
Whatever works is what I'm for.
Whatever gets first class health care
to everyone at the least cost.
It seems to me that what's called a
single payer system has the best track record.
Every other industrialized nation in the world guarantees health care to
all its citizens. And with an
exception or two, they are all single payer.
Single payer means, you pick the
private doctors and private hospitals you want to use, and the government picks
up the bill.
If that sounds familiar, that's
because we already have a much-beloved and successful single payer health care
system, called Medicare. Medicaid
would also fall into the single -- or technically dual, federal and state --
Unfortunately, because of years of
relentless ideological propagandizing by the right, the vast war chest of the
medical industry publicity machine, and the cowardice of too many Democrats,
single payer does not appear to be a politically feasible
goal for the immediate future.
Instead, what's likely to pass in
Congress is some sort of health insurance exchange, where individuals, perhaps
small businesses, and maybe even large corporations could buy insurance from
private insurance companies. There
would be heavy regulations here to supposedly make the insurance available and
affordable to everyone.
What progressives are pushing now, is
to add what's called a "public option" to that insurance exchange.
Essentially, you'd be able to buy
into a Medicare-type system, one administered by the government.
What are the benefits of that?
The benefits of a public option.
Many experts believe that
A public plan would have
lower administrative expenses than private plans, no need to generate big
profits, and stronger bargaining power to obtain discounts from providers. That
should enable it to charge lower premiums than many private plans.
For example, the public plan could
bargain over drug prices to get bulk discounts, unlike Medicare, which the
Republicans made sure was forbidden
from doing so.
Unlike the private insurance
companies, the public option wouldn't have to pay multi-million dollar CEO
salaries, advertise, pay dividends, or employ a vast bureaucracy to deny claims.
In short, listen to this
summary of a report published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of
After analyzing the costs
of insurers, employers, doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and home-care agencies
in both the U.S. and Canada, they found that administration consumes 31.0
percent of U.S. health spending, double the proportion of Canada…Streamlined
to Canadian levels, enough administrative waste could be saved to provide
comprehensive health insurance to all Americans.
So, as a die-hard New Yorker would
say, "So what's not to like?"
Well, if you're a right-winger,
Let's get into some right-wing attack
lines and debunk them.
Right off the bat, Fox News and even
some other mainstream media outlets are mislabeling
the health care reform plan before Congress.
Some are calling it single payer,
which it's not. Single payer is when
the government pays for everything through tax revenue.
Others, even more egregiously, are
calling it socialized medicine. Socialized
medicine is when the government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors.
That's what Great Britain has. Our
own Veterans Administration is socialized medicine.
But the Congressional plan is not so at all.
So when speaking with any
right-winger, make sure they don't get away with that mislabeling.
The biggest right-wing scare tactic
involves painting horror stories of the health care systems in other countries,
and warning us, we don't want to be like that.
Listen to Dick Morris with Bill
audio: Dick Morris and
what's going to happen is the same thing that goes on in Canada.
Because of the long wait for colonoscopies, the incidence of colon cancer
in Canada is 25 percent higher than in the US.
And because the two top drugs we use for
chemotherapy for advanced stage colon cancer are not available in Canada because
of costs, the death rate is 2 % higher. 41
percent of Canadians die of colon cancer compared to 32 in the US.
is one of the most compelling things about your book, is that you deliver
statistics that say Americans are a lot healthier than Canadians are in the
vital disease category—heart disease, cancer, things like that.
quantify it. 6 percent lower death
rate from heart disease and a 16 percent lower death rate from cancer in the US.
And Canada has more poor people.
Even if what Morris said was correct,
Canada spends only half as much as we do per capita on health care. Not
paying for needed treatments is not an inherent characteristic of single payer,
but an inevitable result of under-financing,
no matter the system.
And that being said, as far as the
facts Dick Morris offers, I don't know where he gets them from, but they fly in
the face of the data I've seen.
As you heard earlier, there are those
three numbers: 12,000, 18,000 and 100,000, the number of American infants,
uninsured, and those with treatable diseases, who would live, not die, if our
health care system performed as well as those of other advanced nations.
Would you like to hear more facts
about how the health care systems of other countries produce far better results
How about this: a large study
found that the five-year survival rates
for many diseases in this
country are no better than they are in countries that spend far less on health
care. People here are less likely to have long-term survival after colorectal
cancer, childhood leukemia or a kidney
transplant than they are in Canada — that bastion of rationing.
The accompanying chart in the New
York Times is succinctly and perfectly entitled "More Money, Worse
According the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an
organization which we belong to along with dozens of other developed, and a few
developing nations, we spend
$412 per person on health care administrative costs, vs. an average of $72 for
peer OECD countries. Almost six
times as much!
If you're talking with a
right-winger, he or she will also undoubtedly bring up waiting times: If we
change our system, you'll have to wait forever to see a doctor.
And then you'll be regaled with an anecdote or two to prove the point.
It was Business Week magazine, hardly
a liberal source, that recently admitted
after studying the issue,
In reality, both data and
anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer
than patients living with universal health-care systems.
Anecdotes used to support hard data
are useful. Anecdotes used in a
dishonest attempt to refute, or deny the existence of hard data, are a
deplorable right-wing tactic.
And I really want to stress to you
We spend far more, often twice
as much, on health care per capita than other developed nations.
So if Canada, France, Great Britain
and all the rest spent as much as we did per capita -- if they doubled the
amount of money they were spending on health care
-- you can rest assured that not only would there be no waits there,
they'd be making house calls with gold-plated MRI machines.
Put another way, if we cut our
medical expenditures in half, how long would our
waits be? How bad would the rest of
our health care system be?
So always be sure to ask your
friendly local right-winger: if our health care system is so great, the model so
good, that it only needs to be tinkered with, then how come, in terms of health
care outcomes -- infant mortality, life expectancy, preventable deaths -- we're
so far behind
most everyone else, even though we spend as much as twice what they spend per
person for health care. Why?
Might it have something to do with
their single payer systems?
Up next: Might this very costliness
of our present system have something to do with the ferocious attack on the
public option being mounted by the for-profit health care industry and its
right-wing ideological and political allies?
The right wing and its health
industry patrons are frantically and at ear-splitting volume doing all they can
to kill the public option.
Chances are, you've already heard
some of it.
As the New York Times put it:
The prospect of competing
with a government plan terrifies the private insurers. But in our judgment, if
that many Americans were to decide that such a plan is a better deal for them
and their families, that would be a good thing. Innovative private plans that
already deliver better services at lower costs would survive. Inefficient
private plans would wither.
The right considers
the public option a Trojan Horse, that will cause the private insurance industry
to wither and die.
On the one hand, some analysts point
to the fact that more than two dozen states already
offer state employees the option to buy into a public plan, as opposed to
private health insurance company products. That
hasn't destroyed the private health insurance companies at all.
On the other hand, different
that the state coverage model is not applicable to the Congressional nationwide
public option proposal.
Many progressives actually hope the
state model is not a good guide, and that the public option will prove private
For example, John Edwards has said:
Over time, the system may
evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the
I've heard Senator Bernie Sanders say
the same thing.
Myself, again, if the public option
provides universal affordable coverage at a lower cost, and everyone prefers it,
I say, more power to it!
Not because of ideology, but because
of the life-saving results.
Despite the right-wing ranting and
raving, the public is very strongly behind a public option.
A couple of
polls showed this.
The New York Times' poll
Would you favor or oppose
the government's offering everyone a government administered health insurance
plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans?
A whopping 72% favored this public
option, even including half of all Republicans.
But there are still dangers ahead.
Some in Congress are promoting the
trigger idea: the public option wouldn't be instituted unless at some specified
number of years down the line, private health insurance companies haven't met
Obviously bs, and a way to kill the
Local insurance-buying cooperatives,
which would not have much market power compared to a national-level plan, are
another alternative being floated to avoid a public option.
You shouldn't buy into them either.
Another potential pitfall involves
this line of reasoning,
offered by some progressives: the public option will have far too few of the
advantages of single payer, and too many liabilities.
For example, the public option will not have anywhere near the purchasing
power and economy of scale advantages of a true national single payer set up.
And instead of insuring everyone,
with a wide variety of health situations in the insured population, a public
option will tend to attract those who can't get insurance elsewhere, and since
only the sickest will flock to it, its costs will be high.
So if this analysis is correct, and
the public option fails, instead of being a bridge to true single payer, it
could be used as a knife to kill a move to single payer.
Obama had pledged during the campaign
not to do so, and severely criticized McCain for suggesting it.
Having to tax people for health care
reform would not be necessary in a true single payer system, since it would pay
for itself through administrative and other savings, as I told you earlier.
So what a tragedy that because of
Democratic cowardice, they're being forced to consider a tax increase,
undoubtedly giving the Republicans yet more ammunition.
What better way to ensure the public won't want it?
Could it be deliberate sabotage by
Democrats really ultimately beholden to and doing the bidding of the same health
industry lobbyists as the Republicans?
Back in a minute with a rebuttal to
some more right-wing lies.
All that being said about the
potential pitfalls of the public option, it seems to be all we've got right now.
So let's go over a grab bag of some
remaining right-wing talking points designed to destroy the public option
element in health care reform.
First is the most absurd.
Here's Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal:
audio: Bobby Jindal
Republicans believe in a simple principle: no Americans should have to worry about losing their health care coverage. Period. We stand for universal access to affordable health care coverage.
What we oppose is universal government-run health care. Health care decisions should be made by doctors and patients, not by government bureaucrats.
We believe Americans can do anything. And if we put aside partisan politics and work together, we can make our system of private medicine affordable and accessible for every one of our citizens.
What a joke.
The right has been opposing
efforts to provide health care for all Americans ever since FDR first considered
it and Truman formally proposed national health insurance in 1945.
The right called it socialism back then also.
There's also the right-wing line you
just heard: Do you want a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor?
Yes, compared to what I have right
now, a corporate bureaucrat between me and my doctor: the health insurance
company employee whose job it is to figure out how to deny coverage for claims.
The heath insurance company employee whose job it is to find
to cancel your coverage when you make a claim.
That's called rescission. The
corporate bureaucrat whose company makes more profit by denying your claims.
The right will also say, look, the
American Medical Association, the doctors are against
the public option.
But the AMA has only one of three
doctors as members, and the AMA has always
opposed progressive health care measures, like Medicare itself!
Here's Dick Morris with another
audio: Dick Morris
O'Reilly: Now, you say that if national health care
passes and 45 million Americans come into the system, there aren't enough
doctors and nurses to care for the 300 million plus Americans that exist.
So that therefore, the medical system will be overwhelmed.
All right. Now
that sounds like a compelling argument—but I say to myself, those 45 million
uninsured people have access to hospital emergency rooms right now.
They get care if they want it and the system isn't overwhelmed right now.
the care they get in the emergency room is a tiny portion of what they get or
would be entitled to if national health insurance passes.
The whole point of Obama's talking about this 47 million is that they
have unmet medical needs. Otherwise,
why would he be talking about them?
I don't know about that, but they don't have insurance.
So they walk in and they say where's your insurance card and they say I
don't have it.
his case is that they have unmet medical needs, and he's correct about that.
You don't get a colonoscopy in the emergency room.
And you don't get a lung X-ray.
the preventive stuff that you believe some of the 45 million would go for would
overwhelm the system so that all other Americans would have to get on line.
First of all, we have rationing now.
It's called one-fourth
of all Americans uninsured or underinsured. It's
called "Claim denied." It's
We can very easily increase the size
of medical school classes and in a few years, have the proper number of doctors
for a country of our size.
there's the mainstream media sin of painting the public option as the left
position, not as the compromise
it already is, as a fallback from true single payer.
So then they -- and the right -- can promote coops and other dead ends as
the compromise. Don't let them.
Ok, real quick, a couple of points
you should make that appeal to right-wing sensibilities.
Guaranteeing everyone health care
without being tied to an employer, will encourage
capitalistic entrepreneurism, because people won't be afraid to quit their jobs
and start businesses for fear of losing health care coverage.
Also - -and this goes more towards
true single payer -- right now our corporations are at a competitive
disadvantage with foreign companies, which don't have to provide health coverage
to their workers, so their costs are lower.
Removing that burden from US companies would level the playing field.
The bottom line is, you should go on
the offensive against right-wingers.
Challenge them to show how the
insurance industry is anything more than a middleman
that performs no useful function and merely drains resources -- skims profits
from -- the system.
If you're presented with an alleged
right-wing alternative to the public option, or to single payer, be sure to
demand specifics. Reject as
inadequate vague platitudes about the free market.
Market-based insurance is what has
gotten us into the mess we're in.
And -- if you start hearing babble --
as likely from the Obama administration and certain other Democrats as from the
GOP -- about the need for bipartisanship, ask
Do we want a watered-down
bipartisan plan that won't
work, that's doomed
to failure? Or instead, do you
want to see a truly progressive, if need be "partisan" plan that will
work, that'll be a success?
Listen to FDR:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of
peace--business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class
antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.
They had begun to consider the Government of the
United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that
Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized
Never before in all our history have these forces
been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in
their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred.
We should welcome the hatred of our
current day right-wingers. We're
trying to reduce human misery, suffering, pain and death by ensuring all
Americans have comprehensive and affordable health care.
The right doesn't support that goal.
They'll give it lip service, but their ultimate goal is the one they
always have: to enrich their ideological and financial patrons in whatever
branch of industry is under discussion.
Let's show the right who's in charge
A group of 120 House Democrats has pledged
to oppose any insurance reform plan that does not include a public option.
Let's put some wind in their sails.
Here's your closing call to action:
Call your member of the House, your
two Senators, and the White House, and tell them that you prefer single payer,
but if not that, you demand a public option that's comprehensive and affordable,
and that you don't need to buy an add-on policy to make work.
You can go to callcongress.org for
toll-free numbers, or, you can reach the Congressional switchboard at
202-224-3121 and the White House comment line at 202-456-1111.
How about getting those digits moving