The terrorizing has reached fever pitch. "Obama's health-care reforms will kill your grandmother," they scream. Beware government "death panels," warns Sarah Palin. There will be a "government takeover" of health care. Bureaucrats will overrule doctors. Government will get its hands on Medicare. The lies and inanities keep on coming.
Right-wing demonstrators organize to take over town-hall meetings. Republican leaders, intent on "breaking" Obama by stopping reform, repeat and abet the lies and distortions. Conservative Democrats cut backroom deals to benefit insurance companies and drug companies. This debate on health care is enough to turn your stomach.
Stop and take a deep breath. In fact, Americans should fear failure, not reform. Our health system is broken. Health care costs--31 percent of which are on administration, run up by insurance companies trying to insure only those who don't get sick-- are rising at twice the rate of inflation. We already spend about 50 percent more per capita than other industrial nations--but they insure everyone and get better health results, while we have some 47 million and rising without insurance.
Those with insurance aren't much better off. Co-pays and deductibles are rising. Coverage is getting cut back. Businesses can't afford rising costs. More and more is forced on taxpayers and consumers. No wonder 14,000 people lose health care every day.
And those with insurance find it covers less and less. Half of all personal bankruptcies are caused by a serious illness or injury. Two-thirds of those bankrupt have insurance--it just doesn't cover the costs of a serious illness.
And yet, the insurance and drug company lobbies can terrorize Americans into fearing reform. They would, in the cynical words of Republican House leader John Boehner, prefer the devil they know to the devil they don't know--a devil that Republicans and the lobbies paint as particularly gruesome.
We would all be better off with a single-payer system--a sort of Medicare for all. The best-run in America is the health-care system administered by the Veteran Affairs Department, which is totally government-controlled. The most popular system is Medicare, which is privately provided but government-funded. The least popular and most inefficient are the privately run HMOs and the like whose insurance company bureaucrats tell doctors what treatments they can prescribe.
Obama's reform plan began with a fundamental concession. No single-payer system. If you like your current insurance, you can keep it--if you can afford the soaring price of it.
He sought to add basic regulation of the insurance companies (prohibiting them from refusing to insure you if you are sick or from cutting you off if you get sick, banning discrimination against women, forcing them to cover preventive care).
He sought to create a public option, linked to Medicare rates, that would "keep the insurance companies honest." He wanted to cover everyone, with a mandate on businesses and individuals to have insurance, and subsidies to insure it was affordable.
This isn't as efficient as single-payer. But it would get 97 percent of Americans and virtually all kids covered, do a better job of catching diseases early and help eliminate the most outrageous insurance company gambits to make money.
Then Obama's principles hit the Congress. Washington is still dominated by corporate lobbies. The drug lobby and the insurance lobby are among the most powerful. They set about to gut the public option, weaken the regulation, insure that Medicare would be banned from negotiating lower prices on drugs, etc. They benefited from Republican obstruction of any change. That meant they had fewer legislators--largely a handful of conservative Democrats--to "convince." And a public to terrorize.
That battle is now joined. Will Republicans, the right and the lobbies succeed in terrorizing Americans into fearing reform of the malpractice we call health insurance? Or will most Americans see through the lies and distortions and demand that the Congress act?
We will end up getting the health system we deserve. And if reform is blocked once more, more and more of us will find it dangerous to our health.