Click here to see the NorthNews
Northeaster Current News
What lame ducks can do for health care
Written by Kerry Ashmore, Publisher
Posted  11/17/2010
At least two influential Republicans have suggested that the "lame duck" session of the 111th U.S. Congress repeal the health care reform legislation that it so recently and rancorously passed. With one caveat, we agree.

Why should these Democrats, who, momentarily, have majorities in both houses of Congress, vote to repeal this legislation, when so many of them have just lost their political careers to the wrath of a vengeful corporate America, which methodically (and brilliantly...we have to give credit where credit is due) engineered and financed their political demise, precisely because they had the courage to enact health care reforms?

To make way for the caveat, of course. (By the way, this is not our original idea, others have put it forward.)

Immediately after passing the repeals, they should pass a simple, straightforward amendment to the existing Medicare legislation, changing the age of eligibility to zero. The House of Representatives could pass it as a regular bill, the Senate could pass it through the "reconciliation" process, which is not subject to filibuster. Then they would need to pass a few more measures to eliminate some of the loopholes that require some of today’s Medicare recipients to pay some of their health care costs out-of-pocket.

President Barack Obama’s administration would need to stop thinking about getting re-elected in 2012 (re-election seems unlikely given unlimited anonymous corporate money to defeat him) and concentrate on getting the new system up and running in a very short time, so that people will be able to experience the cost of a slightly higher federal tax bill and the benefit of not having to worry about the direct costs of health care, for at least a year before the 2012 election and the likely Republican control of the presidency and both houses of Congress takes effect. Once the benefits start pouring in, those new Congress people will face massive opposition if they try to take them away (imagine what would happen if they tried to do away with today’s Medicare).

Let’s review those costs and benefits. The costs? Well, there really aren’t any. Costs would go down, because the administrative and overhead costs, and the enormous profits of health insurance companies, will be replaced by expanding the already-existing Medicare administrative structure, a far less expensive proposition. Every developed nation in the world except the United States provides some kind of universal health care, and every other developed nation in the world pays much less per capita for it than we pay in the United States.

What about the prospect of "rationed health care?" Isn’t that a cost? Perhaps, but it’s important to remember that health care is being rationed right now, by insurance people who make money for themselves if they deny treatment, and lose money for themselves if they provide treatment. It’s easy—so easy—to cry about the evils of "government control." Government control simply means that the people who will administer the health care system are ultimately responsible to the people, who can vote the administrators’ supervisors out of office if they fail to do the right things. Do we want health care matters controlled by people who have a duty to the American people to provide health care; or do we want it controlled by people who have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to deny health care whenever possible so those shareholders can make more money? Again, there really aren’t any net costs to this proposition.

Now the benefits. No one would ever have to fear that needed medical treatments would cost more than they could afford. In time, a healthier population will emerge, and that will increase the cost savings. Imagine what would happen to the economy if every resident, every business person, every state and local government person, every school district administrator knew that they would never again have to worry about paying directly for health care. How many more police officers, teachers and firefighters could be hired (or, libertarians, how much local taxation could be eliminated) if cities, counties and school districts didn’t have to use tax dollars to pay for employees’ health care? Imagine how much more money would be available for business people to invest in providing new jobs and expanding the economy. The economic benefits will be enormous.

Think about it, lame duck Democrats. The worst has already happened. The health insurance industry in particular, and corporate America in general, have already done what they can do to you. You’ve paid the ultimate price for your courage. Why not take this final opportunity to do what everybody was afraid to do because it would make the corporate people angry?

Northeaster Opinion