As I watch the battle over health care reform play out in Congress and on the airways, I am struck with how much of this debate is driven by greed. In this case, it is the greed of the health insurance companies that are fighting tooth and nail to protect the 30% of our health care dollars that go to the insurance companies. If you look at the voting records on health insurance reform, the lines are clear. Those that get lots of campaign contributions from the insurance companies tend to vote against the “public option” and those that get smaller contributions see the value if keeping those same insurance companies honest with a competitive public option.
Then there are the battling commercials, the surreptitious funding of protests by insurance company groups and literally hundreds of lobbyists trying to influence policy. None of our legislators is willing to stand up and say “I oppose the public option because the insurance companies have given me the huge bucks and I need the money” but the obfuscation of the true issues is apparent to anyone that looks closely. According to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the 15 lawmakers to vote against the public option amendment offered by Sen. Jay Rockefeller received $69,137 more, on average, from the insurance industry since 1989 than the eight who voted for it. The 13 lawmakers who voted against another public option amendment offered by Sen. Chuck Schumer received $93,177 more, on average, from insurers since 1989 than the 10 who voted for it.
Even those that oppose the public option will grant that there is a pressing need for health insurance reform. The train is coming in the tunnel so the option of doing nothing doesn’t work as the current thing we call a health care system is failing. With annual double digit increases in premiums, well over the rate of inflation or wages, it is simply unsustainable to stand pat. At Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility we have annually polled our members about health care and one of the most compelling signs of decay in the current “system” is that 75% of our members (and this slice of business is generally businesses that DO provide health insurance to their employees) have made changes to their policies in the past year that have either increased the cost to the employees, dropped coverage, moved to high-deductible plans or otherwise made changes to reduce the employer’s contribution to health insurance. The payer of last resort for health insurance now, is employer-funded health insurance. When the uninsured are provided care, the cost is shifted onto the big pool of private insurance and with that cost increasing and the pool decreasing we are facing a fiscal and a health-care time bomb.
The opposition is not pulling any punches. I got involved in a discussion on Facebook based upon a friend’s post about health care and all I had to say was that I was an advocate of a publicly-funded universal health care system and you would not believe the names I got called from people that didn’t even know me. I was called a socialist (I had to remind everyone that in fact, I am a capitalist entrepreneur), a communist and a nazi. The polarization has made dialog and compromise almost meaningless. I think this polarization is dangerous not only to civil dialog and good lawmaking but it is polarizing beyond the legislature.
Some have seen this as an opportunity to push other agendas as well. I was shocked to learn that there was a coordinated attack on women’s reproductive freedom with a move to restrict even private insurance policies from providing funding for abortions. Women’s health including reproductive freedom as established by the constitution and the supreme court should not be the issue as we discuss how to create a more intelligent health insurance system.
There is a parallel with climate change legislation. Stay with me on this one. In both cases we have experts that can see dire consequences if we do not take action. With health care it is a system on the verge of collapse, with climate change it is global warming and all the negative impacts on our planet and economy. In both cases, it is powerful special interests with huge war chests that prevent comprehensive and effect action. In both cases, we must break through this partisan gridlock and find common ground.
While you do not have to guess my position on either of these critical issues, I think that the key to breaking the gridlock on a long term basis is true campaign finance reform. We must get the big bucks out of our elections so that large special interests do not control the agenda but that the will of the people do.
Image source: Will Blog For Food