by Zett-Alexandra Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
August 28, 2009
INTERN TO THE LION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Like many Americans, I had hopes that President Barack Obama would live up to the high rhetoric of his campaign. At the same time, I had few illusions about the amount of resistance he would face as a President trying bring about real change. What I hadn't counted on was that the President and his Administration would prove to be so inept in dealing with an issue that's the proverbial no-brainer - health care reform.
Just a few weeks ago, President Obama and Congress had overwhelming public support for creating a public health insurance system that would compete with private insurers for customers. But in Obama's desire to be accommodating and bipartisan, he allowed his enemies in Congress to obstruct and delay a vote. He allowed his enemies to dictate the terms of the debate instead of taking control himself.
Because the President has failed to fight for real health care reform, the result is looking more and more like a massive political defeat. What's even more frustrating is that Mr. Obama brought it on himself.
Why did he take the only logical reform to our dysfunctional system - a single-payer system - off the table before the debate began? Never mind that we already have the example of Medicare - a successful government-run, single-payer health plan for the elderly - to show that it can be done. The Administration, quite frankly, was afraid to fight for this option.
Instead, we have the idea of health insurance cooperatives instead of Medicare for all. Under the proposal backed by Sen. Kent Conrad, a conservative Democrat from North Dakota, consumer-owned nonprofit cooperatives would sell insurance in competition with private industry, similar to the way that electric and agriculturual co-ops operate.
There's nothing inherently wrong with co-ops, but there is no way that a co-op insurer will be allowed to effectively compete against private insurers. Given the amount of money that the insurance industry is pouring into lobbying, co-ops would end up being better than nothing, but they would not have the kind of bargaining power that the government would in reducing medical costs and negotiating drug prices.
Co-ops may satisfy the conservative Blue Dog Democrats and a moderate Republican or two. But the people who still oppose any changes to our health care system are not satisfied with compromise. They want to kill any attempt at reform, and destroy Mr. Obama's presidency in the process.
Even more than the cynical politics at work here, the reality is that without forcing private insurers to compete against a public insurance option, nothing changes. Remember, the insurance companies don't want a public option because they know that if consumers and employers have a choice, they will abandon their private insurers in droves. That would drive down their profits. That's why they are spending so much money to defeat reform.
President Obama thinks he can compromise his way to a legislative victory. It's not going to happen. The far-right Republicans want to make him a one-term president. And the people who went all-out to help him get elected didn't bust their butts to see him bail out the insurance and drug companies at the expense of the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance and the tens of millions more Americans with overpriced, inadequate insurance.
No public option means the insurance and drug companies continue their profiteering without the threat of competition. Quite simply, no public option means no reform. This is the line in the sand that progressives must draw. Any health care legislation that does not include a public health insurance option is a fraud, pure and simple. And if Mr. Obama would rather pursue the illusion of bipartisanship rather than fight for something that a majority of Americans want, his presidency is finished.
It is time for the President to stand up and fight for real health care reform. It is time for Democrats in Congress to stand up and fight for real health care reform. It is time for moderate Republicans to walk away from the crazies in their party and support real health care reform. It is time for Americans who are sick of being held hostage by a handful of conservatives in Washington to demand real health care reform.
And if the politicians in Washington, from the President on down, don't want to listen to the calls for reform, they should be voted out and replaced with people who understand the real stakes of the health care debate. It's not about politics or profit or even policy. It's about the kind of nation we want to be.
Are we a nation that will care for those in illness or need, or are we a nation that is willing to let health care continue to be a for-profit commodity instead of a human right? How we choose to answer this question will speak volumes about what kind of people we really are, and what kind of nation we now live in.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing">http://hclassics15.blogspot.com">ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics.