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Healthcare’s Integral Role In Functioning Democracy March 23, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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So much rhetoric and misinformation has come out of the healthcare debate that we are today a country deeply divided. But, though conservatives have used the passage of healthcare reform to argue that freedom in America is on the decline, I believe we have made incremental steps closer to true democracy and freedom today.

Conservatives say that the new law is a form of government socialism; but I fail to see how putting limits on insurance companies so that doctors and their patients have more control over care can be considered socialism.

The law that President Obama signed today is not a government takeover of healthcare. If this law could be considered socialized medicine, every single American would have free and equal access to healthcare, through a government agency that administered all facets of public health. This simply isn’t the case. The new law does not take responsibility of administering health away from the precious insurance companies; it simply sets limits on how irresponsibly those companies can treat consumers. Have no fear, conservatives: The United States is still the only industrialized nation in the world without universal healthcare for all. The patchwork system still lives.

People who argue against the right for healthcare also argue that those who lose their health insurance, or have never had it in the first place, are always responsible for their plight. They believe that people don’t get sick unless they bring it upon themselves… and that no one loses his or her job (and therefore, his or her employer-sponsored insurance) who doesn’t deserve to be unemployed. Coming from a state with nearly 13 percent unemployment, I believe this argument for “personal abdication of responsibility” is becoming more difficult for them to use.

Most interesting to me, however, is the assertion that the law is somehow undemocratic.

I would argue that the right to healthcare is a necessary component to functional democracy. How can individuals exercise their freedoms if they are denied access to care necessary to maintain and protect their health — the most basic and fundamental of resources?

How can individuals without access to needed care be active participants in democracy?

How are we truly a democracy when our citizens are denied equality?

How can we claim to the rest of the world that we hold life precious and are some kind of example of humanitarianism, when we scrutinize spending money on our citizens’ health so much more than we do our oversized military budget?

How did democracy come to mean that the rights of individual consumerism supercede wise collective decisions?

Lack of healthcare is the greatest of injustices. Our current system of arbitrary, profit-driven care denies the individual the full expression of self, and the ability to make use of any other granted right or privilege. What use is personal liberty if the foundation for it — life and health — is unattainable for so many?

In fact, if I may quote founding father Thomas Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence and a member of the body that wrote our Constitution: “If we’re going to have a successful democratic society, we have to have a well educated and healthy citizenry.”

Which dovetails nicely into my final point. As a society, there’s no doubt that we value access to quality education for all. But, like healthcare, the right to public education is glaringly absent from our Constitution. In fact, the United States’ law guaranteeing education for its citizenry wasn’t passed until two centuries after our Constitution went into effect. And, while this right is one we take for granted in 2010, it was heavily debated with as much rancor as the current healthcare debate has exhibited.

As a society, we need to place equal emphasis on nourishing our bodies as we do on nourishing our minds. And let us not forget, that as societies advance toward greater democracy, the rights of their citizens expand. Let that be our happy fate.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Do The Right Thing: Healthcare Reform Must Pass March 16, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Politics.
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As Congress readies itself to vote on healthcare reform this week, it’s time to reiterate why this country needs reform — and yes, even the abandoned public option — NOW. And we can’t wait for the Republicans to get on board because they simply never will: They like the money they get from the insurance and pharmaceutical lobby too much.

Why now, why this? The current system, the status quo, does not work.

1. It doesn’t work, either for the 12-50 million “collateral damage” Americans the conservatives seem to believe are disposable — or for the 280 million people who already pay a fortune in personal insurance, or co-pays and deductibles, or out-of-pocket treatment, or COBRA. Americans are increasingly underinsured, trapped in their jobs because they have a “pre-existing condition”, or arbitrarily dumped or denied when they require expensive life-saving treatments. If you argue that our system works, you’d better hope that you don’t find yourself out of a job or in the all-too-common position that you require the mercy of an insurance board looking for reasons to deny coverage so it can save a few bucks.

2. If the argument that covers human compassion/basic morality/haves vs. have-nots/social responsibility doesn’t mean anything to conservatives, then yes, let’s talk economics. If the 45 million or so uninsured are suddenly insured and able to obtain regular medical treatment, how many jobs do you think such a massive shift might generate in the middle class? And… isn’t competition supposed to be a good thing in the free market? Doesn’t the classic argument follow the idea that competition keeps prices down, quality high, and innovation moving forward? And there’s the argument of economic value. The United States already pays by far the most money per capita in the industrial world for medicine, yet tens of millions are uninsured and we have the highest medical mortality rate in the first world. The return on investment in our current system is abysmal.

3. When profits and care are forced to compete, the consumer loses to the shareholder. For example, Anthem (Blue Cross) just had a $3 billion profit last quarter in California. But because of high unemployment, people are dropping expensive insurance plans, resulting in a smaller risk pool. Result: Anthem’s premiums are going up a minimum of 39%. Welcome to deflation everyone! Deflation is invariably linked to higher unemployment and lower wages, but it’s out of alignment for a company like Anthem which stockholders to please. It’s not a sustainable situation for Anthem, which will have to cut costs (i.e. deny healthcare services to its customers) to remain highly profitable.

The Right, which so recently entrusted our government into the hands of the inept, now suddenly is exhibiting an anti-governmental tick, resulting in an argument that all government (and its initiatives, such as healthcare) is evil, all taxation to pay for the common good (except for the military) is theft, and that all regulation (except that which protects Wall Street executives) is tyranny. Tea partiers don’t worry about loss of life or predatory healthcare corporations because they don’t care about practical effects, only ideological consistency.

But what these free market extremists don’t understand — or are paid by the corporate benefactors to ignore — is that we don’t need to give up individual liberties in order to allow the state to provide greater security in healthcare:

There is no reason why “the state should not assist individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance, where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks, the case for the state helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”  — Friedrich von Hayek, Austrian economist whose work is often cited by the Right.

Do what needs to be done, Congress. The American people can’t afford to be cannibalized anymore by corporations pretending to provide them care. Pass healthcare reform!

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