Monday, August 10, 2009

The Inherent Contradictions of Conservative Opposition to the Public Option

Political hypocrisy is nothing new. We've all seen it, heard it, and lived it from pretty much every politician...ever. At this point it's really the degree that matters. Do you go with the politician who is always going to be lying, or the one who is only going to disappoint sometimes. Jaded? Perhaps.

But let's consider this issue in regards to say, the public option that the Obama administration has proposed for health care reform. We already know that the public option is a compromise from a single-payer system, as in, in committee, the public option was hammered out as an acceptable compromise. Now, of course, the conservative voices in Congress are saying that the public option should be compromised, revealing a few things - first, that of course they never intended to actually work with the idea of a public option, but were waiting for the public option to be revealed as "the plan" instead of as "already a compromise," and secondly, that these guys are in the pockets of the health care industry. The Young Turks have a good commentary on a Keith Olbermann special comment that nicely sums that up:

In fact, I'm just going to go ahead and link you to The Young Turks in general. They're fairly excellent.

Anyway, the point of this post was really to look at the conservative position and see if it stands up to itself.

To me, it seems to break down to three points of contention:

1) Government control
2) Free market economics
3) Government ineffectiveness.

Let's think about these things. These are all talking points of the conservatives, in one way or another, and you hear them all the time from these "town-hall meetings." We'll get to those in a second.

First, we have the issue of "Government Control." Conservatives, naturally, want government to keep its hands off of their health care and medical issues. This has led to the rather ironic statement being yelled "You tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare." Pause for blinks and awkward laughs. OF COURSE Medicare is government-run health care. OF COURSE it has been since the 60', right. But, anyway, we'll go back to medicare later. If you main point is that you want to keep government out of your health care and medicine, then OF COURSE you must support the right for a woman to choose to have an abortion, and OF COURSE you must support the right for a person to remove a family member from life-support, and OF COURSE you must support the right for researchers to work with stem-cells....Oh...right. We're only against government interference in health care in some issues.

Our second issue to consider is the whole issue of the free market. A frequent conservative talking point is that the public option is actually a nationalization of health care, or that it would out-compete any private insurance and drive them out of business. On the first point, no, the public option is not a nationalization of health care insurance. It is a public INSURANCE OPTION. Which, basically means, you have the OPTION to get your health INSURANCE from a government source. The government is not taking over hospitals or doctors. It is merely an insurance option. Yes, this does mean that someone will have to determine exactly what the public option will cover and which health care suppliers are preferred. But is that any different from a private insurance company? No. Another thing that people say is that they're happy with their employer insurance and don't want to be forced to go with a public option. Well, first off, you're not forced to go to the public option. Secondly, the only reason that most people really like their employer insurance (i.e., cannot discriminate for pre-existing conditions like private insurance can) is because of a government mandate. Already, the hand of government has intruded into your health care. Now, the other problem is the whole "driving private insurance out of business" or "dominating the market." As this is a public OPTION, you would assume, perhaps, that one would be in favor of having yet another competitor in the market, especially when private insurance companies tend to dominate entire states. In most projections, the public option would drive down costs across the board, because, yes, the government can do it for cheaper overall and would be a competitor in the market. Would they drive out other companies? Well, even if they did, would this not be the utter definition of a market economy? The better option prevails unless the private insurance companies can compete? Also, since so many claim that a government program would fail miserably, it's surprising to hear so many say that it would out compete private options. But that dovetails into our last point.

Third, the common refrain is that government cannot run health care. You hear this on Fox News talking points - the government can't run Cash for Clunkers (which it can and is an example of a program that is almost TOO successful), so how can it run health care? Well, part of the problem, already mentioned, is that the government does run health care - Medicare and Veterans' programs. That's right. Medicare, considered one of the best programs by the people insured under it, is government run. Likewise, conservatives always talk about the top quality care that our armed forces receive (partially in compensation for lower wages), and that too is government run. An excellent take down of this point can be seen here, in a interview between Jon Stewart and Bill Kristol:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Kristol Extended Interview
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So, if you're going to claim that Medicare and Veterans' care work, which conservatives tend to do (and just try to maintain any political capitol when you say you are going to take away Medicare), then it's very hard to say that government cannot run a health care program with a straight face. Also, again, the general contradiction of saying that government programs would out-compete private companies and would also be horribly run and an utter failure.

Lastly, the trope of of "nameless, faceless bureaucrats between you and your doctor." How this is different from the nameless faceless people in my insurance companies, I don't know, but regardless. Most of the rhetoric is outright lies, such as the "nationalization of health care" and "death panels," but let's also go back to Medicare. People on Medicare tend to like it. They like it a lot. So, if we already have a well-running program to cover people over 65, why not extend it back to 55? Why not 45? 25? Why not everyone? Granted, a legitimate question is "how are we going to pay for this," and that is an issue we should talk about, but it is also clear that nearly 50 million Americans are uninsured, and preventative care can do a great deal to lower costs overall, in the long run.

This issue has been made a clearly political one - conservatives want to stop Obama, and want to pocket the money that insurance companies are providing for them. We know that public options can work - we have examples from around the world. Unfortunately, the conversations we should be having are not the ones that are going on. There are jokes of town-hall meetings going on around the country because conservative groups are funding, educating, and shipping people around to these town halls to protest, fill up the front rows and disrupt the meeting so that the senator or representative cannot talk or offer counterpoints. Now, if they wanted to ship people in to go up to the mic and voice their concerns and allow a rational debate, then that's fine. That's democracy. However, as it stands, they are not allowing anyone else to talk but themselves. They're trying to drown out every voice but their own and ignore any rational points, as well as the more-than-majority number of Americans who want major reforms (a la Gallup polls). That's not democracy. Sorry.

I promise this will be the last point - you often hear conservatives state that we have "the best health care system in the world." What they don't tell you is that this is based on an opinion poll. The World Health Organization has a different idea. We spend more money than almost any country, and yet have lower quality of care, ranked 37 in a WHO assessment. Are there problems with this measurement? Of course it's arguable. But at least it's more objective than a simple opinion poll.

Anyway, that's my two-cents. I'm not saying the public option is perfect, but I can't stand anymore to hear the utter hypocrisy from the conservative side and listen to the constant contradictions. They don't even have a leg to stand on, if this is the way they're going to be arguing. I'm sure Jason could offer more, and tell me where I'm bullshitting, and I fully welcome that. Any thoughts?

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