Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why I'm Glad I'm Not American

Well, here's one reason anyway...

Two words: health insurance

Now, as a Canadian, I'm not going to gloat about how we have universal health care and the yanks don't. No. That wouldn't nice. And, since I'm Canadian, I'd then have to say I'm sorry for saying such a thing.

No. This is about the fact that in order to understand what's being discussed in the current American health care insurance "reform" debate, you practically need to have a PhD in economics.

Just look at some of the terms involved:

excise tax
Cadillac plans
public option
pre-existing conditions
preferred provider organization (PPO) plans
bell curve

On and on it goes.

It's no wonder that the senate bill is over 2,074 pages long.

That means the Senate bill -- like the one in the House -- runs more pages than War and Peace, and has nearly five times as many words as the Torah.
And does anyone really believe that every single senator actually read that monstrosity before they cast their vote?

And is it any wonder that confusion and anger about the proposed "reforms" reign supreme on all sides of the political divide?

NBC poll, December, 2009:

As the Senate sprints to pass a health-care bill by Christmas, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that those believing President Obama's health-reform plan is a good idea has sunk to its lowest level.

Just 32 percent say it's a good idea, versus 47 percent who say it's a bad idea.

In addition, for the first time in the survey, a plurality prefers the status quo to reform. By a 44-41 percent margin, respondents say it would be better to keep the current system than to pass Obama's health plan.
You know you're headed down the wrong track - policy and politics wise - when the public actually prefers the completely dysfunctional status quo. But the Democrats have decided that the timing of this so-called reform is more important than the actual contents of the bill. Obama had wanted it done by August - an impossible goal. But the senate gave him a Xmas eve present when it completed its sausage-making and deal-breaking and everyone went on their merry way for the holidays.

Now, the push is on to get this wrapped up in time for Obama's upcoming state of the union speech so the Dems will have the months from now until the November elections to try to sell this rushed mess of a bail out to the insurance companies to an electorate that will have to go through he steep learning curve of trying to figure out exactly what it is these congresspeople and this administration have accomplished (or not).

At this point, I just don't see how the Democratic party is going to fit all of the above terms into a 30-second campaign commercial. The voters already (narrowly) bought the Cliff Notes 'Change You Can Believe In' rhetoric that gave control of the white house and congress to the Democrats but it's clear, now that reality has set in, that shine has worn off considerably.

Rather than providing the radical change that Obama had promised: no mandates and a public option as core principles of necessary reform, the Democrats have completely turned that idea on its head. And voters, who are already fed up with giveaways to Corporate America, will see this latest move by an overly Wall Street friendly Democratic administration (with shades of Bill Clinton's NAFTA promises to fix it all later) while the economy and their wages stagnate as falling flat, no matter how desperately the Democrats try to persuade them otherwise.

Perhaps America will never be ready for universal health care since it's obviously been decided by the powers that be that mega-insurance companies are simply 'too big to fail' (the handy phrase used to justify the existence of huge financial conglomerates that the US government is afraid to regulate under threat of losing the millions of dollars they funnel into party coffers).

But, was it too much to ask for some decent simple reforms that the public could actually get behind and benefit from instead of a bill running thousands of pages that has who knows how many loopholes for insurance companies to drive a truck through while they laugh all the way to the bank with all of the money from those mandated premiums that Americans will now have to pay? Why was it too much to ask that the age requirement for Medicare be dropped? That women's reproductive rights were non-negotiable? That a handful of conservative Democrats be barred from holding up real reform? That Joe Lieberman should have been forced to take a hike or give up his chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee? That the president not consider the public option to be a mere "sliver" and that he would push for it publicly and forcefully with everything he had?

No wonder so many Americans would rather keep the status quo. What is there in this convoluted mess that's worth fighting for?

I'll leave you with some quotes by Kevin Drum and David Corn who appeared on Bill Moyers show last Friday in a discussion they had about the bank bailouts, but which is just as relevant to the DC attitude towards Big Insurance and to this entire topic of "reform":

KEVIN DRUM: Back in March of last year Congress was considering a bill to deal with bankruptcy and home foreclosures. And the Obama Administration thought this goal was a shoe in. They really didn't think they were going to have any problem passing it. And it failed. And--

BILL MOYERS: Fail? You mean it was beaten?

KEVIN DRUM: It was beaten by the banks. They got the bill rewritten. And in fact, not only did they get the bill rewritten the way they liked it. They actually got several billion dollars of extra bailout money put in at the same time.

BILL MOYERS: This was the cram- so called cram down proposal that was designed to help homeowners who were in trouble get through the hard times?

KEVIN DRUM: That's right. And I think what happened was the Obama Administration saw what happened with a bill that they thought would pass easily, and they realized what they were up against. And so, even their original proposals, I think they were watered down even before they went to Congress. And then once they're in Congress, they get watered down some more. And once it gets to the Senate, it's going to get watered down even more.

BILL MOYERS: So, if we get financial reform at all, it will be financial reform riddled with loopholes to benefit the very people who got us in this mess in the first place?

KEVIN DRUM: It's going to be financial reform on the margins. You know, complexity is the friend of the financial industry. If you really want to control them, you need simple rules.
KEVIN DRUM: It probably was a good idea to try to exempt ordinary corporations who were just trying to hedge uncertainty. But then they took that and expanded it. They didn't have to do that. They did that because the banks were in there lobbying. And it looked like they could get away with it. I mean, the wording was very, very tricky. I mean, you would never notice it unless you were a real expert and looked at the legislative language and realized that a word here and a word there and a word here changed the whole thing.

DAVID CORN: It's like money in politics, which we're talking about a little bit, too. You try to set up these convoluted rules to deal with campaign cash and deal with constitutional issues and it's almost, you know, it's- I won't say it's impossible — but it's tremendously difficult to do it in a way so that you don't leave openings for others to take advantage of, particularly when they have access to the people writing the laws. I mean- Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster told me, listen, if 99 percent of Americans can't understand derivatives, you can't regulate derivatives in our Democratic process. And I think there's a lot of truth to that. I mean, people have to understand it. If only the people who benefit from them understand what's going on, they have the leg up. And there's no way for average citizens to even enter the process.
Much like when Bush sold the idea of the 'Ownership Society' which many people took to heart and were then shafted by their banks because they didn't realize they had variable mortgage rates than would eventually make their homes unaffordable (to oversimplify the situation to a degree), I now watch as Democrats try to sell this excise tax (which is being married to the idea that employee wages will go up - a non-starter) as the same kind of fine print boondoggle that the banks got away with. And that's just one small part of this whole debacle.

The bottom line is that what's being presented to the American public in the name of "reform" is nothing but a shell game in which Big Insurance invariably wins again and ordinary citizens end up paying - with their premiums, their inevitable lost benefits and some, undoubtedly, with their lives.

So, that's why I'm glad I'm not an American. I'm glad that I don't have to (although I choose to as an interested neighbour) sift through all of the legislative legalese that's now being presented as "reform" to figure out if and how I might be able to some day have affordable health insurance.

As a Canadian, I do have mine and it's all pretty damn simple.

Changing the US health insurance regime to benefit all Americans would not be that complicated if there was true political will in Washington to do it. There isn't. And the Democrats should not be rewarded for this effort as if it is what could have been their best work. It isn't. And they'll hear that message loud and clear this November. Stay tuned.

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