in Health Care Reform
By Stephen Tuttle 10/5/09
Are we having fun, yet?
What passes for the national debate on health care reform drones on and on with no end in sight. Nobody seems especially happy with any proposals suggested and everybody has successfully found something they absolutely despise. This, despite recent reports that health care costs under our current system have increased more than 100 percent in just the last 10 years, wildly surpassing inflation. Even worse, at the same time wages have stagnated or decreased. Health care affordability is becoming a fading memory.
Its pretty clear something has to be done to avoid an economic catastrophe that will make the very real pain of the last few years seem like a garden party by comparison. By nearly all accounts, Medicare will become financially unsustainable in just a few years as wave after wave of Baby Boomers reach age 65 and become eligible for this program that has been a societal staple and stabilizer for nearly half a century. Health insurance premiums continue to increase at rates that are unaffordable for many Americans and put employer-paid coverage at risk. The cost of prescription drugs and medical procedures has become so expensive as to be out of reach for all but the wealthiest of us. Depending on whose numbers you believe, somewhere between 30 and 50 million Americans now have no health insurance at all.
Reform seems necessary and inevitable, a welcome relief for most of us.
So what the hell happened?
Politics of the worst sort intruded. The philosophical crazies on both sides of the issue found rhetorical paths they believed would lead them to an electoral promised land.
And then the polemicists got involved and facts gave way to a drumbeat of near insanity. We heard about death panels and the destruction of Medicare and free abortions for everyone and free health care for illegal immigrants. Those messages were repeated over and over, on blogs, talk radio, cable news channels, from pundits left and right, Tweets, YouTube and, of course, by politicians anxious to find an edge for the 2010 elections and beyond.
Policy debates in this country have always been vigorous and contentious. People feel strongly, even viscerally about issues. Feelings are hurt and anger rises. Whats relatively new is our ability to relentlessly spew venom without let-up. That which we would have dismissed as lunacy a decade ago is now repeated so often and with such ferocity by so many it gains traction. Reform becomes more difficult because regardless of the issue, the naysayers keep pounding away ad nauseam and even the most preposterous notions become fact. Our Age of Information has morphed into the Age Without Knowledge.
The perfect example is the idea of any health care reform including death panels. Please. We were told that our elected representatives were going to create a system in which shadowy government bureaucrats in some secret star chamber would be turning thumbs down on older Americans in need of health care. Those who logically disagreed were called Nazis, morons, idiots and part of some grand conspiracy hoping for a Socialist coup.
Think about the death panel notion for just a couple of minutes. Older Americans are the most likely people to vote in any election at any level. Elected officials and their minions know this to be true. They desperately need the votes of seniors to stay in office. So we had to believe that those officeholders, who work very hard to appeal to that older demographic, had decided on a health care plan that would intentionally kill off the very voters they need Id love your vote but Im afraid we have to kill you.
The sad truth is this junk works. In fact, the group most opposed to health care reform is those over 65. According to the Pew Research Center, more than half of that age group now oppose reform based on the belief that the government would be too involved in the health care system. Thats just a tad ironic since they receive both Medicare and Social Security, programs created and run entirely by the government.
Stranger still, some 39 percent of Americans making $30,000 or less a year, the very people least able to afford insurance and most likely to be helped by health care reform, now oppose it on the same grounds. Apparently theyve decided using brutally expensive emergency room care as their primary care physician is a better option.
Instead of doing our homework and researching the facts, we listen to radio entertainers masquerading as opinion leaders and read unsubstantiated blogs that play to our worst instincts and fears. We obligingly trudge along with ovine fealty following whatever numbskull best voices our own ignorance and anger. And nothing of substance gets accomplished.
Of course, you might disagree. After all, Im a moron.
Stephen Tuttle is a political consultant specializing in campaign communications. A Traverse City native, he has returned to the area after 35 years in Phoenix.