Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

2007: battling over words and lives

Posted by metaphorical on 1 January 2007

The U.S. health care system is a scandal and a disgrace. But maybe, just maybe, 2007 will be the year we start the move toward universal coverage.

Americans spend more on health care per person than anyone else almost twice as much as the French, whose medical care is among the best in the world. Yet we have the highest infant mortality and close to the lowest life expectancy of any wealthy nation.

Paul Krugman chose health care for his first op-ed piece of 2007. What’s nice about Krugman is his follow-the-money attitude. And if people debate whether Iraq is all about oil, there’s no debating that the health care debate is all about the money—HMO money, doctor money, rich people’s tax money.

Take outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a doctor and a member of the family that founded Columbia/HCA. In its 29 November “Farewell to Senator Bill Frist,” The Nation had this to say:

The wealthy doctor ran for the Senate in 1994 with a simple mission: to prevent health care reforms that might pose a threat to his family’s stake in Columbia/HCA, the nation’s leading owner of hospitals. There was never going to be anything honorable about his service, but nothing all that embarrassing in a Washington that welcomes self-serving senators with open arms.

By blocking needed health care reforms, pushing for tort reforms that would limit malpractice payouts and supporting moves to privatize Medicare, Frist pumped up his family’s fortunes at the expense of Americans who lacked access to health care. As Mother Jones explained, “Some companies hire lobbyists to work Congress. Some have their executives lobby directly. But Tennessee’s Frist family, the founders of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., the nation’s largest hospital conglomerate, has taken it a step further: They sent an heir to the Senate. And there, with disturbingly little controversy, Republican Sen. Bill Frist has co-sponsored bills that may allow his family’s company to profit from the ongoing privatization of Medicare.”

 The Frists fared well during the senator’s two terms. An $800-million stake in HCA that his father and brother had at the time Frist was elected in 1994 shot up in value over the decade that followed. Frist’s brother, Thomas, rose steadily on the Forbes magazine list of the world’s richest people in recent years. In 2003, Forbes estimated that Thomas Frist Jr. was worth $1.5 billion. According to Forbes: “source: health care.”

Here are some key facts (ones John Edwards points out on his campaign blog):

  • Today, health care is tied to employment, but of the 47 million uninsured people, most of them work.
  • Another 75 million are considered underinsured, all of whom work.
  • Health and medical financial burdens are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S.
  • Most U.S. citizens do not enjoy the free choice of a physician, free choice of hospitals, or the free choice of participating in preventive health care.

Once again: we spend more per capita on health care than anyone else, yet we let babies die for lack of health care coverage. 8 million children are uninsured.

The health care crisis is killing Americans and it’s killing American families, and (Krugman doesn’t even mention, though he has in the past), it’s killing American businesses. The question is whether the media, and the public, will let the health-care industry control the debate.

The health-care industry will call any universal health care “socialist,” as if that’s a word that has any meaning in the 21st century. (One thinks of Orwell: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.”)

They’ll point to systems like England’s and Canada’s and say that universal coverage takes away the right to choose one’s doctors (as if everyone covered by an HMO today has a free choice of doctors). But those covered by Medicare choose their doctors today; if we opened up the Medicare system to every taxpayer, we’d have universal coverage and choice. It wouldn’t even be the death of HMOs, because, as Krugman notes, Medicare currently lets people apply their benefits to HMOs run by private insurance companies, and theres no reason why similar options shouldnt be available in a system of Medicare for all.”

I said that it’s all about the money, but that’s not quite right. Today, a majority of Americans have pretty good health care, while the 47 million uninsured have almost none at all. It’s impossible to escape the thought that they’re not covered because we who have good coverage aren’t willing to consider anything that might cut it back, even a little, so that the others can be covered as well. The inequality is shameful, and, with people dying of treatable or preventable ailments, sinful.

[01/02/07: This line of thought is discussed further here.]


4 Responses to “2007: battling over words and lives”

  1. I don’t know enough about this topic to offer a clear solution, all I know is that it is a disgrace that the greatest country in the world does not provide universal health care for its citizens. I applaud you for discussing this. If more people discuss it, then maybe a solution can be reached. By the way, do you know if John Edwards has a comprehensive health care plan as part of his platform yet? It definately seems like the type of thing he should tackle.

  2. Odd, David, your comment was filtered as spam. Sorry!

    I don’t think Edwards has any position beyond the one recent entry in his blog that I linked to. It’s still pretty early. We’ll have to see if he has the guts to advocate something truly bold, even if it alienates some important campaign funders.

  3. …in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, and provide all of our citizens with health care at the cost of bankrupting the nation and lowering the standards of health care across the board…

    The Breck Girl isn’t going to go out on a limb for anybody with anything truly bold. He’s talking big now, but as it gets closer, he’ll get more and more traditional in his positions even if his rhetoric remains Populist 101. He’s a lightweight.

  4. […] 2007: battling over words and lives […]

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