A northern neighbor of ours many years ago made the crisp distinction between residents of Canada and those of the United States, wryly insisting on similarity. Canadians, he explained, are simply "unarmed Americans with healthcare coverage."
Many of us are concerned about our dysfunctional healthcare system, the one institution where one would not expect greed to run ahead of compassion—unless you live in this country, where we are sadly used to it. But change is on the wind; Obama is taking the first steps toward healthcare reform. And just in time.
In a 2008 report by UC Berkeley School of Law professor Jacob Hacker, I found a poetic understatement of our plight. "The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Care Reform" includes these words: "Health insurance premiums have skyrocketed, more than doubling from 1999 to 2008, while the scope and generosity of private coverage has plummeted."
When I think about what my healthcare insurance provided me when I suffered an emergency hospitalization last year, scope and generosity do not enter my mind. In fact, I now know from experience that Michael Moore was not making this stuff up. Go ahead and watch Moore's documentary Sicko to see what kinds of deaths an insured American can expect at the hands of insurance companies that pay employees bonuses for denying patients needed medical procedures.
These same companies and their allies are trying to stop Obama's pubic health insurance plan. In a Huffington Post article, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley announced, "Republican strategist Dr. Frank Luntz is laying out plans to dismantle any effort to give all Americans access to quality health care. Dr. Luntz, the man who developed language designed to promote preemptive war in Iraq and distract from the severity of global warming, is at it again—this time with a messaging strategy designed to sink our historic opportunity for health care reform."
To stop Luntz, activists are turning to analysis provided by Hacker and his colleagues at the Center on Health, Economic and Family Security. Drawing from their report, MoveOn's political action team is passing around "The Five Things You Need to Know About Obama's Public Heath Insurance Option:"
1. Choice, choice, choice. If the public health insurance option passes, Americans will be able to choose between their current insurance and a high-quality, government-run plan similar to Medicare. If you like your current care, you can keep it. If you don't—or don't have any—you can get the public insurance plan.
2. It will be high-quality coverage with a choice of doctors. Government-run plans have a track record of innovating to improve quality, because they're not just focused on short-term profits. And if you choose the public plan, you'll still get to choose your doctor and hospital.
3. We'll all save a bunch of money. The public health insurance option won't have to spend money on things like CEO bonuses, shareholder dividends or excessive advertising, so it'll cost a lot less. Plus, the private plans will have to lower their rates and provide better value to compete, so people who keep their current insurance will save, too.
4. It will always be there for you and your family. A for-profit insurer can close, move out of the area or just kick you off its insurance rolls. The public health insurance option will always be available to provide you with the health security you need.
5. And it's a key part of universal healthcare. No longer will sick people, folks in rural communities or low-income Americans be forced to go without coverage. The public health insurance plan will be available and accessible to everyone. And for those struggling to make ends meet, the premiums will be subsidized by the government.
While I study yet another bill from the Bay Area hospital where I stayed, for charges my insurance company refuses to pay, I hope that Obama's pubic health option might succeed. I suspect it might give us a way out of this system where greed diminishes the "scope and generosity" of our medical care.