The fear-mongering attempts to “break” Barack Obama and his health care reform agenda, or at least delay it and therefore its momentum, are flimsy at best. Desperate to paint any kind of reform of the wasteful and immoral private health insurance industry as either socialist or inadequate, the right has asserted that a “government option” would result in “rationing” while at the same time saying it would make it impossible for private companies to compete. The government’s ability to run a deficit aside, you’d have to be politically dishonest or insane to hold those two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
Another main argument against reform is the fact that universal health care in other countries isn’t perfect. Critics often cite long wait lists to see specialists or receive care, and Americans don’t wait for anything, damn it. More times than not, these are the very same people who patriotically, if not nationalistically, trumpet the Union’s near-perfection and ability to accomplish anything to which it sets its collective mind. I admire that kind of optimism, but it seems to wither at the first sign of a challenge to the status quo. Why can’t the U.S. show Canada, France, and all of those other allegedly socialized nations how to do it, and do it right?
The most inane argument against reform, however, is that it will reduce the quality of coverage and access to care. Following last night’s presidential news conference on health care reform, Bill O’Reilly quietly and calmly rang the bell of panic about private medical records being kept “on a disk” in Washington, D.C. (Cue scary music.) Government bureaucrats, as he and others on the right who oppose reform claim, will decide who gets care, when, and for what. In the wake of an administration that sanctioned secret spy programs and tapped the phones of its own citizens, privacy is indeed an important issue in 21st century America. But right now the private medical records that O’Reilly is so concerned about are being kept “on a disk” in the offices of a health insurance company, the bureaucrats of which decide who gets care, when, and for what.
I am one of the 253 million Americans who are “insured.” A few years ago, a visit to my primary care physician for a simple physical led to nearly two years of those very bureaucrats refusing to make payments based on all sorts of technicalities, after which they claimed to have paid their contractually obliged minimum reimbursement, but which the administrator at my doctor’s office said she never received. I spent hours over the course of several months attempting to resolve the situation because communication between the two inept parties was practically nonexistent. It was an arduous, infuriating, and exhausting situation—and I wasn’t even sick.
Due to perpetually inflating premiums, I was recently forced to downgrade from what my current insurance company likes to call its “Preferred HMO,” a plan that is “preferable” only to their “Basic HMO.” There’s a small pool of PCPs, hospitals, laboratories, and specialists from which to choose, co-payments are high, and coverage is limited. A quick glance at the summary of exclusions reveals that the plan does not cover ambulances, casts or crutches, hearing aids, infusion therapy (which is, according to the National Home Infusion Association, “prescribed when a patient’s condition is so severe that it cannot be treated effectively by oral medications”), preventative care or counseling (an essential element of waste reduction and health care reform), second opinions, and wigs. Yes, wigs. Luckily, that item isn’t such a big deal, since the plan doesn’t cover chemotherapy either.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.