This could be the most exceptional or disappointing political year in recent history. Because of health care reform, Americans have an opportunity to join the rest of the industrialized world in providing universal health care. But once again there’s a chance that we might miss a defining moment.
Most politicians seem to agree that health care must be reformed. It’s simply a matter of how. Some Democrats lean toward the public option, and I’ve heard some Republicans favoring tax incentives to help people pay for health insurance. However white-washed or successful the final bill turns out to be, it’s a positive thing that health reform is being discussed.
Costs will only rise and, like it or not, our system is failing. A Harvard Medical School report released Sept. 17 declared that 45,000 people die each year because they don’t have health insurance or can’t get proper care. That’s one person every 12 minutes, according to a Reuters article on the Harvard study. I think that’s a call to action that knows no party lines.
Surprisingly, some conservatives are raising intelligent questions regarding health care reform — and they’re as frustrated as I am by all of the lies spewing from the Republican party and FOX News. Gail Wilensky, who advised the McCain campaign and Bush 41 on health care, told the New York Times, “there’s frustration because so much of the discussion is around issues like the death panels and Zeke Emanuel that I think are red herrings at best.”
And there are other ‘red herrings’ causing frustration among intelligent conservatives and moderate liberals like myself, such as instituting free abortions or providing health care to immigrants. They’re lies intended to confuse the American public and slander President Obama and the Democrats. In other words, Republicans are already campaigning for the 2010 elections.
John Goodman of the National Center for Policy Analysis said in the Times article, “Part of the problem on the Republican side is an unwillingness to say, ‘Let’s find a right way to do this, and let’s go ahead even if all the special interests don’t like what we’re doing.’”
Folks in the relatively small forum that Goodman and Wilensky are part of are discussing questions like the proper size and role of government. It’s a good place to start.
As a thinking liberal, I believe that our government should spend and collect tax dollars responsibly. There is wasteful spending in Medicare that can be cut; and doctors need to be paid by the number of patients they see, not how many tests they order. I also agree that creating government programs to solve problems sometimes presents more of them. Perhaps the wait for treatment or diagnosis will be longer, or the paperwork for doctors will increase. Or perhaps some insurance companies will be unable to lower costs and will then be forced out of business.
But if 45,000 people a year are dying because they don’t have health insurance, the private sector is clearly not doing enough. One person dies every twelve minutes because we have relied on the private sector to perform for too long. And there are some crises that can only be improved by government intervention.
For example, many people have lost the market for the only job they’ve ever done; if the government didn’t help them through difficult times, whether by unemployment checks or food stamps, there would likely be thousands of American families falling below poverty. Churches and non-profits simply do not have the resources or scope to care for this problem on their own – otherwise, there would be no problem. Likewise, if government did not intervene and help pay for several thousands of students to go to college, the cycle of poverty would be never-ending.
The essential idea is that there are situations for which American tax dollars must be collected and distributed to provide social services to underprivileged individuals in America. It’s especially inexcusable for us to look the other way when people are dying because we’re uncomfortable with new ideas.
And it’s indefensible to pretend we’ve healed a blood-gushing wound like rising health care costs by applying the band-aid of vouchers. The public option must be passed in order to provide the much-needed competition to drive down insurance prices.
Yet it’s not us in the political forum who cast the votes. It’s our elected officials. And from what I’ve read, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) may be the only Republican willing to consider the public option.
In the weeks ahead, health care will be hashed out, and while it’s impossible to predict what the final product will look like, I hope that intelligent conservatives rally their politicians back into the mainstream and Democrats follow through on the promise for which they were elected. 45,000 people’s lives depend on it.
Stephanie England is an English senior and Mustang Daily political columnist.