Health care reform views from the working person

Posted April 15, 2010, at 8:54 p.m.

I have to admit it; I had fun watching Republicans go wild as health care reform was signed into law on March 23. In the words of Mike Seitzman, “Anything that makes John Boehner scream like the melting Wicked Witch is something I know instinctively must be a good thing.” The at-times vicious debate is still going strong and doesn’t seem to be letting up. Given this I’d like to make a few last comments.

Perhaps it is my contrary or even self-indulgent nature that leads me to be for something that a huge outfit (the for-profit health insurance companies) is against. You know, health care reform. Something these companies have fought since Theodore Roosevelt was president.

It becomes easier to be in opposition to said companies when they have spent upwards of $120 million since September 2009 fighting the reform bill. Then there’s the fact that the five largest health insurance companies racked up combined profits of $12.2 billion in 2009 – up 56 percent over 2008 — while covering 2.7 million fewer people. I’d like to ask both their CEOs and Washington why six registered health care lobbyists were needed for every one member of Congress during the debate. In fact, as recorded on the Web site opensecrets.org, Maine’s two “independent” senators get big bucks in campaign contributions from health insurance companies.

Objectivity? Voting on behalf of their constituents? Makes you wonder.

In the aftermath of the bill passing, we have been inundated with polls from the media. They sound the continuing battle cry of “this isn’t what the American people want” and that the Democrats had no right to pass a bill facing such overwhelming public disapproval. Our Constitution says nothing about opinion polls trumping the right and duty of elected officials to make decisions based on what they see as the merits of a particular bill. Ours is not a direct democracy. We have a representative democracy, or republic, for this reason. I would love to see a national referendum of the health care bill someday, but that’s not going to happen. People are elected every two and six years for a reason. When was the last time you were polled on anything? For me it was 1984.

The biggest GOP talking point of all has been that the federal government has taken over American health care, an entirely novel and, gasp, socialist concept. Let’s see, we have Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, vets and federal employee health insurance. These and other government programs already pay for almost half of American health care.

So the feds are already involved in health care and the people in these programs are relatively happy with them. But let me make an effort to put to rest the lie that big government has taken over and implemented a universal health care system, run entirely by Washington. The government will not take over hospitals or privately run health care businesses. Doctors will not become government employees.

The U.S. government intends to help people buy insurance from private insurance companies, not pay all the bills as in a single-payer system. Those of us, 163 million workers and dependents, who have coverage provided by our employer, will not be forced off our current plan and onto a government-run plan. The notion that this could happen is completely false! That wasn’t even the case when the public option was in the bill, an option that I fervently wish had made it into the final product. But I digress.

Believe it or not there are even a few articles in the bill that help out regular folks right away: 1. Small businesses will receive tax credits to make employee coverage more affordable. 2. The Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” begins to close and a $250 rebate will go to Medicare beneficiaries who hit the doughnut hole in 2010. 3. Discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions is prohibited. 4. Health insurance companies are prohibited from placing lifetime caps on coverage. 5. And the bill extends coverage for young people up to their 26th birthday through their parents’ insurance. This is only part of what is happening with the bill this year and in the coming years, too.

So why did we need reform?

In the U.S.A., a country that has a great willingness to do good, we have allowed: 46 million without health insurance, 44,000 dying each year because they don’t have coverage, 98,000 dying because of medical errors, 14,000 losing their coverage each day, 50 percent of home foreclosures and 72 percent of personal bankruptcies are because of huge medical debt. Also, four out of five people without health insurance live in working families, but these families earn too little to purchase coverage on their own!

So, why reform and why now? There are 46 million reasons, and the bill still won’t insure them all. Maybe we should think of the young man who stood with President Obama when the bill was finally signed into law, 11-year-old Marcelas Owens.

I can’t do justice to his story in this space, but the short version is this: In 2007 his mother got sick, causing her to subsequently lose her job and health insurance. She died that year, leaving Marcelas and his two younger sisters to be brought up by their grandmother. He began to speak for health care reform and his story went national. Conservative talk show hosts and columnists mocked the young man, calling his experience a “sob story” being used by progressives to push the health care bill.

His reply regarding their judgment was, “My mother always taught me they can have their own opinion, but that doesn’t mean they are right.”

No, they’re not right, and it’s our time now. We the people of the United States say it’s time for reform.

John T. McLaughlin lives in Millinocket.

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