About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Republicans on health care: vicious, or just plain stupid?
Steele complained that “this is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector.” Well, I don’t know about unprecedented, but Republicans don’t seem to have noticed that the almighty private sector has recently managed to bankrupt the country because of its endless (but not mindless, these people ain’t stupid) pursuit of greed. Steele added, again flagrantly demonstrating either his viciousness or his stupidity, that the current plan means “more debt our children will have to pay because this reckless administration has an unrestrainable urge to splurge.” This is rich coming from the chairperson of the very same party that has acted on its unrestrainable urge to splurge on open ended war efforts that have significantly decreased national and international security, or to waste money in huge tax cuts for the richest few in the country. Tax cuts whose cost is comparable to several of the initiatives that Obama wants to pursue with the rather different objective of making our lives a little better. Compassionate conservatism my ass.
Do the Republicans at least have a credible alternative to the much despised Democratic plans? Of course not. When asked directly at a recent press conference, Steele’s flippant reaction was: “Look I don't do policy, I'm not a legislator. My point in coming here was to establish a tone.” Right, and that tone included stating that he hopes health care reform is going to be Obama’s Waterloo. Bipartisanship my ass.
Ok, now that I got that rant out of my system, let’s briefly discuss two of the most common (and ridiculous) arguments the Republicans have been putting forth against health care reform: a) the “public option” favored by Obama means unfair competition against the private sector; b) Obama and the Dems want to “put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor.” Both objections are, to keep with my main theme, either outrageously disingenuous or (equally outrageously) stupid.
Let us start with the public vs. private straw man. First of all, Republicans seem to forget that health care is about the welfare of people, not about profit. So even if it were true that a public option were unfair competition for private insurers, who gives a hoot, if that results in better health care for more people? Secondly, since part of the Republican creed is that the private sector always does things infinitely better than the public one, then what are they worried about? Surely the perennially wise “market” will soon make clear for all to see who’s got what it takes to run national health care, no? Thirdly, what keeps being underestimated here is the simple and indisputable fact that we already have a public health care system, it comes in the two varieties of Medicare and Medicaid. The first one is an example of the much dreaded single-payer system, run by the federal government, and which kicks in when people are over 65. The second one aids poor people throughout the country, it is funded by both the federal and state governments and run by the latter. Guess what? These public programs are much more efficient in terms of costs and overheads than any available private option, and they deliver one of the highest quality health care systems in the world. Indeed, I do not understand why Obama and the Dems aren’t simply going for the obvious solution, expand Medicare/Medicaid to the entire nation and be done with it. Oh, and next time you hear a Republican making the stupid pronouncement that government-run programs are by definition bad, ask him why he is so darn proud of our largest government-run program: the US military.
Now for this business of putting a bureaucrat between us and our doctors. Perhaps Steele and his colleagues haven’t noticed, but we already have plenty of bureaucrats between us and our doctors. They are the administrators of HMO’s (so-called “Health Maintenance Organizations”) and other private health providers who do precisely what Republicans dread a federal middleman might do: judge whether you have “pre-existing conditions” (and can therefore be turned down from any benefit whatsoever), or if your doctor wants to apply a treatment that is judged to be too costly to the insurance company (regardless of whether it may benefit your health or save your life), and so on. The difference is that a federal employee will not have the same motivation to increase at all costs the already fat bank account of the insurance companies at the expense of your health. Incidentally, what Republicans and some Democrats want to deny you is precisely the sort of high-quality public health care that they regularly enjoy as members of Congress. Now, how disingenuous and hypocritical is that?
Look, I am not being naive here. I do not think that the government is the solution to all our problems, and I certainly do not think that the private sector is intrinsically bad. There are plenty of things that are best left to entrepreneurs (though I don’t think we should allow any private operation to become “too big to fail,” but that’s another story). I simply think that health care is one of those fundamental conditions that ought to be in place to allow us our constitutionally guaranteed pursuit of happiness (second section of the Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4th, 1776). For one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world to allow 50 million of its people to go completely uninsured, and for many millions of others to risk bankruptcy every time their families might be hit by a catastrophic illness is immoral. Serious health care reform including a public option is the decent thing to do, and Republicans are acting viciously by opposing it. It really is as simple as that.