Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes, Michael, American Health Care Really Sucks.

Back in 2005, President Bush tried to reform Social Security. I don't know if his partial privatization plan was the best, but at least he was acknowledging there was a problem with Social Security. Democrats, opposed to privatization, fought back against any reform by saying "there was no crisis."

In the concern over health care reform this year, many Republicans and conservatives are basically saying the same thing about health care in the United States: there is no crisis.

Michael Barone
, a writer for US News comes to such a conclusion in his latest column. He throws out several statements that makes it seem that Democrats are crying wolf about health care. Here is his statement about health care in general:

An April tracking poll conducted for the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that voters rank changing health care below strengthening the economy, stabilizing Medicare and Social Security, and reducing the federal budget deficit on a list of eight possible priorities. Democrats rank it higher, Republicans rank it at the bottom, and independents, on this issue like many others this year, look more like Republicans than Democrats.

The blunt fact is that most Americans are satisfied with their health insurance and don't believe major legislation will improve things for them. This gives opponents of the Democrats' rush to legislate a strong talking point.

Barone gives people the illusion that the Democrats are just pushing reform when there is no crisis. But as the blogger named "Henry Clay" notes:

While certainly decent compared to the alternatives, objectively speaking our health care system is a mess. The government subsidizes the care of the elderly by stiffing doctors, who then pass along those costs to the privately insured. In a post-industrial national economy, individual insurance decisions are subject to the regulations of 50 state insurance commissioners, undermining portability. The government provides massive and regressive subsidies to employer-provided coverage, while providing practically meaningless tax breaks to those who seek care in the individual marketplace.

In other words, the system is pretty lousy and needs work. Conservatives helped to make this case, first in the think tanks, then in President Bush’s proposal for health care reform, and finally during Senator McCain’s campaign.

It may be that the vast majority of Americans with private health insurance are satisfied with their coverage. But they certainly worry, particularly in this economy, about a health insurance system that largely ties your opportunity for coverage to your employment. And they understand that their share of coverage is consuming an ever larger portion of their income.

In other words, they might be satisfied with the system, but they aren’t ecstatic about it.

They might have real concerns about who will wind up holding the bag for the Democrats’ reform. But there is no special place in their heart for America’s insurers and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

Americans do worry about health care. Maybe they aren't marching in the streets asking for a Canadian-style system, but they are worried what happens are health care costs rise and what happens if they lose their job.

But maybe the coup de grace of Barone's comments is this one about young adults:

the segment of the electorate that did most to produce the Obama victory and give the Democrats large majorities in Congress is the least concerned and least informed about health care. That segment is the 18 percent of voters under 30. Young voters preferred Obama to John McCain by a 66 percent to 32 percent margin, according to the exit poll. Voters 30 and over preferred Obama by only a 50 percent to 49 percent margin. Some 63 percent of the young voted Democratic for the House of Representatives. Only 51 percent of the rest of Americans did so. Without the young, the votes would clearly not be there for what the Democrats are trying to force through.

But what do the young know or care about health insurance? They have the fewest medical problems of the whole population. Their image of health care, at least until they become pregnant and have babies, is university health services. You come in if you feel like it, someone else pays, you get some pills or some counseling, or whatever. As for the downside of government insurance, pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that the young favor capitalism over socialism by only a 37 percent to 33 percent margin. The rest of us prefer capitalism by a 57 percent to 17 percent margin.

But while young voters may be open to government health insurance, they surely don't care very much about the issue.

So in Barone's mind, twentysomethings are basically carefree idiots.

Yeah, that's a way the GOP can get a share of the youth vote.

I can tell you that young people under 30 do know a thing or two about health care insurance or lack thereof. Most people in their 20s are in jobs after college. Since you don't normally end up in a corner office at 25, you might end up working in a very low paying job that may or may not have health care. And if health care is available, you might not be able to pay for it.

I should know, since it happened to me.

In my 20s, I went through periods where I didn't have health insurance. One of those experiences was 12 years ago, when I was 27. I had just moved to Minneapolis and was working at a coffeeshop. I was working full time and making $6 and hour. Health care was available, but when you make only $6/hour and have to pay for various things like food, health care becomes out of reach.

That fall, I got the flu, which then turned into pneumonia. I ended up in the hospital for two weeks. I didn't have to face a big medical bill (or at least not so much) because a wise nurse practioner at the clinic I was going to, was able to get me on to General Assistance health care, which is Minnesota's health care program for the poor.

The fact is, young people do face various illnesses. Twentysomethings are not fragile compared to the elderly, but they are not invincible. Right now, I know of a young woman who has health issues related to liver disease and her health care situation is perilous.

Republicans in my view are correct in opposing a public option for health care reform. But that doesn't mean that we should pretend there is no crisis, as Henry Clay says, that's the best way to ensure President Obama's public option is a reality.

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