James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Weighing in on health care

The anger and frustration over our deadly health care system is far greater than the corporate bigwigs, nonleaders in Washington and the corporate news media understand.

That doesn't mean the corporation executives won't spend hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars from their obscene profits to beat back rebellion before it gets organized, however. Any opposition annoys them, and articulate opposition throws them into paroxysms of outrage.

How dare any of the worker bees challenge their right to rob us blind and do what they will with our lives?

A few days ago, I posted on my blog a piece criticizing the knee-jerk criticisms of Michael Moore's highly successful new film, “Sicko.”

That piece was almost immediately picked up on http://www.tcdailyplanet.com, a Twin Cities-based on-line newspaper, and then, almost as quickly, by Google News. Within a day, more than 60 people had written comments on my essay, on “Sicko” and on our failed health care “system.” The responses have continued in the days since.

Notes siding with my stance, and/or with “Sicko” and its message, or simply expressing disgust with what we have in the way of health care, run at least nine to one over those who denigrate Moore and his film and who speak in favor of our present system.

The number is small, relative to the population, but anyone who has experience with public responses to news and opinion articles in large publications, let alone relatively obscure Net operations, knows that such a response is gigantic in terms of what it represents for the population as a whole. Each letter writer represents a great many non-writers who feel the same way.

I can't tell which responses went directly to Daily Planet and which went originally to Google News, but it doesn't matter. The respondents are from all over this country and Canada.

This is the point:

That strong response certainly is not about me, an obscure blogger, nor about my essay. It's not even about Michael Moore and his movie.

It's about the deep, even passionate, dissatisfaction with the way health care is parsed out in this country and with the horrendous cost, financial and otherwise, of having the worst health care system among all the developed countries in the world.

Despite decades of carefully constructed propaganda and misinformation programs, hundreds of bought politicians and billions of dollars spent on advertising, a large percentage of the American populace has figured out that we pay far more for far less than people all over the “developed” world get in the way of health care.

Too many of us have suffered personally under the reign of the insurance and pharmaceutical giants, and far too many of us have seen friends and relatives crushed by the weight of debt and lack of proper care. On the subject of health care, at least, we're not as easily conned as we once were.

That's not universally true, of course.

For eighty years or so, the people at the top of the food chain have been leaping from behind trees and yelling “Booga booga booga!” and “Socialism!!!!!” every time someone wants to put some limits on their power. As a result, not surprisingly, quite a few Americans believe that “Socialism” is the proper name for the road to Hell and that the word defines any attempt at collective action to benefit the public as a whole.

That's been the thrust of most of the notes attacking me, Moore, “Sicko” and anyone who favors a single-payer health plan for this country.

One theme feeding off that – right out of the corporate textbook – is that anything run by the government is bound to be bad and inefficient. That, of course, ignores the success of Medicare and a number of other excellent government programs now under attack by the Bush crowd.

It also ignores the success of universal, government-run health care programs in two or three dozen other countries, as well as the obvious inefficiency of wasting billions of dollars a year on profits for insurance and pharmaceutical companies and officially non-profit HMOs, in which executives pull down incomes that are the envy of oil company officers.

Another theme, drawing directly from corporate ads run back when Hillary Clinton was trying to sell health care reform rather than sucking up campaign funds from the industry, is that all of those national health care programs are failures.

That is a blatant lie, and the specific criticisms often are lies.

Some favorites, repeated by a couple of the defenders of the status quo who wrote in response to my article, is that in all of those other systems, the individual is prevented from seeing doctors of their own choosing, that there are extremely long waits to see specialists or, it is sometimes claimed, to see any doctor. Another is that under the national plans, one is so tied up in paperwork that you never again see the light of day.

Flatly, that is unmitigated crap. Several Canadians and a few people who have lived in other foreign countries wrote responses to say so after seeing the claims of conservatives responding to my original piece.

Incidentally, I've had brief encounters with the health care systems in two other countries, including Canada, and never had a hint of the problems the right wingers and insurance company propagandists say are rife elsewhere. I've had a hell of a lot of problems with insurance companies trying to deny their obligations to pay and with clinic bureaucracies in this country, however, and have witnessed many more.

As for paperwork: Can anything anywhere match the deliberately complex and confusing systems constructed by our for-profit health care operations? People who live in other countries, including American expatriates I know, say definitely not.

The opponents of a single-payer (government) health care system have a corporate-provided list of supposed flaws in all such systems elsewhere. A lot of what they say is untrue, but some specific stories are true. There are flaws in any system, organization, product or anything else you can come up with that is designed and run by human beings. Human beings make mistakes. If you have to deal with enough of them, some are going to make bad judgments at times.

To insist that any system must be perfect before we can consider it better than the murderous mess we have is too absurd to be taken seriously.

Does Cuba lack sufficient quantities of high-tech medical equipment? Possibly; I don't know and, so far as I've been able to ascertain, neither do the people who spout that claim as god-given fact. But it is verifiable fact that Cubans have notably longer life expectancies than do U.S. citizens.

Do Canadians or the British have longer waits to see specialists? I've seen no trustworthy statistics, but my own experience in recent years, and what I've read, strongly suggests not.

Does the fact that some other country's system has a characteristic we don't like mean that we should not have a decent system ourselves? Are we incapable of improving on some other country's way of doing things, or adjusting it to our needs? If so, we're truly in a sorry state.

When the ad campaigns hit, and when the purchased politicians and corporate billionaires start selling hard against decent health care for this country, folks, tune them out. Turn off the television. Instead, read and do a little simple research. It isn't all that difficult. The facts still are available if you look.

Then hammer the politicians – the folks we used to call leaders who now should be called the “waybehinds.” If we're insistent enough, it's barely possible we can get, finally, a genuine, top-to-bottom overhaul of health care in this country.

Stay angry.