Its hard to read the reports on compromise upon compromise as fake “independents” like Lieberman, Blue Dogs, and Republicans join with vacillating Democrats to ensure that our nation continues to be the only developed country without a comprehensive national health system. Our “leaders” in Congress should be ashamed of themselves.
Reuters today reports that “Democrats reach deal on health bill”. The article indicates that
“Senate Democratic healthcare negotiators said they agreed on Tuesday to replace a government-run insurance option with a scaled-back non-profit plan and would seek cost estimates on the deal.”
President Obama said in the past that … well, a lot of things. When I Googled to get the President’s stand on the amorphous and undefined “public option” I found a lot of contradictory statements.
On August 20, 2009 Reuters reported “U.S. President Barack Obama stood by proposals to create a government-run health insurance program on Thursday while insisting the move was merely one element of a wider plan to reform the industry.”
On September 3, 2009 politico.com reported “And although House leaders have said their members will demand the inclusion of a public insurance option, Obama has no plans to insist on it himself, the officials said.”
And so it goes in a back and forth see-saw of conflicting pressures and statements, while various insurance and medical industry organizations and businesses pumped somewhere around a million dollars a day into lobbying to kill meaningful health care reform.
In a wonderful article entitled Why Obama’s Public Option Is Defective, and Why We Need Single-Payer, Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein detailed the reasons why the “public option” was really not a very good step. Their position, which I agree with, is that “Decades of experience teach that private insurers cannot control costs or provide families with the coverage they need. And a government-run clone of private insurers cannot fix these flaws.”
Given the existing HR676 Single Payer health legislation, which had massive support going into the struggle for health care “reform”, what happened?
In union work, and probably any other negotiating situation, you learn not to negotiate against yourself. Democrats, and even more progressive forces, negotiated against ourselves. We bought into a dream of “gradual change” – first we’d win a public option and then we’d sneak along with whittling away at the insurance companies until we had a rational system. Like the insurance companies and business interests are stupid or wouldn’t notice!!! The gradualist approach meant that real reforms like single payer had to fight for a place at the table, the Obama “public option” became the left most position at the start of negotiations rather than ending up as the compromise position, and the working people are getting shafted.
At the end of the day, we as a nation lost sight of the real issue: our society’s responsibility to provide quality healthcare to everyone regardless of ability to pay or legal status. We have to stop undermining ourselves with fantasies of avoiding conflict with those who benefit from the status quo, set aside the myth that we’re all in it together to create a better society, and take on the negative forces that cripple our ability to meet our concrete needs for health care, housing, education, healthy foods, energy, and a positive culture that supports efforts to develop ourselves over the course of our lives rather than being distorted by the need to make a profit.
The weakness of the health care bill is a reflection of mistakes in tactics by people’s forces, in part, along with the vicious lies and manipulations by lobbyists for big pharma and insurance companies. Lessons I’ve learned:
a) Always fight for the underlying need; in this case for quality health care for all regardless of ability to pay or legal status.
b) As a people’s movement, it may be more helpful to see our Congress and Administration as implementation mechanisms, not leaders. The President and Congress can only do what the political landscape allows or pressures them to do, and nothing else. In a society crippled by capitalism, crippled by the democracy of the dollar, people’s movement can’t track legislation, we need to continually fight for the material and concrete need. Support for specific legislation can be a tactic as part of that larger struggle, but it can’t become the main point. The public option was never going to meet the need, and should not in my view have become the focal point of the progressive struggle, especially as it is a meaningless concept defined only after the fact. No one knew what a “public option” would include or how it would be structured. Everyone knows what “Quality Health Care for All Regardless of Ability to Pay or Legal Status” means.
c) Gradualism is a myth; the idea that we’ll win a little here and then a little more later, until over time we get where we need to go. We are not and were not going to win the “public option” and then push along to a more complete or radical solution over time. Society deals with questions in democratic struggle and then puts them aside, generally, to deal with other questions. In my view, we, as working people, would have done better to be fighting for what we really need. If we ended up with an intermediate step because we didn’t have the strength to win all that is needed, so be it. We would have educated our communities and strengthened the base in order to continue the struggle.
I hope that the health care reform bill that results from the current struggles helps many people, despite forcing people to buy into a broken system, and despite adding billions to the profits of the insurance companies. The struggle is not over until working people decide to stop fighting.