Health Care Reform: Fear and Loathing

Health care is personal, important, confusing and expensive. No wonder so many people are upset at attempts to reform America’s health care system. The status quo may be broken, but the devil known is more welcome than the devil coming to town.

It’s especially scary for conservatives who look at the folks doing the reforming and are terrified. When they see President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi they see liberals – actually they see LIBERALS. The kind their parents warned about. These aren’t fellow Americans with whom they happen to disagree, they’re “the others,” the socialists, the government building, boogie men of talk radio and a certain 24 hour news station. (And yes, this being America, there’s a 24 hour news station boosting fear of conservative boogie men, too).

It takes a giant leap to think that elected leaders in America are plotting to create a system with death panels that will impose euthanasia on seniors, make virtually every health care decision in the country, murder millions of children and much more. Yet those are the accusations made by former Governor Sarah Palin, Cal Thomas, Representative Virginia Foxx, and Representative John Shadegg. And many on the right take are predisposed to take these accusations seriously.

Then there are more legitimate controversies that health care reform impacts. For example, should health plans health plans be required to cover abortions? That’s a legitimate public policy issue although it’s often weighed down by political rhetoric that obscures the real issues.

All of this makes it easy for liberals to dismiss these concerns. They see the need for a public health insurance plan to increase competition, not drive private carriers out of business. Evaluating the cost and effectiveness of care makes common sense and sound economics. It has nothing to do with being intrusive. There’s nothing sinister about this approach, but conservatives view such claims with fear and loathing.

What we have here are two groups of people looking into the same room from different windows. What they see is colored by where they stand and the prejudices they bring to the view. Where one sees conspiracy and death panels the other sees common sense and prudent regulation.

This is more than just a fascinating glimpse into the human psyche and how it plays out in the public policy arena. It underscores the challenge facing those seeking change. They need to not just fashion a workable system, but they have to deal with the fears and suspicions of those who instinctively oppose them – fears and suspicions that are stoked for self-aggrandizement and profit by the Glenn Becks and Michael Moores of the world.

Then there’s the political element of this dynamic. Liberals can comfortably ignore the concerns of conservatives regarding health care reform. All they need to do is bring enough moderates along to build the majorities needed to pass their legislation.

But in American politics the pendulum swings. In 2001 the President was George W. Bush, the Senate Majority Leader was Trent Lott and the House Speaker was Dennis Hastert (just two years earlier it had been Newt Gingrich). Their view of how a public health plan should work – what it covers and who it benefits – varies considerably from the Obama/Reid/Pelosi view. Yet the greater the role liberals give the government over health care, the more control over issues like abortion conservatives like Bush/Lott/Hastert will have when they take power again – and eventually, they will.

Fear and suspicion, anger and foolishness knows no ideology. The left and right are equally susceptible to assuming and perceiving the worst in the actions and words of the other side. Both have paid cheerleaders to make stoke their worst predilections.

As lawmakers consider the impact of health care reform they should keep in mind the American political wheel turns. Eventually all of us watch our elected leaders with fear and loathing. And the greater the influence government has on health care the more vitriolic the suspicion, anger – and the danger.

Sicko — Again

I thought, or at least hoped, we were done talking about Sicko, Michael Moore’s film on America’s health care system. But with a lull in the action up in Sacramento, the movie is having a bit of renaissance — or maybe it’s just the inevitable backlash. Recently, John Stossel of ABC’s 20/20 news program took Mr. Moore to task for distortions and inaccuracies in Sicko. The first segment focused on Mr. Moore’s claim in the film that Cuba’s health care system is superior to America’s. It’s less than six minutes long. The next week, however, the entire program was devoted to Stossel versus Moore in an examination of health care systems here and abroad.

Who won depends on where you stood before the interview, but most neutral observers seem to think Mr. Stossel came out ahead.  The interview can be viewed at on You Tube in six segments: Part 1. Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; and Part 6.

For the past several months, if not years, advocates of government run programs have been bombarding the public with horror stories about health care in the United States and, especially, about the evils of our current insurance system. ABC’s 20/20 is the first national broadcast I’ve seen questioning this drumbeat. To defenders of the current system it will be reassuring. To those attacking the system it will be an example of corporate America defending one of its own: the insurance industry. To non-partisans I think it will be eye opening and educational. It’s also the kind of program agents will want to share with their clients. Those wishing to can buy a DVD of the program at ABC’s online store.

For those in Los Angeles, there’s Sicko-related event worth taking a look at. On Thursday, September 27th, the Pacific Research Institute and Americans for Free Choice in Medicine are presenting  a program entitled “Sicko and Its Malcontents: Health Care on Film” Promised is a debate on the accuracy, impact and purpose of films like Sicko and of others which attack the Canadian and European health care systems as vehemently as Mr. Moore attacks America’s. PRI and AFCM are both conservative/libertarian-leaning groups, so the emphasis is likely to be that government-run systems increase taxes while reducing access to health care. Interestingly, however, the moderator will be Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. For many years before entering politics, he hosted a cable talk show and is, I believe he is a single payer advocate. The event should be interesting — and it’s free. (Really free. Taxes will not rise as a result of the event. OK, parking at the event is $8.00, but you might find something on the street).

Soon the Legislature will fully engage in health care reform again. Until then, well, we’ll always have Sicko.