The first half of Friday’s Bill Moyer’s Journal was about health care, a topic that’s often crossed my mind this past week. Here is the transcript for that episode.
Moyers was interviewing journalist Trudy Lieberman along with physician and Harvard lecturer Marcia Angell. Lieberman and Angell argued that the Obama health care plan (or, more accurately, the Congressional proposal that he’s endorsing) merely throws more money at a failing system, without addressing the root problems. Lieberman remarked that the Obama plan “will be a bonanza for the health insurance industry. And a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry. And for the doctors, too. Because the doctors are going to get more paying patients, because people will now have this ticket, this insurance card, that they can whip out when they need medical services.”
According to Lieberman and Angell, the government will be providing subsidies for people to buy insurance, pharmaceutical drugs, and medical services, which will increase demand. And the insurance companies, pharmaceutical industry, and physicians are only too happy at the prospect of an expanded customer base, especially since they’ll be able to set the prices. According to Dr. Angell, “Medicare Part D will not bargain for lower prices.” For Lieberman and Angell, the solution to our health care crisis is not to throw more money at our inefficient for-profit system, but rather to embrace universal health insurance, the sort that exists in Canada and Europe.
I was thinking about this issue this past week, largely because some of my conservative friends are sounding the alarm about Obama’s “socialistic” health care plan. They offer a different picture from what Lieberman and Angell present, however. According to their reading of the bill, the Obama plan will prohibit people who lose or change jobs from buying private health insurance, requiring them instead to go with the government brand (aka “the public option”). While Lieberman and Angell talk as if Obama-care will be a “bonanza” for the health insurance industry, my conservative friends say that private insurance will actually be a casualty, as Obama’s plan will force people into the “public option.”
I don’t know who’s right. One point Lieberman made was that most Americans have no idea what’s in this health care bill, since it hasn’t exactly been broken down to them in a manner that they can understand. I noticed earlier this week, however, that the new “Harry and Louise” ad promoting the Obama plan was sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. True, I was busy gushing about how these two opponents of the Clinton health care plan are now embracing health care reform, but somewhere in the back of my mind I was saying to myself: “Wait a second! Isn’t health care reform supposed to buck the special interests? Then how come the pharmaceutical industry is supporting the Obama plan?”
Then there’s this AP article, which I read right after watching Bill Moyers: Are Lobbyists Silver Lining in Health Care Storm? The following quotes say a lot:
The drug industry, the American Medical Association, hospital groups and the insurance lobby are all saying Congress must make major changes this year. Television ads paid for by drug companies and insurers continued to emphasize the benefits of a health care overhaul — not the groups’ objections to some of the proposals.
…government programs have been expanding — and they’ve gotten increasingly friendly to private insurance companies. Insurers now play major roles as middlemen in Medicare, Medicaid and the children’s insurance program.
And if the government requires everybody to get coverage — just what the overhaul legislation calls for — it could guarantee a steady stream of customers subsidized by taxpayers not only for insurers, but for all medical providers.
I once asked a hard-left-wing professor of mine why the Medicare and Medicaid programs are so expensive in America, whereas the national health insurance programs of Canada and Europe are not as expensive. He responded, “America’s health insurance companies.”
And the more conservative Looney Fundamentalist commented under my post, Locke, or Beyond Locke?: “My experiences from living in Europe is that they have a technocratic socialism that is vastly more efficient than American style populist socialism.”
America’s system of big government involves a merger of government and business interests, with the result that private interests can bilk the American taxpayers. We’ve put up with this system for years, under both Democrats and Republicans. The question right now is whether Obama’s health care plan is different from that, or if it’s merely “more of the same.”