My latest reading of Arianna Huffington’s Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream was rather discouraging, for it concerned the influence of special interests on the government.
According to Arianna, while the media may portray debates over legislation as dramatic conflicts over the public good, the sad fact is that, if legislation made it far enough to be debated, the lobbyists had their hands in it beforehand, making sure that there were enough loopholes for them to get by with what they do. Moreover, Arianna discusses how the monetary penalties on unsafe mines and on certain polluters are far from tough, for they are not much money, in light of what the mines and the polluters make. The problem, for Arianna, is not that there aren’t enough regulatory bureaucrats, but rather that the actual oversight is not adequate. Arianna also talks about the chummy relationship between the government and special interests, as well as the revolving door between the government and lobbies. And, sad to say, both Democrats and Republicans are at fault, according to Arianna.
Arianna’s discussion reminded me of something that I read not long ago. I was watching the first Presidential debate in 1996 between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, and both were touting the Kennedy-Kassebaum law as a significant step in reforming health care. The law essentially allowed people to keep their health insurance if they lost or changed jobs, and it also addressed the issue of pre-existing conditions. I wondered what happened to Kennedy-Kassebaum, for people still lose their health insurance when they lose or change their jobs, and how insurance companies treat people with pre-existing conditions was an issue even after Kennedy-Kassebaum. According to Mike Lux’s post on OpenLeft, the law had loopholes. Lux argues that, if the health insurance industry accepts a certain law, then that’s a fairly reliable indication that the law will not bring about reform. True reform would make the insurance companies kick and scream!
So is there any hope? Some would say that we should not expect much out of this carnal political system but should wait for Jesus to come back and set things right. But there are countries with health care systems that work, systems that are (in my opinion) more humanitarian that what the U.S. has. Could we move towards their kind of system? I don’t know. The special interests are strong in the United States. Moreover, some of these other countries got the system that they have now by necessity—-Howard Dean says that Great Britain, for example, decided to have government-funded health care in the aftermath of World War II, as people needed to be treated, and it stuck with that system ever since. We don’t have that history, however. Rather, in our history, Harry Truman proposed national health insurance, and it was killed. But there have been some glimmers of hope, such as Medicare, which emerged because private health insurance companies were not sufficiently taking care of the elderly (see here).