CHRIS LARSEN: Health Reform Foes: Strange Bedfellows
Before I get fully riled up, I have a confession to make. I was once a federal lobbyist for the insurance industry. I have forgotten more than most people would ever care to know about health-insurance reform.
The numbers from the Census Bureau show there are nearly 45 million uninsured folks in this country. Of those folks, 86 percent are U.S. citizens, and it is important to say none of the legislative approaches provides further care for non-assimilated immigrants. The average uninsured American is young, single and white. More live in the South than any other region.
The statistics are overwhelming, but one thing we do know: The current trends for cost and care are unsustainable. Small business cannot afford it, individuals cannot find it, and we are all trapped in one way or another because we lack options.
The increase in the cost of health care is outpacing our ability to afford it. We need reform.
One thing I do remember is that people get sick. For many without insurance, the first stop for care is often the very expensive emergency room.
They get the care they need, but because hospitals are usually for-profit ventures, the cost is passed along to those who are insured. Since the insurance companies are not in the charity business, they pass this cost along by increasing rates. The concept of cost-shifting means we all currently pay for the health-care needs of nearly 38 million fellow citizens. Reform would ease our burden and increase their role in funding their own care.
Recently, we learned that the fiery passions of opposition to the public-option health care that burned so strongly at last summer's "town hall" meetings were lit, in part, by big insurance companies.
Whether opposition to health-care insurance reform is truly a grassroots movement or "Astroturf" is not for me to say. But it is a miraculous turn in the debate to see the status quo defended by residents of a country that spends more on health care than most of the industrialized world and receives less in health benefits than even some Third World countries.
I have called my former K- Street lobbying buddies and said "bravo!" for getting the folks all riled up on their behalf.
As for the government taking over health insurance, I am reminded of the line, "Government health insurance would have the compassion of the IRS and the competence of the post office, all at Pentagon prices." I don't want that, but even if I prefer UPS and FedEx, it is good to know the post office is there when you need it.
They say politics makes strange bedfellows. In the health-care debate, you have the left and the right opposing the middle. The other day, Sen. Joe Lieberman (Maverick) said, "I cannot in good conscience vote for any plan that includes the public option." I hate to be too cynical, but it seems like the insurance industry may have sold him a "Good Conscience Umbrella Policy."
From the left and right, members of Congress are running for their professional lives.
In the first six months of this year alone, more than $11 million in health industry largesse was sent to the re-election campaigns of members of Congress. The big question is: Does this buy access or acquiescence? This legislation is so long and complicated because so many of those in Congress are beholden to one or more special interests.
Rather than the "Health Care Reform Act of 2009," the bill should be re-titled, "The Congressional Job Retention Act of 2009."
Chris Larsen, who formerly worked in public relations and lobbying in Washington, lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at email@example.com.
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