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Allison Kilkenny Headshot

Density and Secrecy Will Defeat Democracy in Kennedy's Health Care Bill

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The public finally got a look at Senator Kennedy's behemoth 615-page health care bill, a document so gargantuan that Huffington Post put out an SOS to readers to help the editors read it. During the lead-up to the health care war, Kennedy promised Americans that the conversation about their health industry would be a national one, unlike the debacle the first time when the Clintons tried to take on private health care. No more secrecy, Teddy promised. Except, this time the negotiations are -- once again -- happening behind closed doors, and the public's favorite option, single-payer, isn't represented at the table.

Kennedy has depicted this secret operation as essential to negotiations, but the popular single-payer option has been almost entirely shut out of the debate (59% of Americans believe the government should provide national health insurance). Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, lobbyists from "AARP, Aetna, the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, the Business Roundtable, Easter Seals, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the United States Chamber of Commerce," are all present at the Kennedy meetings.

You'd think single-payer advocate House Judiciary Chair John Conyers has the plague these days from the way his associates on the hill are dodging him. Conyers has been criticizing his fellow politicians for sabotaging the single-payer option.

"There is some notion that universal single-payer healthcare is off the table. Well, that raises a very important question. If you take the most popular healthcare reform measure and take it off the table, heaven knows what it is, I guess, you think you're left with. This is the most popular form, and it would be very unlike the party in the majority now to determine that the most popular system would not even be examined. I am asking for a hearing in every committee, every committee, and if they will let us into the Senate, as well."

Conyers, who -- once again represents what the majority of Americans actually want -- has been forced to chase the back of the health care bus like a crazed dog ever since March when he was not invited to President Obama's Health Care Summit. Ultimately, Obama invited him when Conyers threatened to take his case to the president himself.

Why does one of the only politicians truly representing a populist desire need to grovel, beg, and holler to be included in the Kennedy-Obama closed-door meetings?

One reason may be that men like Max Baucus are permitted to aid in health care reform. Baucus is a human version of a NASCAR race car except all his corporate logos advertise pharmaceutical companies. Great Falls Tribute reports that Baucus "received more campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries than any other sitting Democrat in the House or Senate, receiving $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies during that period." It's self-explanatory why a man who makes a living sucking from the teat of private health care wouldn't be the most enthusiastic advocate of single-payer representatives being included in negotiations.

Others, like President Obama argue that the single-payer option isn't (his favorite word) "pragmatic."

"If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense...We don't want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we're trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy."

But now is precisely the moment when the system needs to be reinvented and purged of pharmaceutical and health insurance lobbyists. America's health care system is already a global embarrassment. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the U.S. health care system rates 37th in the world in terms of quality and fairness. WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland says: "The main message from this report is that the health and well- being of people around the world depend critically on the performance of the health systems that serve them. Yet there is wide variation in performance, even among countries with similar levels of income and health expenditure. It is essential for decision- makers to understand the underlying reasons so that system performance, and hence the health of populations, can be improved."

Dr. Julio Frenk, Executive Director for Evidence and Information for Policy at WHO says: "It is especially beneficial to make sure that as large a percentage as possible of the poorest people in each country can get insurance...Insurance protects people against the catastrophic effects of poor health. What we are seeing is that in many countries, the poor pay a higher percentage of their income on health care than the rich."

The message seems lost on the US government. Secret meetings with healthcare lobbyists, a 600+ page, dense bill offered without a summary cover page, killing the popular single-payer option? Kennedy's bill appears to be extremely undemocratic.

President Obama has promised to bring his message to the people soon. Starting in the Midwest, he'll try to convince the American people that his public-private hybrid health care is best for the nation. The single-payer option seems to already be a thing of the past. Instead of listening to what the majority of Americans want, Obama and associates are trying to convince the American people that a partially privatized system is best for them. This is the opposite of democracy. It's a privatized health care propaganda tour.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.