Regaining the Momentum on Health Care Reform

09/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yes, yes, I know -- why should anybody care what a rock-and-roll guitarist thinks about a hot button issue like health care reform? Well, I'm a citizen and I have opinions, and, to be honest with all the hysteria about it in the news, I really just couldn't help myself.

I campaigned for Barack Obama and I want him to succeed. I worry, though, that the Democrats - or at least the progressive Democrats -- are losing the momentum on the health care debate. Not because we don't need a real overhaul of our health insurance system, but because the right-wing lunatics have caused havoc and confusion, diverting our attention from what we need to do to provide every American with decent, affordable health insurance -- what every other civilized country in the world already has.

I believe the most direct route to fixing the health care crisis in America would be to leave private insurance companies out of it entirely and have a single payer plan, like they have in Canada. The Democrats could sell that plan using clear, simple language like "Medicare for All." I think the American people would understand that.

But too many Democrats are scared that their corporate benefactors - the drug companies, the insurance companies, the American Medical Assn. -- would shift their campaign contributions to the Republicans for the 2010 mid-terms. That's why we have all this talk about vague half-measures. I can live with a public option that keeps the insurance industry honest and provides Americans with a choice. But the idea of private health care "co-ops" sounds ridiculous. Nobody I know has any clue what that would mean and I doubt anyone in the U.S. Senate could explain it to me in less than 15 minutes. It's a non-starter.

Why am I advocating progressive reform of the health care system? I'm a relatively wealthy guy. My wife, my three kids, and I have great insurance coverage. What do I stand to gain from a public option? The same thing we all stand to gain -- a healthier community that saves money and gets better care across the board. We all have a stake in our society, don't we?

Yes, I'm for the public option, but most Americans (me, too) don't really know what's in Obama's plan. I get the basic idea. People who can't afford private insurance, or who don't like their existing insurance, will have a choice of picking a government insurance program - really, an expansion of Medicare. The providers -- doctors, nurses, dentists, hospitals, clinics -- would be private, like it is now. But the insurance would be paid for by the government. Insurance companies could no longer discriminate against sick people -- including people with "pre-existing" conditions. I like that. I, myself, was denied coverage a few years ago when I moved back to California from New York.

But the right-wing and the media have been confusing folks about what's in the Obama plan. Obama says that if you like your current insurance, you can keep it, but the Limbaugh lunatics say that he's lying and people don't know what to believe. Then they claim that Obama's plan has a "death panel" provision that will decide whether to "pull the plug" on old sick people. There was never anything in the plan like that - and still the Democrats, lacking spine, pulled out a provision that would have protected people making end-of-life choices, which was what the Republicans had spun as somehow tantamount to murder. Thank you, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly.

And what about "rationing"? We have rationing now. That's what the insurance industry is all about. Hillary Clinton said it well during the campaign: The insurance companies "spend tens of billions of dollars a year figuring out how not to cover people" and "how to cherry-pick the healthiest persons, and leave everyone else out in the cold." The bureaucrats standing between people and their doctors work for Aetna, Cigna, WellPoint, HealthNet and the other big insurance companies -- not the federal government.

Public funding, private delivery -- that's what single payer or a public option is about, not the government having control over your health care decisions.

President Obama is a great public speaker. I don't understand why he can't do a better job of explaining his health care plan in simple language and get his message across. How can he let these "tea party" idiots steal his thunder and muddy his message?

The Republicans don't have a health care plan to compete with the Democrats. They just want Obama to lose. Soon after Obama was elected, Rush Limbaugh announced that he wanted the new president to "fail." And recently Republican South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint said, "If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," he said.

That's their whole game.

The right-wingers know what they are AGAINST. But Obama's supporters don't seem to know exactly what they are FOR. This puts progressives like myself in a tough spot.

It isn't too late for Obama to shift the momentum in favor of reform. He needs to make a major speech to explain exactly how the public option would work. He needs to tell us what sort of regulations would be in place to control costs down the road. That's his job.

Our job -- liberals, progressives, union leaders, public health advocates, community groups, and even rock-and-roll performers -- is to mobilize our friends, get the word out, go to rallies, email our Senators and Congress members, and challenge the lies and distortions put out there by the Fox News crowd.

The right-wing fanatics who've been disrupting the town hall meetings, screaming and spreading lies, are either hopelessly ill-informed (thanks to Fox News) or else certified nut cases, but you have to hand it to them: their ranting and raving has led the Democrats to run for cover.

I'm not so sure about my liberal and progressive friends. They seem too polite. The MoveOn crowd. SEIU and the other unions. Community groups like ACORN. Even Obama's own group, Organizing for America. Where are they? Emailing their Senators? That's nice, but how about a little Alinsky-style activism?

How about a million people showing up on the mall in Washington, DC demanding health insurance reform with a public option?

How about people showing up at the Washington, DC headquarters of America's Health Care Plans -- the name of the major lobby group for the health insurance industry -- and chaining themselves to the their office?

How about people showing up at the mansion homes of the multi-millionaire CEOs of the nation's biggest insurance companies with picket signs telling them to get out of the way of the public option?

How about people following the seven or eight Democratic Senators who are thwarting Obama's plan, wherever they are scheduled to speak, and asking them a simple question. Which side are you on? The insurance companies (that give you big campaign contributions) or the people (who can find someone else to vote for)? That means you, Max Baucus of Montana. That means you, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. That means you, Mary Landreu of Louisiana. That means you, Evan Bayh of Indiana (whose wife, by the way, sits on the board of WellPoint, the nation's second largest health insurance company).

And what about our allies in the media? Compare liberal TV and radio hosts to those on the right. I'm happy that Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, and Thom Hartmann don't discuss the issues with the same type of vitriolic hate speech that occurs on Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity. You have one side that resides in a world based in facts, logic and morality and another that has fashioned an entire media empire out of outright lies, exaggerations and conservative fantasy. It's hard to win an argument with someone that will resort to lying to win.

But we actually don't need Limbaugh's listeners to win health care reform. Right-wing Republicans don't constitute a big enough vote to carry the day. And the ditto-heads who listen faithfully to Rush, and who show up at the "tea parties" would never vote for a Democrat -- even one as conservative as Ben Nelson -- anyway.

All we need is for every Democrat in the Senate to say "yes" to the public option. And for that to happen, we need to remind the Baucus Caucus that being a Democrat means that you're FOR using government to solve problems.

Obama understands this. That's why we voted for him. We need him to go to war -- not in Iraq. Not in Afghanistan. But against the insurance companies and their lackeys in Congress. He'd be a hero for standing up against big business for what is clearly a popular issue. He needs to whip the Blue Dogs and conserva-Dems into line. He needs to reprimand his chief of staff, for calling liberal groups like MoveOn and SEIU "f-cking stupid" for running ads attacking Blue Dog and "centrist" Dems on health care.

I think the Democrats are crazy to treat their liberal base as an annoyance while they coddle the Blue Dogs. Did they seriously expect us to stand down and allow the Baucus Caucus to gut true health care reform without an uproar?

I'd like to see and other activist groups using their resources to target Blue Dogs in upcoming primaries.

Watching Obama's health care forum the other day online I was reminded why we all like this guy. He's smart, charismatic and seems to have a good moral compass. As progressives we can't give up on him and his administration. He may not be the progressive that many of us hoped for, but he's still an ally. And as a former community organizer, he'd understand that it's still our responsibility to hold him and his administration's feet to the fire.

Here are some links if you want to get involved:

Health Care For America Now -

Physicians for a National Health Program -

Organizing For America -