Like Peter Finch in the 1976 movie, Network, many Americans, frustrated with the economy, are ready to scream, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any longer." But there is another area---health care--- that has also been gaining a place in the spotlight. One of our presidential candidates actually thinks that what can cure it is the very same thing that, in the end, has taken down Wall Street - - - an unregulated private sector.
Our health care system is broken, no doubt, but neither major candidate's ideas for solving it are perfect. Democrat Barack Obama suggests some reasoned solutions but does not go far enough, while Republican John McCain just doesn't get it.
Only a few weeks before the bailout bill was signed into law on October 2, McCain published an article in Contingencies, a periodical for actuaries, "Better Care at Lower Cost for Every American." McCain wrote that the best way to change what ails our health system is to let the private market take care of it.
"Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation", he penned. He added, "Consumer-friendly insurance policies will be more available and affordable when there is greater competition among insurers on a level playing field."
To also read this from a presidential contender in light of the debacle that has consumed Wall Street, and will now cost taxpayers $850 billion ($700 billion plus the remainder in "pork" added by the Senate) to bail out is, well, frightening and unconscionable. Though the media reports his aides said the quote referred to things like banking machines consumers can use nationwide, that he was referring to only one form of deregulation unlike all forms as has occurred in the banking sector and that healthcare can best be achieved by letting Americans acquire health care across state lines -- tha fact is McCain still doesn't get it.
Lack of meaningful regulation and governmental controls within the banking and financial markets put this country in the most dire monetary straits since the Great Depression. And, now, no matter how much backtracking McCain claims to be doing, it won't change his words -- he wants to do the same thing with health care, which is already in crisis with more than 46 million people uninsured, another 25 million underinsured, and personal bankruptcies due to debt caused by astronomical hospital and doctor bills (see here, for example).
McCain plans on giving tax credits to individuals -- $5,000 for families and $2,500 for individuals purchasing health insurance. Though he claims in his article that, "the fundamental problem remains that the (health care) bill is too large, particularly for the value of what it delivers in quality care and improved health outcomes" (Contingencies, at 30), when was the last time a family of four could purchase decent health insurance for $5,000? How about, never? He also wants to tax employees on income equal to the value of health care coverage provided by an employer, and remove the deduction employers typically take for providing such coverage too. During his vice-presidential debate with Gov. Palin, Sen. Biden labeled all this the "ultimate bridge to nowhere."
More incredible is that only a few lines after he preaches that the private sector can take care of our health care system, McCain writes, "Government health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid should lead the way in health care reforms that improve quality and lower costs." Ever the 'flip-flopper' - - - from private-sector remedies to government-backed plans and back again, I guess. Additionally, McCain would not stand in the way of insurers indiscriminately denying health benefits based on pre-existing conditions.
Obama wants to modernize our system for healthcare too, require all children to be covered, ensure that no American should be turned down for coverage due to a pre-existing illness, and that all Americans should receive benefits similar to those all members of Congress receive. Obama also believes that insurance premiums would drop by $2500 under his plan. Nice sound bites, but they do not go far enough. While the McCain camp criticizes Obama for wanting to get the government involved, given McCain's published remarks, both appear to agree that government involvement at a certain level is warranted.
My father, who was a U.S. postal worker for 20 years, received great health insurance through the federal government, which allowed him to select from a variety of health plans. Government plans like he had -- and which members of Congress have -- should be a beacon for change, not just the purely private markets.
Another successful government health care program is Medicare, which gets good marks from its beneficiaries, and the paperwork costs much less than those of private plans. If we want to improve health care, we should look to the creation and reasons for Medicare, as well as what other nations have done to provide health care benefits for their citizens. In fact, a program where there is a government-provided base level of health care coverage for all Americans, with additional levels paid for by either individuals or their employers, is an idea worth pursuing which neither of our presidential candidates has proposed or suggested.
But, please, don't let us hear that free market competition will fix health care costs, as McCain said the banking system did for the financial markets over the last decade. It is confounding to read that he thinks fixing banking and health care belong in the same economic bed, all the while apparently not believing in the adage that -- if we do not learn from history we are bound to repeat it. Unfortunately, we are living some of that (economic) history right now.
Without some meaningful regulation and control of the private sector, government involvement, or more appropriately, a combination of both, taxpayers will be forced to bail out our health care system, just as we are being forced to do so now for Wall Street.
As Peter Finch said, when it comes to health care, Americans are getting to the point where they are mad as hell and not going to take it any longer.