Apparently taking their leadership from Karl Rove who warned that the Republican candidates must focus on healthcare because the issue is "on the mind of a lot of swing voters," the Republican candidates for president have now latched on to healthcare.
But in the true spirit of their mentor Rove, it appears they think our biggest healthcare crisis is the potential election of Hillary Clinton.
Hearing their fulminations about "socialized medicine" and "Hillary care" almost makes you wonder what they've been drinking.
In a new report, George Lakoff's Rockridge Institute aptly describes the approach of Clinton and the other top tier Democrats as the "neoliberal mode of thought" in its dubious reliance on regulation and technocratic changes to an industry that needs to be dismantled, not tweaked.
But at least Clinton and company are talking about comprehensive reform. The Republican candidates' healthcare policies recall the words attributed, probably erroneously, to Marie Antoinette whose infamous solution to mass shortages of bread was "let them eat cake."
The GOP debate in Orlando Sunday night showed the Republicans' complete disregard for the plight of the tens of millions of Americans who are either uninsured, denied the care they need by insurance companies, or facing bankruptcy or self-rationing due to medical bills.
Front runner Rudy Giuliani thinks the answer is the Bush administration scheme of tax credits to encourage people to buy insurance. But given skyrocketing premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and rising drug and hospital charges, only the most well-off will actually benefit from the tax credits -- much like Bush's other tax cuts.
Sunday night Giuliani unveiled his approach to runaway costs -- getting or forcing more people to buy insurance which would "cut in more than half" the price of healthcare, he claims. If you believe that, next he'll try to sell us the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact, the commercialization of healthcare has had the opposite effect, driving premiums up 87 percent nationally this decade alone. But Guiliani's approach will do wonders for insurance company profits.
Mitt Romney, when he's not prattling on about Clinton, can't seem to decide if he should embrace the Massachusetts plan he engineered or run away from it as a symbol of a "government-run" system that is a supposed anathema to GOP primary voters.
What Romney won't say is the problem with the Massachusetts scheme is not that it's "government-run" (it's not), but that it's a fiasco. The law forces the un-covered to buy insurance. But most have been willing to risk the tax penalties because with no limits on what the insurers can charge the cheapest, junk insurance is for many still out of reach. "Anyone not covered for free, is not buying," says Ben Day, director of Mass-Care, a vocal critic of the law.
John McCain said Sunday that healthcare will be "one of the defining issues of this campaign." Why? The need to oppose "Hillary-care resurrected" and stop the "efforts to raise your taxes." Well thank goodness he stands for something.
Tom Tancredo has an opinion on healthcare too -- hospitals are closing because "they've had to provide care for illegal immigrants and cannot be reimbursed." But facts will always be the enemy of inflammatory rhetoric. Immigrants use 55 percent less healthcare, and immigrant children 74 percent less, than U.S.-born residents.
Finally there's the new darling of the race, Mike Huckabee. "We don't have a healthcare crisis, we have a health crisis." This is a common thematic of conservative ideologues; it's your fault for getting sick for not exercising enough or not eating enough fish oil. And, if you developed cancer for breathing polluted air or eating contaminated spinach, that's probably your fault too.
In the seven years of the Bush administration, the number of people uninsured during a two-year period has grown by 17 million. One in six adults with insurance have "substantial problems paying their medical bills," says the Kaiser Family Foundation. Consumer Reports says that 70 million Americans are under-insured, with coverage that "barely covers their medical needs and leaves them unprepared to pay for major medical expenses."
Yet somehow and entire field of Republican candidates for president has missed those little problems, and adopted positions for solving our national healthcare nightmare that range from more tax breaks for the rich to denying care to immigrants to lecturing us to do more push ups. Oh, and keeping Hillary out of the White House.