03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Downplaying the Uninsured: Michael Steele and the Ongoing Republican Propaganda Campaign to Derail Health-Care Reform

My friend Mustang Bobby flagged the Steele-Univision interview yesterday, focusing on the RNC chair's comments on immigration (which were appallingly ignorant in their flag-waving superficiality), but I wanted to post here on his comments on health-care reform:

Jorge Ramos - Republican Senator Olympia Snowe has announced that she will vote for a healthcare reform bill. Are you disappointed, do you expect more Republicans to vote for it?

Michael Steele - I don't, if it's what we've seen produced so far in the House and in the Senate. I don't think we need a comprehensive overhaul of our healthcare system because our healthcare system, while it remains the best in the country and while it provides largely the services that people need and the quality of those services are very, very good, there are costs associated with this system that needs to be address more directly.

Jorge Ramos - But there are 40 or 50 million people who don't have health insurance. Right?

Michael Steele - The President himself has said it's not 40 to 50 number one, number two, the President himself has reduced that number to 30 and the actual number of people who legitimately need to access this healthcare system are around 12 to 15 million, but if that's the number, I'll take your 40 to 50 million if that is the number you want to use, the question then becomes, how much, who pays and where does the money come from and the administration continues to fail to address that issue in an honest way for the people to appreciate exactly what this cost is going to be for a complete overhaul of our system versus what Republicans have argued... It's commonsense solution, it doesn't require a nationalizing of our healthcare system, and it doesn't involve or require a great government intrusion through regulation and taxation and other confiscatory policies. What it requires is applying a little, you know elbow grease, to allow those businesses, those Hispanic businesses for example, under the market place and get the healthcare that they need.

First, it is simply delusional to think that an overhaul of the health-care system isn't needed. And it's the usual right-wing flag-waving to assert that the American system is the best system (simply because it's American, it would seem, for there is little to back up the assertion). Yes, I admit, the American system is quite excellent, in some respects, like research and innovation. But you can't fully access the system unless you have a lot of money, and, what's more, costs are spiralling out of control.

Second, one of the key components of the Republican opposition to meaningful reform involves claiming that there are far fewer uninsured Americans than people think. So it isn't 40 or 50 million, or even 30 million, it's more like 12 to 15 million -- as if this somehow makes reform unnecessary. It is difficult to pin down an exact number, but, according to the bipartisan National Coalition on Health Care, Census data show that about 47 million Americans, or roughly 20 percent of the population under 65, were uninsured in 2008. This is backed up by the Department of Health and Human Services, which, according to this 2005 brief, put the number at 45.8 million. The number of uninsured in 2007 was 45.7 million.

In August of this year, NPR looked behind that 45.7 million number. There were 45.7 million Americans who were uninsured at some point that year. While this means that not everyone who is uninsured is permanently uninsured, the problem is not diminished. There were still that many people who at some point didn't have any coverage and couldn't seek the care they may have needed. NPR also notes the key conservative arguments: that some of the 45.7 million have Medicaid and falsely reported lacking insurance; that many of those without insurance are not American citizens, including many undocumented immigrants; and that many of those without insurance qualify for existing programs but haven't signed up. "So, are there really 46 million uninsured?" NPR asks. "It's the current best guess, but it might be off by several million." Yes, but the reality is that "[w]hatever the exact figure, tens of millions of people don't have insurance."

The number of uninsured is certainly much higher than the 12 to 15 million range Steele suggested, and much higher than other reform opponents would have us believe. But even if it were "just" 12 to 15 million... that's still 12 to 15 million people! And while I realize that 12 to 15 million people in a country as large as the U.S. is smaller proportionally than a similar number in, say, Canada (where, of course, there is universal coverage), it's still a huge number. How is any system that leaves 12 to 15 million people without coverage -- and hence without adequate care -- a good system, let alone the best system in the world? How is any such system fair and decent and just and humane? Forget 12 to 15 million. How about a million, or a thousand, or one? How is a system that leaves anyone without coverage a good system? Yes, there may be people who choose, for whatever reason, to opt out, who don't want insurance of any kind, but that should be a choice. Everyone, I think, should at least have the choice to have sufficient insurance to be able to seek adequate care. (I would probably mandate at least minimal coverage (but not specific care), but that's another matter.)

But let's get back to the point: It's not 12 to 15 million, it's 45+ million. And that is simply unacceptable -- a gross injustice in a land supposedly of plenty.

Back to Steele's comments:

Third, the reform packages currently under consideration on Capitol Hill do not propose nationalization, nor "great government intrusion." Not a single one of them. At most, there would be a public option: an option, a choice. The health-care market would not be replaced with a government-run single-payer system, it would be augmented with an additional choice -- a choice that would bring many of the currently uninsured into the system. How is that a bad thing?

It isn't. But Republicans like Steele -- and he is, at least by title, the head of the GOP -- oppose any and all reform and are obviously willing to lie and deceive in order to achieve their obstructionist aims.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)