Reflecting on Health Care

Let me be clear about something at the outset of this piece: I was, and remain, in favor of overhauling our health-care system. In fact, I am in favor of a socialized system of medicine. Yes, the awful s-word — I’m in favor of a single-payer, government health-care system where big business is taken OUT of the picture. I’m also a realist. I know in this country that will never happen. There is something deeply ingrained in the American ethos that simply won’t allow it to become reality. And while I firmly believe that the people who suffer most from a profit-driven, private-business-oriented health-care model are people precisely like US, people with preexisting conditions, I understand the fear of government-run medicine.

But rather than get into a set of arguments for MY side of the health-care debate, I want to highlight what I think is an even deeper problem facing health care in the U.S. It’s the same problem we see everywhere in our politics: We no longer start with a concrete problem and work toward a concrete goal. Instead, we start with a fiercely divisive, ideologically-driven point of view, and then charge forward, ignoring all facts that contradict our viewpoint, jumping on the facts that do support it, and simply pour more fuel onto the ideological fire.

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I firmly believe that no matter which “side” you agree with, the real problem is this fiercely ideology-driven approach to public policy. It is destroying health care, and with it our future. Let’s start way back in 2008, when nearly everyone agreed that our health care system was broken. Do you remember the “former Republican” voters who spoke at Obama rallies, telling stories of being denied care by their HMOs? Do you remember the stories from former employees of those same HMOs, who explained that their only jobs with those companies was to find loopholes to kick out “high-risk” (that is to say, people like US) patients from the insurance roles? I sure do. I’ve been praying that denying care to people with “preexisting” conditions would be outlawed my entire life!! That rule has kept me at jobs I hated, and it remains the always-present boogeyman just waiting to destroy my financial life if I ever slip up and fall out of coverage.

Now, during that period, Obama was pushing for a much more aggressive solution than what was eventually created. McCain, in contrast, was pushing an idea that was, in fact, almost exactly what would eventually be called “Obamacare.” It had “insurance exchanges.” It kept private insurance, but put regulations on them. And, it had a mandate that everyone buy in. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was Obamacare.

Let’s fast-forward a bit. Obama tries to implement his health-care overhaul. The opposing party balks at everything, setting up roadblocks at every point. Now remember, just months previously, the Republicans were setting THEIR agenda for health care overhaul. But now that the “other side” was trying to do it, all they really cared about was stopping the other guy. And when the other guy did pass an overhaul that looked almost exactly like the proposal the Republican nominee had pushed during the campaign? Well, they’re STILL filing lawsuit after lawsuit to repeal.

My point is this: The sides are so busy fighting each other that it almost seems like it doesn’t MATTER what the actual content is — and it doesn’t seem to matter how many people are hurt as collateral damage. Republicans will fight Democrat’s ideas, even when those ideas WERE the Republican’s ideas just months previously! And the same will be true in return. It has gotten so bad that a friend of mine who now lives in England told me everyone she knows is “fairly certain” our country is “beyond repair” politically and simply destroying itself from the inside.

IF we actually wanted to address our highly inefficient system (and we should — we pay almost $3,000 more per person annually than the next highest developed country, and we basically DOUBLE the amount that most industrialized countries pay, all for less actual patient care and worse outcomes), we would need a paradigm shift. We would need our politicians to drop their ideological fervor for a moment (right…), and come together (again, yeah right…) to discuss clear-cut FACTS and FIGURES related to health care, and to set a commonsense goal for where we want to go. Then they could let their ideologies back in, and argue the means to that goal. But politics has gotten so bad in this country that we can’t even agree on a goal as basic as “health care for all Americans.”

I’m not sure I really believe in the core health of our democracy these days, to be honest. And I don’t say that because I believe in some conspiracy that has allowed “outside” influences to infiltrate our system. I don’t say that because I believe the people who are turning our political institutions into glorified kindergarten grudge matches are all “evil” or even intend to destroy our democracy. But the fact is we can’t address ANY of our issues effectively anymore. Everything is a partisan battle, including a health-care system that we should all be very concerned about.