Editorial: Time to speak truth to ourselves on health care

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Months into this health care reform debate, and the disconnects with reality - most recently on display at the town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Aaron Schock - continue to confound.

Before we get into that, let us stress that the turnout of central Illinoisans wishing to listen and exercise their First Amendment rights on a Monday night in the Tazewell County town of Washington - easily 1,000 of them - was nothing if not impressive. If only we saw that kind of interest in public issues more often. We might add that for the most part, those in attendance were well behaved, unlike at some other town halls across the country.

Beyond that, at least in this editorial, we are neither endorsing nor rejecting anybody's health care bill - not Speaker Nancy Pelosi's behemoth, and not Congressman Schock's far more minimalist effort. What we wish to explore instead in this piece are the inconsistencies and contradictions that many members of the U.S. public and those they elect to represent them continue to espouse as Congress approaches this historic vote on just how universal health care ought to be in this nation.

First, you can jeer the much-derided "public option" if you wish, but if you do you're not allowed to then cheer the retired soldier who demanded an expansion of his veteran's health benefits so that he can more fully utilize his "public option." Again, we must note that not one senior citizen stood up Monday and offered to forfeit his or her "public option" through Medicare. If "government is the problem," as one speaker stated, we sure don't hear much of that when Medicaid permits grandma a spot in the nursing home's Alzheimer's wing.

Second, Schock may be a free market kind of guy who believes sincerely in fewer regulations and more competition as the best way to control costs. But if he wants to end private-sector discrimination or denial of insurance based on pre-existing conditions, or dictate coverage for dependent children to age 26 - as he indicated Monday - well, if that's not the heavy, regulatory hand of Uncle Sam at work, we don't know what is. Not even a congressman gets to have it both ways.

We might add that we, too, believe in the disciplining magic of competition, but in fact who's competing for the wheelchair-dependent woman with Parkinson's disease who says she spends $800 out of pocket a month on prescription drugs and takes 40 pills a day? Americans are always unfettered free-marketers in theory, but in practice, we'd wager most would not want government to disappear from their lives, not even in health care.

Third, if the crowd in general had sympathy for the veteran struggling to pay $40,000 in medical bills, some of its members expressed considerably less for the brother of the union carpenter who's lost everything due to a wife's chronic illness and says "there's got to be a better way," and for the woman who's watched friends and family members go bankrupt under the weight of mounting medical bills and says "the status quo is unacceptable."

The evidence supporting the latter is abundant. Ask Caterpillar executives how comfortable they are with the health care status quo. Judging by their recent actions regarding employee benefits, we'd suggest not very satisfied at all, as they try to keep pace with global competitors who aren't saddled with those same burdens. That should be a signal to many central Illinoisans as to the future of their employer-provided health insurance.

"You want me to pay for your health insurance?" one audience member accusingly yelled at one of the above. We have news for him: He already is. Seen how much an aspirin costs at the hospital lately? Whose premiums and deductibles are going down? It's called cost-shifting, and it doesn't require government involvement.

Look, you can do everything right - live within your means, pay your bills by the due date, attend church every Sunday - and still be bankrupted by a sudden sickness or a stay in the hospital. It's the number one cause of personal bankruptcy in America - more than 60 percent of them, according to a recent Harvard study. Frankly, we're surprised anyone would feel smug about their supposed immunity to all that.

Fourth, Schock indicated that the message he has heard overwhelmingly in his travels throughout the 18th District is "don't get between me and my doctor." We don't doubt that. But here's our question: Aren't the insurance companies running such interference now?

Fifth, we're with the congressman on the need for tort reform, which is not in any of the Democratic bills. So we're curious why one speaker didn't get an answer when she asked, "Where were the Republican health bills when the Republicans controlled Congress?" It proved an unpopular question, if also a valid one. That's no criticism of Schock, who wasn't in a GOP-controlled Congress three years ago, but in fact it's all too easy for the minority party to point fingers now.

Finally, Schock is a talented young man poised beyond his years, and he did a good job running the show Monday in a room of the mostly like-minded, but he's also a politician who's not above a bit of pandering when he perceives it to his advantage. Indeed, he made a point of pounding Pelosi for using the word "shall" - meaning "you must do something," in the congressman's interpretation - more than 3,400 times in her 1,990-page bill. Funny, because in Schock's own 181-page Medical Rights and Reform Act of 2009, "shall" shows up almost 250 times, by our count (along with the words "will" and "should" in goodly number). That represents a ratio of almost 1.4 times per page, compared to Pelosi's 1.7 times per page. By that standard, Democrats may be more controlling than Republicans, but not by much. That's just how bills are written.

Look, our congressman is free, and perhaps even correct, to believe that a government-run option won't achieve the goal - better service, controlled costs, expanded access. Our position has been and remains that the public sector should only step in where the private sector has failed - with people uninsured through no fault of their own. We appreciate that this is an emotional issue for many people.

But at the end of the day, health care delivery in America is badly bruised if not utterly broken, and fixing it must start with being intellectually honest with ourselves. Too many Americans have not been.

Peoria Journal Star