Health Care “reform”: My response to Obama (from 3 years ago)

NB: I wrote this quickly on March 22, 2010, after reading Obama’s speech. The ACA had just been passed. I couldn’t listen to his speech the previous night. I think I made it to the third paragraph of his speech before I grabbed my “comfort book” (Epictetus, thank you) and went upstairs to read in dim light.

Good evening, everybody. Tonight, after nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, after decades of trying, and a year of sustained effort and debate, the United States Congress finally declared that America’s workers and America’s families and America’s small businesses deserve the security of knowing that here, in this country, neither illness nor accident should endanger the dreams they’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.

This sounds so good, President Obama.
Does this mean that I can get affordable health insurance for some pre-existing
conditions now?

No? Okay, so I guess I can just keep on dealing with these awful migraines because I can’t afford the $500.00 a month it would cost to get a preventative medication that might work. I won’t find out, because, you know, I have to feed my family first. That’s cool, I understand.

Call this me taking one for the American people. Every time I vomit water or plain bile because I’ve been unable to keep food down for more than 24-hours due to a mere migraine, I’ll just think of it as my sacrifice for the Good of the Country.

So, God forbid (you do invoke Him several times) I get sick, my husband and my daughter would be left without me, or we’d be bankrupt, or…?

That’s so comforting.

Tonight, at a time when the pundits said it was no longer possible, we rose above the weight of our politics. We pushed back on the undue influence of special interests. We didn’t give in to mistrust or to cynicism or to fear.
Instead, we proved that we are still a people capable of doing big things and tackling our biggest challenges. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.

I must disagree, politely but vehemently, with any sort of claim that “we” have “proved” that the “government…still works for the people.”

The government works for some of the people. Hurray for some!

And kudos for us to returning to the failed ways of Ancient Greek oligarchies—this bill has proven more than anything that we are ruled by corporations.
All right, though, I will grant that the Supreme Court recently did rule that corporations are people, too.

Maybe I will change my name and incorporate myself. I could start as an S-corp, sell some stock, and let my investors decide what I should do with my life. That does seem to be one way for me to “get ahead” in America, at this date and time.

I want to thank every member of Congress who stood up tonight with courage and conviction to make health care reform a reality. And I know this wasn’t an easy vote for a lot of people. But it was the right vote. I want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her extraordinary leadership, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn for their commitment to getting the job done. I want to thank my outstanding Vice President, Joe Biden, and my wonderful Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, for their fantastic work on this issue. I want to thank the many staffers in Congress, and my own incredible staff in the White House, who have worked tirelessly over the past year with Americans of all walks of life to forge a reform package finally worthy of the people we were sent here to serve.

To those of you who struggled with voting yes, go fuck yourselves. Yes, seriously. You have health insurance. Many of us don’t.

What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think we lack health insurance because we don’t want it?

So if you found doing the RIGHT thing was hard, then maybe you should retire from any sort of public life until you’ve gotten in touch with yourself and let go of some of your financial obligations.

And you should also read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”—it’s mild, but it’ll remind you (maybe) of what we need. Of what true courage and conviction is.

Today’s vote answers the dreams of so many who have fought for this reform. To every unsung American who took the time to sit down and write a letter or type out an e-mail hoping your voice would be heard — it has been heard tonight. To the untold numbers who knocked on doors and made phone calls, who organized and mobilized out of a firm conviction that change in this country comes not from the top down, but from the bottom up — let me reaffirm that conviction: This moment is possible because of you.

I have never felt like more of a failure with my activism work than when I read this paragraph. I haven’t been heard, that’s clear. I’ve been working for single-payer for years. No, I haven’t been heard. And hundreds of others I’ve encountered during my activism haven’t been heard, either.

Most importantly, today’s vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a health care system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people. For most Americans, this debate has never been about abstractions, the fight between right and left, Republican and Democrat — it’s always been about something far more personal. It’s about every American who knows the shock of opening an envelope to see that their premiums just shot up again when times are already tough enough. It’s about every parent who knows the desperation of trying to cover a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again and again. It’s about every small business owner forced to choose between insuring employees and staying open for business. They are why we committed ourselves to this cause.

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party — it’s a victory for them. It’s a victory for the American people. And it’s a victory for common sense.

The only victory I see is that maybe, maybe Rush Limbaugh MIGHT leave the country. [And that didn’t happen, dammit.] But has he not said this sort of crap before and stayed? And honestly, even if he did leave, he’d still go on with his show.

There is no victory, Mr. President and members of Congress. This, if anything, is a time to mourn your failures.

Now, it probably goes without saying that tonight’s vote will give rise to a frenzy of instant analysis. There will be tallies of Washington winners and
losers, predictions about what it means for Democrats and Republicans, for my poll numbers, for my administration. But long after the debate fades away and the prognostication fades away and the dust settles, what will remain standing is not the government-run system some feared, or the status quo that serves the interests of the insurance industry, but a health care system that incorporates ideas from both parties — a system that works better for the American people. <

I don’t give a shit about the frenzied analysis. I want change. I want it NOW. I’m sick and tired of living in fear, Mr. President and members of
Congress. What do I fear? I hate that I live in the shadow of a migraine that will inevitably strike me. I hate that I live in fear of falling down the stairs. How could I pay for a broken bone, never mind something more “serious?”

If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known — so that you are actually getting what you pay for.

25994_10100187621531793_2478648_tI am so distrustful of the health insurance industry, and I have total faith that they will find a way to continue to make obscene profit off of sickness.

If you don’t have insurance, this reform gives you a chance to be a part of a big purchasing pool that will give you choice and competition and cheaper prices for insurance. And it includes the largest health care tax cut for working families and small businesses in history — so that if you lose your job and you change jobs, start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it.

Wow, great. Our country can pay billions of dollars a day to go to other countries to kill other people, but I have to pay for the basic human right to, you know, live?

Thanks.

This reform is the right thing to do for our seniors. It makes Medicare stronger and more solvent, extending its life by almost a decade. And it’s the
right thing to do for our future. It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that.

Anyone else alarmed that extending the life of Medicare by a decade is progress? What the f, people?

So this isn’t radical reform. But it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system. But it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

I cannot argue that this isn’t change. I certainly won’t argue with the first line there, that this isn’t radical reform. It’s not.

Our healthcare situation, as it stands now, is hemorrhaging. And the doctors, the government, have decided a band-aid will do the trick. And I’m not talking decent-sized or even normal band-aids. I’m talking about one of those silly round band-aids that doctors will sometimes put on you after taking blood.

In the end, what this day represents is another stone firmly laid in the foundation of the American Dream. Tonight, we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge — we overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility — we embraced it. We did not fear our future — we shaped it.

I’ll wait and see what the outcome is, Mr. President. I’ll get back to you in a decade or two.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll have some sort of health insurance then.

Political Terrorism

The House of Representatives isn’t terribly fond of the ACA/Obamacare.  They have voted 42 times to repeal it. Many of the most outspoken members of the House regarding the health care law happily identify as Tea Party members/supporters, even when Tea Party support is at an all-time low.

Now, some members of the House are actively committing what Al Gore labeled best: political terrorism.  (More on this below.)

I live in an incredibly liberal college-town. The county I call home is always a blue dot in the red seas when looking at electoral maps. Over the past years, gerrymandering and dividing the blue to ensure far more red has created, shall we say—interesting–districts for House, on a State and Federal level.

Consequently, someone who proudly identifies with the Tea Party is my representative.

Surely you’ve heard of him. His name is Ted Yoho. Prior to this, he was a veterinarian and I have heard wonderful things about his veterinarian skills.

Sadly, those skills haven’t carried over to governing.  Representative Yoho believes, among other things, that the ACA’s implementation of a tax on tanning at a tanning salon is racist against white people.

This is my Representative.

It seems Rep. Yoho, with his fatuous remarks on tanning, was just warming up. It was all foreshadowing to what’s happening now in Washington DC.

Let me just pause here and note that I have never been a fan of the ACA, which is a modified draft of a conservative solution to the fact Americans really do pay too much for their a la carte medical care. (Single-payer would be best but that’s a different blog post to come.)

The Senate has provided the funds to get the ACA going. The Supreme Court upheld (most) of the ACA as Constitutional. The President is pushing for it.

The judicial branch supports it. The executive branch supports it. Half the legislative branch supports it, but the other half–?

C’mon, this is America, we’ll risk our credit rating among other things to prove a point, dammit!

“So what if others suffer? I got mine.”

Yesterday, I visited Rep. Yoho’s facebook page. He has made some rather bold claims on the page, including:

Capture
Too bad the job claim is patently false in his district, as numerous people in the thread have noted. It also seems fiscally irresponsible and IS unconstitutional (14th Amendment) to not raise the debt ceiling to pay for debts already incurred.

I’m a citizen and I know this.

Yoho is my district’s representative and either:
1. Knows this (it’s fiscally irresponsible/violates the Constitution)  and doesn’t care
2. Doesn’t know it, and that’s terrifying too.

Later yesterday, *my* representative in the House of Representatives proudly boasted about a solution while strategizing to keep the blame off of himself and his fellow House members for a possible impending government shutdown:

Look, it's not *my* fault . . .

Look, it’s not *my* fault . . .

I am a person who can’t obtain affordable health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. The ACA has caused insurance estimates for me to drop from over $600 a month (with riders to not have to cover what care I need most),  to below $200 a month. And the ACA hasn’t even been implemented yet!

I have been forced to feel miserable and suffer because I can’t afford over $500 for one medicine that I would only take for about 2 weeks.  Instead, I’m spacing one medication out (every other day instead of every day because it’s between $200-$300 a month) and hoping that works well enough until the exchange opens and I can sign up.

I’m annoyed, to put it mildly, so I leave you with Mr. Gore’s spot-on words concerning this (transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

Preach it, Gore.
Stop the terrorists in the House.

(And please, feel free to let Rep. Yoho know how you feel.)

Drowning in the Sequester’s Rising Waters

The sequester’s raging waters are rising.

In the weeks leading up to the sequester deadline, President Obama and others spoke ominously about the tragic effects the sequester – $85 billion worth of automatic cuts in federal government spending – would have. Eventually Obama toned down the rhetoric, realizing that the political gamesmanship was misleading.

No. The sequester hasn’t created instant devastation. It’s much worse than that.

Instead, the sequester has set in motion a cascading death-by-a-thousand-cuts waterfall that will wash through the economy for many years. And more and more Americans are beginning to feel its floodwaters rising around them.

Huffington Post writers were able to compile a list of a hundred painful sequestration stories in a matter of hours. And more stories of individuals and communities feeling the pain of the sequester are coming to light every day. Thousands of chemotherapy patients being turned away, left to die of cancer. Critical research programs being delayed or shelved. Parks and environmental programs being closed or cancelled.

The rising tide starts out slowly but is unforgiving.flood

_____

The worst part is that the sequester is hitting those most in need the hardest. Despite more than three years of tepid recovery, poverty in the U.S. continues to worsen. Tens of millions of Americans – many of them children – remain in the grips of economic desolation, unable to afford the bare necessities of life. Millions of workers still are unable to find jobs, or are left with no alternative but to work minimal hours at whatever menial jobs are available.

And just when these people most need help, at the very time they have no option but to turn to aid organizations for critical, life-sustaining services, those services are being eliminated.

And it’s not going to end there. Because of the way economies work, cuts in government spending have domino effects.

The wages that Hot Springs National Park employees would have received would have bought groceries at the Food City on Malvern Avenue. The money that would have gone to funding health care in Hampton Roads, Virginia, would have been spent at Jordan Fashions on King Street. The laid-off teachers in Sioux City, Iowa, would have spent most of their paychecks right there in Sioux City, maybe at the Southern Hills Mall.

The sequester washes all of that away. And the owners and employees of those less-frequented stores have less income and spend less. And they spend less. And they spend less. It goes on and on. Multiplied effects, coursing through every community, state, and region of the country. The river gathers force as more streams flow into it.

_____

More insidious are the long-term impacts of cutting critical programs such as Head Start, health care, and similar services for the neediest among us. The toddler in Cincinnati who would otherwise be in state-funded child care is left home while his multiple-job-working mother struggles to earn enough to feed him. Instead of learning and being cared for by professionals, he’s left without role models, supervision, or attention. Years later he joins a gang and embarks on a life of crime. At-risk babies don’t receive preventative health care when it would do the most good, and grow up to have costly, debilitating health conditions that prevent them from contributing positively to society. Meanwhile, the cost-effective treatment for those heath conditions that would have been developed never is, because funding for those research programs was eliminated.

The long-term water damage is even worse than the short-term.

_____

What needs to happen?

Extremist Republicans in Congress need to recognize the destructive effects of their absolute unwillingness to compromise. They need to stop catering to the demands of their ideology-obsessed billionaire keepers and compromise for the greater good. Democrats need to stand up for their values. Millions of Americans – the people who are being irreversibly harmed by the sequester – must scream loudly, rising up as a wave to beat against Republican obstructionism.

As the economy struggles to find its footing and produce a sustainable recovery, we can’t afford to yank critical support out from under society’s most vulnerable. The time to address deficits is when an economy is strong, not when it’s most fragile

No, the sequester hasn’t created an instant tsunami of devastation, and it’s not going to. But the longer we allow these cuts to remain in place, the more the rushing waters will eat away at our economy and erode our society.

It’s up to us to roll back the tide.

What the Heck Does “Progressive” Mean, Anyway?

“Progressive” is a problematic word. What does it mean, exactly? Are “progressives” more or less “liberal” than Liberals? Even within this Institute – and “progressive” is our middle name – there’s a broad diversity of political views.

I can only speak for myself. While I view myself as a political centrist, I believe laws should be based on what’s best for our society as a whole, not on any particular religious or moral code. And that political decisions should be guided by the best scientific research and data, taking into account our society’s goals and values. This usually seems to put me left of center on most issues.

I also believe that our society’s main goal should be the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the longest time. Not  “to each according to his needs”. Communistic socialism has shown that it doesn’t provide great good to a great number. Capitalism does a better job, but pure capitalism has proven to be far from ideal as well. The right kind and right amount of government involvement in an economy can and does improve on many market outcomes.

_____

Beyond that, I like to think about Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy was a Republican when he was President. After leaving office he went on to found the Progressive Party, which made a good showing in the election of 1912. Some of the Progressive Party’s positionsBull Moose Party Charter Member Certificate may not sound revolutionary today, but at the time they were pretty extraordinary:

  • A National Health Service
  • Social insurance for elderly, unemployed, and disabled
  • Minimum wages for women and women’s suffrage
  • An 8-hour workday
  • Farm relief
  • Workers’ compensation for work-related injuries
  • An inheritance tax
  • A Constitutional amendment to allow a Federal income tax
  • Citizens’ referendums (decide on a law by popular vote) and initiatives (petitions)
  • Judicial recall (allowing popular vote override of court unconstitutionality rulings)
  • Strict limits and disclosure requirements on political campaign contributions

While the specifics differ now, most of these positions apply to my vision of “progressive” today. Treating women – and everyone – fairly, both socially and legally, is progressive.

Decreasing the influence of money in our political system is progressive.

Providing financial and healthcare support to those who need it most is progressive.

Requiring the people who can most afford it to pay a larger share of government expenses is progressive.

Hardly an exhaustive list. But you get the idea.

Progressives, quite simply, want real progress. Social, political, and economic progress. Not just for the richest people. For everyone.

_____

Speaking of progressive, let’s talk taxes. By coincidence, progressives I know advocate a progressive tax system. That means that richer people don’t just pay more taxes, but a larger percentage in taxes. Our federal tax system generally is progressive, but there are many exceptions. And despite this, income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing for decades.

There are good arguments for progressive taxes. The richest can most afford to pay more taxes, and they feel the least pain in paying them. Progressive taxes and redistribution increase fairness. A strong and healthy working class can help the economy. Poverty imposes lots of long-term costs on a society. Redistribution – at least up to a point – can pay off.

There also are arguments against progressive taxes. Conventional economics says they decrease economic growth, though recent research is bringing that idea into question. Some call redistribution “theft” or “social warfare” that punishes the most productive people for being successful.

I might be able to go along with some of that, if higher incomes were 100% due to certain people working harder and being smarter than everyone else. But lots of people are smart and work hard. The fact is, plain dumb luck plays a big role in whether a smart, hard worker becomes a millionaire or becomes homeless. Some of that luck might be in being born to the right parents, or it could be being in the right place at the right time.

Yeah, some differences in income are due to working smarter or harder. But far from all.

So it comes down to balancing rewarding hard work and taking care of the most vulnerable in society. And right now, the U.S. leans far too lightly on the latter.

_____

At the end of the day, we need more progress and more progressiveness, in our tax system, in our economy, and in our society.

And Evergreen’s here to push for just that.