Weekly Pulse: Health Care Reform Without Kennedy


One of healthcare reform’s greatest champions died Tuesday night. Sen.
Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 77.
During his 46-year career in the senate, Kennedy’s name appeared on
virtually every major piece of progressive legislation from civil
rights to economic justice, to healthcare. Kennedy called healthcare
reform "the cause of my life."

Jack Newfield of The Nation remembers Kennedy as the senate’s fighting liberal, the "best and most effective senator of the past hundred years."

James Ridgeway of Mother Jones laments:

We are left with weak, squabbling,
visionless Democratic puppets and a President whose domestic reform
policies are adrift-sliding towards the horizon with each passing day.

The loss is a blow to healthcare reform. Alex Koppelman of Salon notes that
with Kennedy’s passing, the Democrats have lost one of their most
effective bipartisan deal-makers. Democrats will also be down a vote in
the senate for the foreseeable future because Massachusetts state law
doesn’t allow for the appointment of an immediate replacement.

Naturally, with congress on vacation, wackos are rushing in to fill
the media vacuum. Eric Boehlert asks in AlterNet why Republicans the
only ones allowed to get angry
about healthcare reform, or anything else. He notes that in 2003, the
media decided that Howard Dean was too angry for prime time. During the
Republican National Convention in 2008, SWAT teams were sent to raid
the homes of suspected anarchist protesters. And yet, conservative
demonstrators in Arizona are allowed to tote rifles just outside the
security perimeter of a presidential event.

RNC Chair Michael Steele raised eyebrows by championing single-payer healthcare in an op/ed in the Washington Post framing the GOP as defenders of Medicare.

Odd that Steele has so much love for Medicare, but none for the
nation’s other leading source of government-run healthcare, the
Veterans Administration (VA). This week, Steele accused America’s other
leading public insurance provider of encouraging veterans to commit suicide,
based on a booklet published by the VA which explains living wills,
advanced directives and other key concepts in end-of-life care, Rachel
Slajda reports for TPM DC.

Progressives have been doing a great job debunking the death panel and death book myths, like this creative photo essay
from TPM. But we’re scarcely addressing  the misconception that
underlies them: The idea government-administered health insurance is
inherently more prone to rationing than private health insurance.

Newt Gingrich and other prominent opponents of reform claim that a public option will restrict choices and deny care. What they don’t say is that for-profit insurance is
rationing. When your insurance company covers an old drug for your
condition, but not a new one with fewer side effects, that’s rationing.
The company is restricting your treatment choices to improve its bottom
line. When an employer or an insurer decides not to cover mental health
care, that’s rationing. The entire business model is predicated on
charging people more and giving them less care so there’s more money
left over for the stockholders.

No health insurance can cover every treatment, no matter who runs
it. But public insurance has two major advantages: 1) Public insurance
tends to be cheaper to administer; 2) The tough choices about what to
cover are ultimately in the hands of the voters, not health insurance
bureaucrats with an eye on the bottom line.

The whole town hall concept is turning out to be a strategic blunder
for the White House. The format makes legislators and the media sitting
ducks for extremists and astroturfers who want to paint themselves as
typical citizens. As Sandy Heierbacher of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation writes in YES Magazine:

[T]he town hall design sets the stage for activist
groups and special interest groups to try to ‘game’ the system and
sideline other concerned citizens in the process. As Martin Carcasson,
director of Colorado State University’s Center for Public Deliberation,
recently pointed out, "the loudest voices are the ones that get heard,
and typically the majority voices in the middle don’t even show up
because it becomes a shouting match."

How much more clear can the Republicans be? They are not interested in bipartisanship. Sen. Chuck Grassley
(R-Iowa), supposedly the Senate’s leading reasonable Republican on
healthcare, couldn’t even be bothered to rebuke a town hall participant
who hinted about assassinating the president, as Raw Story reports.

If the Democrats want healthcare reform, they are going to have to
go it alone. Let’s hope they pass a bill that would make Sen. Kennedy
proud.

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