Commentary: Time to pull the plug on health care 'reform'

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 17, 2009 

Health care reform is on life support now, and it's time to consider pulling the plug and letting it die peacefully.

It was a great idea, and there was and will remain a great need for the kind of radical reform that will pry the cold hands of Wall Street and the corporate boards from around the neck of medical care in our country.

There was some of that kind of reform in the first bills that began the long journey through the minefields of the U.S. Senate, but a cabal of blue dog Democrats and Republican know-nothings has pulled every tooth.

The bill that may by some miracle actually get to a floor vote in the Senate sometime next year resembles nothing so much as what's left of an insect after the spider has sucked all the juices out of it: an empty shell stuck in a web.

Everything that could go wrong with health care reform did go wrong.

Our new president who arrived promising that he'd do everything to pass health care reform did very little in the face of a big-money onslaught by an army of lobbyists for the big pharmaceutical corporations, the health insurance industry and other parts of the for-profit health care industry.

He began by getting rolled by Big Pharma at a much-ballyhooed White House conference with pharmaceutical executives. He traded away a key piece — the idea that the federal government would negotiate lower prices for the drugs we need — in exchange for empty promises of a "donation" of $80 billion in voluntary price reductions on those drugs.

His biggest mistake of all, however, was leaving it to Congress to negotiate the whole reform package in closed-door meetings of six senators here, 10 senators there, in committees controlled by senators whose votes already had been bought and paid for by the health care corporations.

Where was the bold and courageous leadership so necessary for this badly needed initiative?

Instead of declaring at the outset that he wouldn't sign a bill that didn’t contain the single-payer option — the only honest player in a crooked poker game, the only real competition that could curb the greed that now sucks 20 cents profit and overhead out of every dollar of health insurance premiums — Obama signaled that everything was negotiable.

While the White House was sitting on its hands last summer, the industry was pouring $3.5 million a day into a lobbying blitz aimed at either killing or gutting the legislation. Some of that money was funneled into organizing groups of anti-reform demonstrators and funding their bus rides to the town hall meetings across the country where they shouted down every attempt to debate why health care reform is so urgently needed.

They created the bogus idea that the legislation would set up federal government "death panels" that would deny health care to the elderly. In point of fact, the only death panels that exist in America today are alive and well in the very corporations that sell health care insurance and decide every day to cancel coverage or deny coverage to those who need it most.

In America today, under this system that so desperately needs fixing, it's corporate bean counters, not physicians, who make daily life-or-death decisions for those in poor or failing health. Their decisions are based on costs and profits, not on patients’ needs.

Senators whose campaign coffers overflow with the millions thrown their way by the health care lobby — people such as Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut — ended up in control of what was and what wasn't in the legislation.

The public option wasn't. It was traded away for giving people aged 55 to 65 who aren't able to purchase health insurance a chance to buy in to Medicare. Then that was thrown out, too.

And so it went.

Absent from the legislation now is anything that even remotely threatens the profits and the big bonuses and the private jets and the gold-and-marble office towers of the health care and insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

Meanwhile, the remnants of the Republican Party laughed up their sleeves and pretended to negotiate constructively when all they wanted was to delay, delay, delay and lie, lie, lie in the hope of handing Obama a defeat, the public interest be damned.

The pirates of Wall Street and the political charlatans have won.

The American people, especially those who are sick and poor or sick and middle class or just poor and middle class and afraid that one day they will get sick, have just lost.

What we needed was principled and determined leadership in the White House and on Capitol Hill. What we got from the people whom we elected and sent to Washington to clean house and shape up a corrupt system was much ado, and then nothing.

What we need to do now is vote all the scoundrels out of office — Republicans and Democrats alike — and send in a new and hopefully more honest, caring and courageous team. Then keep on doing that until we get it right.

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