The Unhealthy Tone of the Healthcare Reform Debate
Previously published on May 17, 2010
America has long needed healthcare reform, yet for the past fifty years efforts have been met by fierce opposition. Part of this resistance comes from the influence of well-funded special interest groups, who foresee reform as a costly process that will only hurt them while the American people fear reform will mean higher costs and diminished care from a government takeover. On the other hand, the recent legislative push had the support of many special interest groups, which were previous against reform, as exploding healthcare costs promise to eventually push myriads of people out of the healthcare market and severely hurt the national economy. Although the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress recently passed a massive overhaul of the healthcare system to force change, the debate is not finished as many issues remain unaddressed and efforts to repeal the law are only beginning. Unfortunately, the tone of the ongoing debate was and continues to be unhealthy.
Leaders of supposed social conservatives, such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh, have been particularly irresponsible by using fear tactics to incite panic with misinformation and blatant misrepresentations of Democratic proposals. Most notably, opponents have claimed and supported the idea that the healthcare reform bill would force elderly, as well as the disabled, to face "death panels" to decide what care they can get. Such fear-mongering is followed by continual attempts to characterize healthcare reform as tax and spend liberal efforts to socialize healthcare, so government can take over the private insurance market with bullet-point arguments coming from twenty years ago instead of facts on the current legislation. This fear campaign is being used by short-sighted activists to derail healthcare reform and empower their political base with extremely unhealthy, harmful political tactics versus honest efforts to change the direction of healthcare reform.
Ironically, many of the most caustic and vocal attacks have come from protestors who benefit from the socialist elements of our capitalist-socialist hybrid healthcare system as nearly fifty percent of the healthcare system is government controlled through programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and SChip. Admittedly, ending our hybrid healthcare system by canceling socialist programs, like Medicare, would effectively drive short-term costs down as millions of seniors, who require the greatest amount of care and burden the healthcare system the most, could no longer afford healthcare, thus eliminating most of the demand on healthcare providers. Meanwhile, Republicans have done little to improve the reform debate except make suggestions like taxing healthcare benefits. Of course, this direction would only make healthcare in the United States worse. It is likely protestors actually mean to communicate they are against government dictating how medicine is practiced, a government takeover amounting to a fully socialized healthcare system, entitlements, which will further weigh down the national deficit, shifting costs on people who cannot afford it, and the possibility of diminished care.
On the other side, Democrats have regrettably learned from previous reform efforts that quickly pushing a large legislative package with a single vote through before anyone fully understands the effects of the proposals is the only way of ensuring healthcare reform. Unfortunately, such urgency leads to poorly conceived policies and ineffective compromises while it rightfully angers Americans. Additionally, President Obama hit the campaign trail by making promises about reform policies that he could not rightfully make, until he eventually stepped up to play a direct hand in the legislative process. Meanwhile, proponents had certainly been vocal about what they wanted to do, yet failed to fully explain what their legislation was going to do as they attempted to prevent reform from being totally squashed.
The intent of healthcare reform is to stem exploding costs and ensure all Americans have access to adequate, affordable care now as well as in the future. Both sides have hurt efforts to varying degrees, but suggestions have and must continue to come from all involved parties. Republicans have rightfully identified tort reform as a necessary step while taxing "excessive" benefits may work so long as standards in coverage and care can be raised as well as insurance pools. Of course, healthcare reform cannot be done in a single legislative push as recent efforts should be used to on creating momentum toward change as programs like Medicare and Medicaid already need reform.
Fear is natural when it comes to something as important as healthcare; however, fear cannot decide how, or if, we reform a healthcare system that will eventually cost far more Americans their healthcare. For those trying to derail reform or offering ineffective ideas, there is no place in this ongoing debate for such political games as this is a very complex and serious issue; however, helpful opposing viewpoints are necessary to improve the quality of ongoing reform efforts. For the American people, legislators must be able to explore possibilities, which can both expand, as well as improve, coverage and control costs without hysterical activists squashing ideas before their merits can be evaluated as they did. Moreover, everyone in the healthcare debate needs to create a more constructive atmosphere, so everyone involved can share ideas to find solutions that will help improve coverage and contain costs.