Thursday, March 5, 2009

Socialism? It's Already Here, Fool

President Barack Obama launched a summit of health field representatives Thursday in the first step to reform the nation's beleaguered health care system.

“Those who seek to block any reform at any cost will not prevail this time around,” Obama said in opening a White House conference, where he promised to reduce health costs and expand coverage. He said doing nothing is not an option.

May I be so humble as to suggest leaving another option off the table: Fear mongering by reform opponents including Republicans claiming any moves by the Obama administration leads to socialism.

Earth to whatever planet these fear mongers dwell: We already have a form of socialism in our health care system. It's called Medicare and Medicaid. These government-run programs offer a safety net to seniors and the impoverished most private insurance companies do not provide.

Medicare, in particular, is not a system of redistributing wealth which is another claim of fear by opponents. Not when recipients must pay a $96 monthly premium deducted from seniors' Social Security benefits. Medicaid is another can of worms and begs for reforms beyond our imagination.

Where Obama's path to health care reforms takes us remains to be seen. He says he's open to listen to everyone's input. During the presidential campaign, Obama's website suggested a form of public insurance to cover those refusing health plans offered by employers.

So why start foaming at the mouth as was the case of a Tennessee Republican congressman this morning on MSNBC? Here's MSNBC's account from First Read:

Zach Wamp, the always self-assured Tennessee congressman, was on MSNBC this morning, railing against any health care reform effort, calling it a move toward “socialism” and that Obama was engaging in almost “class warfare.”

Wamp went so far as to say, "Health care is a privilege," before clarifying that he meant, “It's not necessarily a right” for those who choose not to pay for health care. He asserted that of the 47 million uninsured, half opt out of their employer’s provided health care.

“It's probably the next major step towards socialism,” Wamp began. “I hate to sound so harsh, but.... this literally is a fast march towards socialism, where the government is bigger than the private sector in our country and healthcare's the next major step, so we oughta all be worried about it..."

Wamp added a thinly veiled "redistribution of wealth" argument, saying that the president wants to take money from those who already have health care to pay for those that don't have it.

"Listen, the 45 million people that don't have health insurance -- about half of them choose not to have health insurance...," Wamp said before issuing these warnings: "If you're on Medicare, beware. If you're a small businessperson, he [Obama] proposes to take away your deductions for charitable contributions, for your mortgage deduction on your home, in order to pay for health care. So, if you're one of those people who choose not to have health insurance, maybe you will have health insurance. But if you're one of those people that currently have health care, maybe they're going to take a benefit from you to pay for getting it to the other people. So, this is almost class warfare, in order for him to be able to say, 'Everyone now has health care.’”

Then he added, "Listen, health care is a privilege." MSNBC Anchor Tamron Hall interjected. "It's a privilege? Health care? If you have cancer right now, do you see it as a privilege to get some treatment?" she asked.

"I was just about to finish to say, that for some people it's a right,” Wamp said, “but for everyone, frankly, it's not necessarily a right. Some people choose not to pay."

Asked who is not entitled to health care, Wamp responded, "An employee who rejects the health care provided by their employer ’cause they don't want any of the money deducted from" their pay check. He again insisted, "Half the people today choose to remain uninsured. Half of them don't have any choice, but half of them choose to, what's called, 'Go naked.' And just take a risk of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room, costing you and me a whole lot more money. How many illegal immigrants are in this country today, getting our health care? Gobs of 'em."

Never say Wamp was denied his two-cents worth. We assume his objections focus on the possibility of a single-payer system, or national health care similar to Canada and many Euro nations. In the U.S., that would be politically improbable nor does it come close to what Obama has proposed.

The government estimates that the nation will spend $2.5 trillion on health care this year, or an average of $8,160 a person. Without any change in federal law, it estimates, health care will account for more than 20 percent of the nation’s entire economic output in 2018, up from 17.6 percent in 2009, and public programs will account for more than half of all health spending — without any of the changes contemplated by the White House.

Reports The New York Times:

In a letter to Obama, five senior Republican senators said they were eager to work with him. But they rejected one of Mr. Obama’s campaign proposals, which called for creation of “a new public insurance program,” to compete with private insurers.

“Forcing free-market plans to compete with these government-run programs would create an unlevel playing field and inevitably doom true competition,” the letter said. “Ultimately, we would be left with a single government-run program controlling all of the market.”

The letter was signed by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, and Senators Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah.

By contrast, Richard J. Kirsch, the national campaign manager of Health Care for America Now, said that a public plan option, similar to Medicare, was “an essential component of health care reform,” and he added, “We are going to fight for it through the end...”

In a 2004 book, Prof. David M. Cutler, a health economist at Harvard, said, “The history of health reform in the United States is not encouraging ,” in part because “providing insurance to everyone requires transferring resources from those on a higher rung to those in the middle and bottom of the income distribution.”

Mr. Obama bypassed such difficult questions on Thursday, and focused instead on areas of potential agreement.

“If we want to cover all Americans,” Mr. Obama said, “we cannot make the mistake of trying to fix what isn’t broken. So if you have insurance you like, you’ll be able to keep that insurance. If you have a doctor you like, you can keep that doctor. You’ll just pay less for the care that you receive.”

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