Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Healthcare Debate

I know a couple of people that are in medical crisis right now as we speak that don't have coverage. Guess who's paying for it at absorbent rates... US. They get care alright, but, its given grudgingly and minimally and at often sub standards- but still very expensive rates are charged-  and its paid for by our taxes and in higher insurance premiums. As I understand it, the way to go is a single payer system. That did come up, but was also shot down by the (R)'s aka, the "Obama is a Nazi" crowd. Therein lies part of the problem We now have one party that is totally committed and deeply invested in the failure of our President and the failure of healthcare reform because they have broadcasted to everyone that the President is and evil tyrant bent on the destruction of America and all that is holy. You see, they simply can't afford for anything good to happen on his watch now- since they have set it up in such a way that all Obama has to do now to accentuate their desperation and clownishness is NOT be Hitler. Smooth, dang those boys are smooth.

Anyhow, because of this dynamic from the "right", there is almost no bipartisan teamwork, consensus or effort to find a way to alleviate the problems within our healthcare system. You have one side tossing about trying to find something that will simply clear the house whether it is a good, long term solution or not and another side that thinks that even having this conversation is somehow subversive and evil. I am not optimistic about anything good coming out of this mix.

I did some research on the definition of the single payer system as prompted by the article above. It is defined as:

"Single-payer health care: A system of health care characterized by universal and comprehensive coverage. Single-payer health care is similar to the health services provided by Medicare in the US. The government pays for care that is delivered in the private (mostly not-for-profit) sector. Doctors are in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis from government funds. The government does not own or manage their medical practices or hospitals.
Single-payer health care is distinct and different from socialized medicine in which doctors and hospitals work for and draw salaries from the government."

Ok, interesting. It is clearly defined and distinct from socialized or govt. run medicine. So, I played dumb, asking some of my so called conservative colleagues there what single- payer healthcare was all about.
The first thing out of every single one of their mouths was... it's "government run healthcare".

I know it may seem that I am harsh and picking on the talk show and Fox news set- but this is a prime example of why. If a person uses those sources for their sole reservoir of information they will become imbued with a certain false certitude about everything, a Manichean worldview and become essentially locked into a monolithic ignorance or worse- become self defeatingly stupid. Practically every time I have a discussion on any issue with these colleagues the are apt to parrot what they have heard on some talk radio show. You see, I listen to those shows quite a bit myself in an effort to understand all facets of a given question. I recognize when someone is simply parroting ideas they have heard from one of their intellectual surrogates.

One of the most destructive forces that has undue influence on these matters today in our society is what has been described as "The permanent war economy". This is also part of what is called the military industrial complex or defense industry- and what is passing for conservative thought today is eaten up with it. Unfortunately, no one in either of the two major political parties is even talking about any of this. Figures like Ron Paul have made some reference to ideas in this ballpark when they speak of statism and interventionism.
Here are some useful thoughts on the matter found written elsewhere by Chris Hedges:

“In "Pentagon Capitalism" Seymour Mellman described the defense industry as viral. Defense and military industries in permanent war, he wrote, trash economies. They are able to upend priorities. They redirect government expenditures towards their huge military projects and starve domestic investment in the name of national security. We produce sophisticated fighter jets, while Boeing is unable to finish its new commercial plane on schedule and our automotive industry goes bankrupt. We sink money into research and development of weapons systems and neglect renewable energy technologies. Universities are flooded with defense-related cash and grants, and struggle to find money for environmental studies. This is the disease of permanent war.
Massive military spending in this country, climbing to nearly $le1 trillion a year and consuming half of all discretionary spending, has a profound social cost. Bridges and levees collapse. Schools decay. Domestic manufacturing declines. Trillions in debts threaten the viability of the currency and the economy. The poor, the mentally ill, the sick and the unemployed are abandoned. Human suffering, including our own, is the price for victory.

Citizens in a state of permanent war are bombarded with the insidious militarized language of power, fear and strength that mask an increasingly brittle reality. The corporations behind the doctrine of permanent war-who have corrupted the doctrine of permanent revolution-must keep us afraid. Fear stops us from objecting to government spending on a bloated military. Fear means we will not ask unpleasant questions of those in power. Fear means that we will be willing to give up our rights and liberties for security. Fear keeps us penned in like domesticated animals.

Mellman, who coined the term permanent war economy to characterize the American economy, wrote that since the end of the Second World War, the federal government has spent more than half its tax dollars on past, current, and future military operations. It is the largest single sustaining activity of the government. The military industrial establishment is a very lucrative business. It is gilded corporate welfare. It comes with guaranteed profits. Defense systems are sold before they are produced. Military industries are permitted to charge the federal government for huge cost overruns. Massive profits are always guaranteed.”

Literally three days after the first big bailout package passed- the one that was tried to pass with no oversight at all- the one that happened on Bush's watch about two weeks after Republican  presidential candidate McCain bloviated that the economy was fundamentally sound and that all this talk about economic imbalance was a construct of the "liberal media" to make Bush look bad and scare the people into voting for democrats- another big spending package was passed. It also put out a 7 to 8 hundred billion dollar payoff. What was it for? It was for the sustenance of the 750 plus military bases we have around the world and all the big military projects and defense contracts (by the way, there are 195 countries- so we have over three times more military bases than there are countries which begs the question what on earth are we doing and why???). This package passed the house without any discussion, without any cost- benefit analysis, without any conception of the blowback of all this military only interface we have with much of the world and without hardly any public awareness. It is comical to watch all the so called conservatives rail about out of control government spending and cry about the bailouts and then fall into lockstep whenever anything military is on the table. "You can't cut defense spending", they'll say, "it will eliminate jobs and decrease national security- we have to keep pumping in money or the economy will tank". Its just funny how that concept supposedly works if you are building weapons but not if you are building bridges or infrastructure.
I will go out on a limb and say unless we deal with this "permanent war economy" problem and the attending militaristic mindset, value system and the blowback and socio- economic suffocation under it we ARE doomed as a nation.

I offer this as part of the answer to the question about the fairness of the present healthcare system and the question of whether its our right to have universal healthcare. I am not of the opinion that we are owed anything from the world, so its hard to think in terms of fairness… but, I will say that the way things are make little sense. I am likewise not of the opinion that these matters are questions of rights- but rather of sustainable dynamics within a society. It makes little sense to me to have a society that is consumed by militarism and living in fear of foreign enemies and willing to spend trillions on “national security” to the detriment of many other aspects of the system. It makes no sense to be consumed with fear of other geopolitical systems that are perceived as threats or of terrorist acts and then essentially unconcerned about whether or not our neighbors right here at home are able to protect themselves from health risks or financial ruin in the case of medical crisis. It makes no sense to be willing to invest that much in weaponry for protection from “enemies” but then wax all pious and individualist when it comes to protection from disease or bankruptcy to the machinery of big corporate medicine.... especially when our government spends 29 or greater times more on weapons and "defense" than all of the nations we consider rogue states combined.

Many times I have heard people defending our present medical system by pointing out how the best care is available here and that people come from all over the world to get treatments here. That argument is pretty well moot. Only the most affluent can get here to receive that care and the best care, this care that is allegedly the envy of the world, is simply not available to vast sections of our own population. A recent study shows that people without coverage are twice as likely to die of their complications because there are constantly brushed aside and given the minimum attention required by law. This “best care, treatments and medicine in the world” is then, not part of the equation for people without coverage.

There are more theological and moral implications to these topics that would require much more attention. I have just touched on some of the moral calculus on this, but, there is much more to be said of course. The theological implications are deeper than I care to go on this fine, chilly, football Saturday morning. But, since this dilemma has inspired me to reflect deeper and articulate my thoughts, I will address this more very soon.

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