Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Part 72

Your less-than-humble correspondent has been on holiday, drinking exotic water and visiting strange and mystic locales like her shower as well as phoning far away lands to sort out problems with her bank account.

Which is actually a perfect segue into today’s topic: Healthcare. It’s back, baby.

No article on healthcare is complete without random photos of ambulances.
No article on healthcare is complete without random photos of ambulances.

So how did I get from phoning Bengalooru to Healthcare Reform? Well, let’s start skipping down the yellow brick road here. Recently I went through a bit of a legal process, a name change, and in the wake thereof I had to start to change documents to keep them up to date. The three big places I’ve made changes at so far are the following: The Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and HSBC Bank. Now, which took the longest? Give up?

In the order of fastest to glacial it is as follows:

  • Social Security: I spent 30 minutes at the office. Name change was processed on the spot (i.e. entered into the database) and I got my new card in a week.
  • Department of Motor Vehicles (*gasp!*): I spent 3 hours there, the lines were interminable because it was a Friday afternoon, but my name change was processed on the spot and very expeditiously once I reached the clerks. Walked out with a temporary ID. New permanent ID mailed in one week.
  • And a very, very, very distant third: the bank. I waited a half hour to speak to the banker, had to sign several forms in septuplicate, which would have to be copied and faxed to three different organs of the bank corporation before my name change would even be processed and on the computer. So, it was not changed on the spot. That would take a week. Then I had to call a separate group after that was confirmed to order a new debit card, then I had to call HSBC again to ask why my name, after a week and a half, still wasn’t changed on my web profile, then got told I had to call back the next day during business hours. Upon doing that I was on hold for a grand total of around 30 minutes which I productively spent drawing the HSBC logo as a pincushion, then told I had to wait two more business days for the website change to be fully processed. But as always, my patience was appreciated. As of Saturday, a little less than two weeks after signing my name (old and new) seven times, it was all finally done. Oh, but to get new cheques I have to actually head over to a branch office, so not quite…

Why is this relevant to healthcare? Well, I thought it’d be a nice little fact finding expedition to see how the government handles things versus how the private sector does. These little anecdotes are a reminder of the fiction we’ve all been made to live with, the notion that anything run by the government is slow, plodding, bureaucratic service-by-number, and that the private sector is shit hot, lightning fast, get-what-ya-pay-for goodness.

This pernicious lie is at the heart of the American healthcare reform debate. We have been told, time and time again, whether it is by the opposition Republicans or the increasingly aptly named Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends, that the private sector executes its business efficiently and that the government is wasteful and slow. It’s one of the driving ideas against instituting a “public option” in this country, never mind a full bore single-payer health plan.

The myth is so pervasive that many people actually believe the wildly successful and popular Medicare program is not a government operation. After all, it works, it can’t be run by the government, right?

Barack Obama isn’t helping to dent these myths. To be perfectly honest with you, dear reader, I never set much stock in the supposed power of the president’s oratory. The fawning and adulation he received for it was more a commentary on how idiotic most American politicians sound than it was a compliment to the then-Senator’s powers of oral persuasion. Furthermore, how could you not be compared to Cicero when you’re being measured against George W. Bush?

Shown: A preview of the next Republican scare tactic; "Socialised Medicine turns ambulances into chess boards, just look at Britain!"
Shown: A preview of the next Republican scare tactic; "Socialised Medicine turns ambulances into chess boards, just look at Britain!"

But nowhere has the failure of President Obama’s oratory been more spectacular than in his attempts to sell healthcare reform. When trying to say that a public option wouldn’t hurt private health companies’ interests, he wound up insulting the Post Office (“UPS and FedEx are doing fine, it’s the Post Office that’s havin’ all the problems!”),  leading many conservatives to harp on him and say “a-ha! The Post Office is run by the government! Even Obama doesn’t believe his own socialist lies!”

When trying to deflect the nonsensical criticism over nonexistent “death panels” Obama should have said something to the effect of:

“That’s an absolute lie, that’s not in the bill. This terrible lie came out of a section of the bill many Republicans supported, which is about ‘end of life counselling’, which merely says if you’re on the public plan, we’ll pick up the tab for a consultation with a doctor about a loved one with a terminal illness. The final decision rests with *you* and will always be with you. Not me, nor anyone working for the government. It’s between you and your doctor. Period.”

~My fantasy Barack Obama

He didn’t. Why? I don’t know, I don’t consider that language to be especially elegant nor choked to the gills with ten dollar words. But it has the benefit of being concise and, most of all, accurate.

It also emphasises the fundamentally hands off role that government administered healthcare often plays, generally only providing the necessary funds from the tax pool and leaving all else to the doctors and patients. That’s another angle President Obama could be using but seems to consistently fail to avail himself of. I credit him for at least trying, though, and not turning into a ‘nowhere man’ a la the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, whose silence on many global matters is nigh on criminal.

Reform, or reform not. There is no death panel.
Reform, or reform not. There is no death panel. (This still counts as skirting)

But to reform healthcare in this country, one must do more than try. I will skirt around the obvious Yoda reference and merely say that there needs to be a hell of a lot more doing around here. We often hear that ‘words are not enough’ and that may be true, but what happens when you don’t even have words at all? The public needs to be told more of what specifically will be in the bill, what specifically a public option entails, as well as precise, detailed, point-by-point rebuttals of the many lies swarming the airwaves about healthcare reform.

We also need to start hammering away at the myths about the public sector and remind the people that we as a society still trust “the government” to have exclusive dominion over policing, firefighting, and national defence. Why have we made exceptions for things like healthcare? The truth is that we really haven’t made that exception, but the Big Lie about private sector efficiency has lead to us believing that the public health successes we have had are, somehow, not public.

About “death panels” Obama would also do well to remind the public that not only is such a thing not in the bill, but peoples’ lives are already being adjudicated upon by ‘private death panels’ in various health insurance corporations. I have a dear friend whose life is wasting away because of the dreaded ‘pre-existing condition’ she has, and there are millions more like her in this country. They’re victims of the death panels we already have. It’s high time our president said something to the effect of “this bill will eliminate the insurance companies’ death panels.”

President Obama needs to drive home these points. His speechmaking skills have long been over-hyped- he only ever looked good because the competition was so godawful- but he can still rally when he wants to. There’s no question he’s good enough at giving a speech when he puts his mind to it (see: his recent speech at the NAACP’s 100th birthday bash). He needs to put some wind in his sails for healthcare.

Stand and deliver, Barack.

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