The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 17, 2010

Health care myths

Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard
Enid News and Eagle

Who has not heard the Republican rhetoric about the health care proposals in Congress?  Too many myths, and not enough truths, have been spread about health care proposals of the Obama administration and those initiated in Congress.  These myths are a part of the regular talking points of every Republican who makes an appearance before a crowd or a television camera. 

Seeking to tap into the anti-government sentiments of a reactionary group of Oklahomans, Michael Steele hit several of these talking points a week or so ago in a visit to Oklahoma.  The Republican party is running a one-minute ad touching on their various talking points:  “Today our freedom is threatened in America.  President Obama and Nancy Pelosi are experimenting with America – massive government expansion, government takeovers, redistribution of wealth, staggering debt to countries like China.”  Tea-baggers are at it again with their signs, slogans, and smears. 

All kinds of lies have been told publicly and circulated privately about health care bills since last spring.  There were lies about “death panels,” rationing of health care services, waiting lines, people losing their present policies, raising everybody’s taxes, running up big deficits for health care, increasing health care costs and premiums for policy-holders, government bureaucrats coming between you and your doctor, and all those things. 

Some of us will surely retch if we hear again the Republican accusation of “government takeover of health care, the sixth largest segment of our economy.”  That is, of course, the share of our GDP spent on health care, and it is shameful that the most costly health care system in the world leaves out nearly 20 percent of the people, gives inadequate care to another 20 percent, and threatens to bankrupt the economy. 

Since there has been no effort at taking over health care services per se, even the Republicans know that, then the myth would be better directed at efforts to regulate health insurance and to subsidize insurance for those who cannot afford its current high cost.  But, then, what is bad about that? 

In actuality, the government already pays for almost half of American health care through Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration, Indian Health Service, and other programs.  Private health insurance covers only a little over one-third of the health care given in this country.  Most of this comes through employer based programs, which are subsidized through tax exemptions. 

Government is already deeply involved in health care, and there is no big, new “socialistic menace” contained in the new health care proposals. 

There is a myth that the new proposals will result in individuals losing their current private health care plans, and some of those folk are uneasy about change.  Assurances, repeatedly given, that this will not happen have not been heard clearly through the political smoke screen and cacophony of shouting voices. 

The truth is that private insurance plans through employers are getting increasingly expensive.  A recent survey of employers regarding the future of health insurance as it now exists is discouraging.  This poll shows that two-thirds of the company execs expect that their employee plans will have less coverage and will be more expensive.  More than half expect to increase employee share of costs in the form of deductibles and co-pays.  Twenty percent already screen for health conditions and 20 percent more expect to do so. 

These are the truths that should be worrying those who already have insurance.  What have they to fear about a government-facilitated option of a private insurance exchange open to their employer to keep down costs through competition?  Or, for that matter, what have they to fear about the offering of a “public option” similar to Medicare, which they could choose if their employer drops their plan?  That could really cut costs.  What’s wrong with that? 

Small groups and those who must buy coverage individually face real hardships in costs and in exclusions.  Small businesses, the self-employed, and individuals without groups can ill afford any policy with decent coverage.  They are the worst victims of this system.  What’s wrong with helping these with options, and those who have no insurance at all? 

Another commonly believed set of myths surround the notion that the new health care plan will drive insurance costs up, do nothing about total health care costs, and will drive up deficits to bankrupt the country.  None of these is true.  A 1% increase in total costs with the new plan, as forecast by Medicare actuaries for the year 2019, would be quite a success considering that millions of new people being covered within the system and improved benefits given.  Objective CBO forecasts have the new plan resulting in a reduction of more than $100 billion from the deficit within 10 years, helping rather than hindering debt problems. 

Although Republicans have succeeded in putting doubt and fear into the minds of millions of Americans about the health proposals coming from their mandate in the 2008 elections, the tide of opinion seems to be shifting back as some realization of differences in fact and fiction emerge and take hold.  Those favoring health care reform had dropped from an average of about 68% to 47% as a result of bitterly poison political propaganda spread through tea parties, politicians and pundits, corporately funded advertising, Fox News, and other efforts. 

Approval appears to be returning above the 50% mark as a result of information efforts by the president and others.  Oddly enough, when the different elements in the proposals are broken out separately in polls, favorability ratings have always stayed above 60%.  This makes it evident that the steady staccato of condemning lies about this awful socialistic plan about to befall us had its effects.  A number of unthinking persons have been led to condemn the whole of the parts they like – not a rational position. 

It is important to dispel the myths and to look at the realities of this very complex proposal to salvage the benefits of a technologically advanced, but inefficient and underperforming, health care system for all Americans.  It is time look again at the desperate human conditions that abound.  Time is short.  The propitious moment must not pass without action. 

Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate