When I can start taking conservatives seriously on health care

I today declare that I will not take a self-described “conservative” politician seriously on health care until they introduce a bill to abolish Medicare.  Period.  Even if the bill doesn’t get taken up, they can still introduce it.  Go ahead.  Make my day.  See Bob Cesca over at Huffington Post for more on that.  At least right-winger Glenn Beck is willing to admit abolishing Medicare is really what he wants.  Now let’s see how that plays with voters.

A Step Toward Medicare-for-All

I have to admit: I never really was a big fan of the public option in health care reform, especially because of the countless ways in which it was so constrained and complex.

That’s why I’m more encouraged by what seems to be a compromise coming out the U.S. Senate – a limited form of Medicare-for-All. Obviously there are problems with this proposed system, too. For example, right now, it only will apply to people 55 and older, so more work needs to be done. But as I said, encouraging.

That said, let’s remember that Medicare has its own problems. We still don’t have a politically palatable way to bring down costs. The above solution might help with access, but the problem of ever-growing costs is an even bigger headache.

Response elsewhere seems to be pretty positive to the plan, too, although with all sorts of questions about details.

Paul Krugman:

If this is the final plan, it’s better than most of us were expecting — and definitely good enough to go with.

More from Ezra Klein and Howard Dean.

And here’s an article answering the questions, “How can this be? Isn’t it even more pinko than the public option itself?”

Life can be funny sometimes.

Health care Germanophilia

I’ll admit. I had to look that word up. It is not a disease.

From the reading I’ve done about other country’s health care systems so far, I’m sure about this – it’s incredibly difficult to understand exactly what they’re like without having lived there. Acknowledging that right up front, I’ll say this:

Canada’s health care system gets plenty of mentions in our national health care debate – positive and negative. I don’t think I would want a Canadian system.

I like the German system better. In it you get national health insurance, but you also get to choose from a couple hundred “sickness funds” so you can tailor your health care plan to your needs.

France also has an excellent system, and I could very easily have been persuaded to write a Francophilia blog post instead. But I’ll go with Germany for now.

Why? I love Canada. I think it’s a great country. But maybe if conservative are going to throw around a national bogeyman in Canada, progressives and liberals could respond not by defending Canada, but instead looking to Germany. First of all, it gets you around all of that nutty anti-French business here in the U.S., and hey, everybody loves German engineering, right? Think BMW, Mercedes…beer.

Now for some links:

NPR had a great series on European health care system a while back.

Here’s Germany, with a bonus story from the New York Times.

Here’s France, with a bonus op-ed about the French system from the Boston Globe.

Health care ironies

Nobody – not even medical personnel – are immune to our screwball health care system.

First of all, we have the story from the Peoria Journal Star about how OSF Healthcare is cutting compensation for its employees because of the swelling ranks of unemployed – and therefore uninsured – patients using its emergency room.

And then a different story on a more personal note – I’ve talked to a local doctor who was essentially laid off from a local health care system. The biggest concern for this doctor is finding a new job with health insurance coverage for the doctor and the family. Our employer-based health care system strikes again.

Two more links on health care

A lot of us on the left focus on the public health insurance option as an essential part of health care reform. But it’s equally, if not more, important to focus on the development of insurance exchanges.

Also, it’s always nice to see an article putting the U.S. health care system in the same league as the systems in Russia, China, and Turkmenistan. (h/t Ezra Klein)

What’s in it for Peoria in health care reform?

So, President Obama spent his press conference the other night trying to convince America that health care reform is essential and important for everyone. The New York Times reports that he had mixed results. I don’t think that’s too unexpected. It just illustrates how critical health care is to people’s lives and sense of security and well-being. Nobody wants to lose what they have.

But it’s important to keep in mind the alternative to health care reform. Steven Pearlstein from the other day in the Washington Post:

Among the range of options for health-care reform, there’s one that is sure to raise your taxes, increase your out-of-pocket medical expenses, swell the federal deficit, leave more Americans without insurance and guarantee that wages will remain stagnant.

That’s the option of doing nothing, letting things continue to drift as they have for the past two decades as we continue to search in vain for the perfect plan that would let everyone have everything they want and preserve everything they already have while getting someone else to pay for it.

By the way, President Obama seemed to lift these words straight into his presentation, or Pearlstein got it from talking to the administration. From a CBS transcript:

Just a broader point — if somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that’s guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit. I think most people would be opposed to that. Well, that’s the status quo. That’s what we have right now.

But even that’s a bit abstract. Now, we have a concrete example of what can happen to people in Peoria without expanded health insurance, and from a medical system no less. From the Peoria Journal Star we learn that OSF Healthcare System is freezing wages and cutting compensation. Spokesperson Jim Farrell tells us why:

Farrell said the changes are in response to a dramatic increase in uninsured patients being served at the hospital amid high unemployment and a struggling economy.

So, at least in this case, a lack of universal health insurance means that OSF employees go without raises, lose bonuses, and lose paid vacation days.

As for everybody else, take a look at David Leonhardt’s great piece in the New York Times the other day trying to come up with numbers for how much everyone is overpaying for American medical care.

And to finish on a Peoria note, a (supposed) native son is featured in an article in the Onion!

The social safety net = economic prosperity

Conservatives love to talk about how “welfare” and “entitlement” programs destroy the character of Americans by undermining their willingness to work and generate economic prosperity.

There are all sorts of problem with this view. Among them, what’s the evidence? There are plenty of rich people who could retire today with a high quality of life, but something keeps them coming to work. And if this character destruction is true, why, then, don’t we have a 100% estate tax. For gosh sake, we’re actually harming those children of rich kids by not giving them enough incentives to get out there and produce! And it’s a view that’s a bit heartless. The idea is that the suffering caused by the vagaries of life – or yes, even by people who just plain screwed up – is okay because it builds character.

But these arguments and others against don’t go far enough. They just refute the conservative viewpoint.

But this essay in the latest issue of the American Prospect goes a step further. It provides a positive economic reason to advocate for the social safety net. Our economy would be more flexible, more dynamic, and more robust if we provided people with enough shelter from substantial risks (like losing employment and health care) so that they could try out new economic undertakings and grow the economy.

Now, being a good liberal, I would want to put some studies and numbers behind this notion. How much additional economic growth would be created if people were more free economically speaking because they didn’t have to live in the “quiet desperation” of losing their health care? That’s an interesting liberal economic research project.

Update: Here’s a link ($) to a WSJ article comparing the social safety nets of Germany and the U.S. and the various trade-offs and impact of the two systems. The WSJ still does some excellent journalism.