Rx for Barack

It's time for a dose of reality
By EDITORIAL  |  August 19, 2009

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President Barack Obama is taking his vacation not a moment too soon. As his painfully poor performance in the health-care debate shows, he is way off his game. He clearly needs some time to recharge his batteries.

While Martha's Vineyard is indeed a little piece of heaven plunked down in the Atlantic (enjoy yourself, Barack!), the symbolism of unwinding on a posh island identified by many as a Clinton family hangout, at a time when his health-care dreams are turning into a Clinton-era nightmare, might prove to be, well, less than restful.

The public, too, needs a vacation from this circus. The lack of articulation from the Obama White House, coupled with Republican lies and hypocrisy, has engendered a sort of brain freeze among those — like this newspaper — who have strong reservations about Obama's plan, but nevertheless realize health care is heading for a meltdown.

If you are one of the 45.7 million without health care —15.7 percent of the nation and growing — the immediacy of this crisis is well-known. But if you are among the 253.4 million who have coverage, no matter how expensive or inadequate, the problem is more abstract. The challenge for Obama is to turn abstract worries about the future into a concrete understanding of what needs to be fixed now, and why.

That "now" and "why" translates into two essential (and admittedly complicated) issues: portability and controlling spiraling costs.

Portability of health care means the ability of workers to retain coverage as they move from employer to employer or set up businesses for themselves or move into the freelance realm, drawing a paycheck from one or more sources. This is the reality of the 21st-century workplace.

It is hard to imagine portability without government involvement. And as for the Sarah Palins of the world who cry that the ability to carry your insurance with you would usher in the "S" word — socialism — it's time to shut them up by vigorously pointing out that Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans' health care are "single payer" programs and only possible because of the US government.

If you want to convene an immediate "Death Panel" for granny, unplug Medicare. If you want to abandon disabled veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, and the great-granddads still alive who served in World War II, then liquidate Veterans Affairs.

The way to counter the Palin factor is to put granny and grandpa and their amputee grandson on the stage, because they are among the beneficiaries of this nation's already "socialized" insurance setup.

If portability is tough, curbing growing costs will be even tougher. And while health-care cooperatives may be part of a larger solution, they are not a definitive answer.

The Republican shills for the insurance industry want it both ways. They say government intervention will hurt the insurance industry. But, on the other hand, they say private competition will bring down costs. Private competition has not worked. You have only to ask any employer or employee how much their health-care premiums have increased in the last five years to know this. Only a big player like the government can provide the sort of counterbalance to curb the runaway private sector.

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