News & Views from 465 California Street

Get Health Care Done

Clint Reilly

Health care reform must pass, even in light of the changed political calculus on Capitol Hill. There’s too much riding on it for it to fail.

A generation of idealists inspired by Barack Obama in 2008 now teeters on the brink of disenchantment. Where Candidate Obama made millions of people believe that government could drive positive change, President Obama risks alienating those who believed in him. If he fails to achieve real results, Americans’ enthusiasm for civic engagement and trust in their institutions may be lost for a generation.

That’s why Obama can’t afford to let health care reform die on the operating table.

Every Democrat who believes in the power of government to improve society has a vested interest in the revival and passage of health care reform before the 2010 election cycle begins in earnest.

Let’s review the case for a cure:

Our broken health care system ranks 37th in the world. More than 45 million Americans are uninsured. Those have insurance rely almost exclusively on employer-provided coverage, which is unfair to both employees and businesses. We are the sole industrialized nation without universal health insurance yet our percentage of GDP expended on health care is far above nations like France, Germany and Japan.

Experts warn that our present rate of spending on health care is untenable. And yet, after a year of careful crafting in the Senate and House, health care reform has been stopped at the goal line.

How can the White House, Senate and House lay such an embarrassing egg after a year of concerted focus?

This is a glaring example of why voters don’t think very highly of government’s ability to govern at any level. They pretty much give it an “F.” After watching the health care debacle, I can certainly see why.

On the one hand, the avenging critics of big government demonize a proposed new federal health care behemoth that will blow up the deficit and bring socialized care.

On the other hand, fervent advocates of reform must acknowledge, once again, that the government has failed to provide emergency medical attention to its own sick system.

That’s why the grim poll numbers for our legislative bodies defy party labels. Everybody ends up disillusioned – Democrats and Republicans, right wing and left wing, working stiffs and suits, men and women, youth and seniors.

To her credit, Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems determined not to let health care reform die.

Pelosi believes passionately that uninsured Americans must have coverage. Few inside the Beltway have a fiercer loyalty to the underdog than Pelosi. That means she is genuinely angry at the abuses by insurers.

She wants to eliminate the big insurers’ right to turn down coverage for pre-existing conditions or raise rates arbitrarily. Most important, she has defiantly insisted that health care reform will yet pass the House.

But the question among pundits is whether Democrats will follow her lead or be paralyzed by the political fear generated by the loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat to an opponent of health care, Republican Scott Brown.

With 59 remaining Democratic Senators, a Democratic House of Representatives and a Democratic president, why so much trepidation about passing a bill so demonstrably necessary as health care reform?

That’s the question millions of first time participants who staked their hope in Obama are asking. It’s also the frustration being shouted out by millions of old-school Democrats in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt who believe government is the ally of the average American against the superior wealth and power of special interests.

President Obama shouldn’t fear the retribution of Republicans if health care is passed into law. Rather, he should fear the wrath of Democrats who put their faith in him and the Democratic Party to bring real change to the nation.

Will the legacy of our year-long health care debate be a national teach-in on the futility of trusting government to solve problems?

The ball is in the Democrats’ court.

Comments (12)

  • 100% in agreement. The Dems need to get off their duffs and fight like mad to get this passed…and that means ALL Dems including Obama.

    Posted by: melinda maginn | February 9th, 2010 at 9:24 am

  • I read your latest “Get Health Care Done” column and couldn’t agree more. As an owner of a small technology finance company, I see the insanity which is health care today — my premiums continue to rise astronomically and benefits decrease for what is a healthy family of four. As an example of the lunacy, my 9 year old son recently slipped in the backyard playing with a neighbor and cut himself under the nose (how many kids do this every day….thousands). After a paramedic neighbor tried to help us out, we had no choice but to visit the emergency room where he received 2 stitches. A few weeks later we received the bills totaling $3,000 (yes, $1,500 per stitch). Of course, our deductibles and co-pays, blah, blah, blah were not all met, so we ended up paying almost $1,000 even though we’re insured. It’s crazy.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to bring these issues to the forefront of readers mind —- I just hope the Dems an Republicans get something done other than cave to the health care lobby AGAIN!

    Mike R

    Posted by: Mike R. | February 9th, 2010 at 10:45 am

  • I read your article on health reform with disbelief this morning. How could a person whom I respect, write an article so devoid of reason or intelligent thinking? Inexperienced as he has proven to be, Obama thought he could simply ram through health reform, even though the public hated his version of reform. Thank God he failed miserably. The peoples’ voice was finally heard loud and clear when Scott Brown won in Massachusetts,but you choose not to listen. Why? Your support of Pelosi, a person whom I consider to be unbalanced, is also difficult to fathom. She and her fellow Democrats resorted to bribery, deceit and secrecy to get their plan to move ahead as far as it did. This is what you support? In my opinion, a really good plan for health care reform will not require such tactics in order to get passed into law, and by the way, Ted Kennedy never had his name on a senate seat, Scott Brown has put that notion to rest, for good.


    Gene M

    Posted by: Gene M. | February 9th, 2010 at 10:46 am

  • Clint,

    Distrust in government is rooted in experience. The role of government as envisioned by our Founders is to protect the Constitution from detractors, foreign or domestic, period. Nowhere does it say government should provide all sorts of social services and hand-outs to special interests or engage in social engineering. In fact, the wording of our founding document specifically says “Congress shall make NO laws respecting …”

    Yes, Obama inspired many with his speeches, but as most of them turned out to be empty promises, as it became clear he can not walk on water after all many experience buyer’s remorse. People are reacting to the incomprehensible policies as much as to the near criminal process. They voted for real change, not this.

    We spend more for healthcare than our industrial brethren, but this healthcare bill is adding nearly $2 trillion to the cost according to the
    CBO. Please, show me the logic of your argument. Where are the cost reductions?

    Deficit neutral is a canard if it means raising taxes. Deficit is not the problem, the size of the budget is. We cannot afford it.

    And so it is a god sent that the people are waking up in time to prevent a catastrophe. Making healthcare policies portable would solve most of the
    uninsurable problem due to pre-existing conditions. Such a provision should cost almost nothing.

    Allowing competition across state lines and tort reform will actually lower costs. And tax advantaged health savings accounts provide incentive for young and healthy to get insured. Also stop the false propaganda of 40 million without access to healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid, single payer plans, are riddled with fraud and waste due to their “efficient” low overhead. Doctors and hospitals are reimbursed below cost leading many to refuse accepting patients.

    Can you point to any social service the government does well? If you think Europe is the place to look for examples:

    Germany has privatized more government services in the last 20 years, among which is postal services, telecom and broadcast, railroad and more. Maybe we could learn something from Europe after all?


    Erich K

    Posted by: Erich K. | February 9th, 2010 at 10:49 am

  • Erich,

    You cite Germany. Their health care offering includes a public option. Obama’s plan simply does the same…an option.

    Posted by: melinda maginn | February 9th, 2010 at 1:38 pm

  • You make fair observations on the subject of health care. My hope was that the President’s plan would insure the “uninsured” not a complete government takeover of 20% of the economy in the secrecy of a 2,000 page document.
    If he really wanted health care to pass, he would have presented the debates on PBS and CSpan—as he promised; he would have included Congress in the coverage instead of giving them a special exemption; he would have spoken to the Nation in a collegial way. Instead he appeared to be a President of Democrats—not of the American People. He was not listening to the town hall meetings.
    Now, after Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, he is still not listening.
    Hank R

    Posted by: Hank R. | February 9th, 2010 at 5:08 pm

  • Hank R..

    ” …not a complete government takeover of 20% of the economy in the secrecy of a 2,000 page document”

    I am curious as to exactly what you mean by this statement. Are you saying the Democratic plan calls for a complete take over of the health care system?

    Posted by: melinda maginn | February 9th, 2010 at 8:34 pm

  • I’ve been a kind of fan of your writings in the Mercury news for some time so I was rather surprised by your recent endorsement of the current bill. I have kept on my bulletin board an article you wrote some time last year arguing I thought, cogently and with passion, for a nationalized health care system. What is there in the present bill that makes it acceptable to you beyond the Democrat’s desire to just
    pass something? You probably saw Howard Dean’s op ed in the Merc on Dec 18 where he argued against the bill, despite some good features, unless certain improvements are made.

    One thing that has puzzled me in general is this whole emphasis on “insurance” when the real issue is accessibility to medical care. I know people whose deductible and co-pay make their using their insurance, (which they have now,) to get care beyond their means.Though their insurance covers catastrophic medical crises they cannot afford treating the initial conditions that could have allowed them to prevent the catastrophe.

    At any rate I hope you will keep your columns coming and possibly take up this issue again.

    Thank you,

    Marvin S

    Posted by: Marvin S. | February 12th, 2010 at 10:44 am

  • The resistance to reforming health care is not by
    individuals, but by big business and government agencies, who make a lot of
    money and enjoy excellent benefits under the current system. For most large
    employers, job-based insurance is not really provided by the named insurance
    companies, but administered by them. The employer develops their own health
    plan, sets a figure for it, pays an insurance company to administer it, pays a
    reinsurance company for costs above a certain value, then pockets the profits.
    The employer can value the insurance provided at e.g. $500 a month and deduct
    this cost from income. For 10,000 employees, this allows a tax deduction of 5
    million dollars – a tax savings of 3-5 million depending on their other
    expenses. The employer pays Blue Cross or HealthNet, etc., $75 a month to
    administer the program, picks up the cost of individual expenses ($150 per
    month) and pays $25 per month for reinsurance. Profits from this scheme ($250
    per person based on the expense deducted for tax purposes) reside with the

    Because the employers are self-insured, their executives can
    have custom policies that cover anything at low expense, while the workers have
    high deductibles and poor coverage. This comprehensive scheme is not democracy
    or capitalism, it is the outcome of the preferential treatment of segments of
    society which has created an aristocracy of corporate executives. A free market
    in health care requires that all health care insurance be available to anyone
    who wants to pay for it. It would be EASY for each health insurance company to
    offer 10 plans that anyone, including employers could buy. THEN there would be
    competition between health insurance companies. If our legislators had to buy
    from one of these plans, along with the people they represent, we would get
    speedy reform of the health care industry.

    Dorothy L

    Posted by: Dorothy L. | February 12th, 2010 at 10:45 am

  • I totally agree. If change is good why not make our chances. We shouldn’t be afraid of the things that could help us progress and be a lot more useful. Even large corporations submit their companies in to new ideas because nothing comes permanent but change for the better.

    Posted by: Lexie | February 17th, 2010 at 9:33 am

  • “With 59 remaining Democratic Senators, a Democratic House of Representatives and a Democratic president, why so much trepidation about passing a bill so demonstrably necessary as health care reform?”

    Because the people hate it. It’s as simple as that. Particularly the independents. Look at the polls….

    An excerpt:
    In the NPR poll, likely voters oppose the president’s plan by 55 percent to 39 percent, with the problem concentrated among independent voters.

    Jack Raffa, a bank examiner from Pottsville, Pa., says he doesn’t like how the health care bill was written.

    “They seem to be making backroom deals and doing it behind closed doors,” he says. “If it’s such a good thing, everybody should know about it and be happy about it. If they have to hide it, there’s a reason they’re hiding things.”

    Posted by: George H | February 17th, 2010 at 9:34 am

  • The present proposals in Congress are not very good. They still give in too much to the insurance companies. What we need is an universal, single-payer health care system for all citizens as proposed by Congressman Pete Stark and some other progressive Democrats.

    Posted by: Tomas | February 17th, 2010 at 9:36 am

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