Friday, August 14, 2009

In sickness and in health

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Arguments over health care are at a fever pitch. Supporters of President Obama's half-a**ed reforms are being drowned out by the hysterical mobs, some with alleged corporate ties, trying to prevent any change at all. Meanwhile, intelligent arguments against ObamaCare, from the left and the right, remain mostly unheard.

The problem is that all the scaremongering against Obama's meek proposal doesn't invalidate the fact that our system is seriously dysfunctional and needs some kind of fundamental change. The loudest opponents of (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, either real or imagined, aren't proposing any change whatsoever.

Many of the things that the Sarah Palins of this country are trying to scare Americans into believing would be the inevitable result of (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE... well, those are things are already reality for many Americans in our present health care morass.

The New York Times had a disturbing piece on what is basically a mass clinic for medical refugees. It was held a place where health care is scarce... [and provided] free dental, medical and vision services, courtesy of a nonprofit group that more typically provides mobile health care for the rural poor.

Except this 'giant MASH unit' was not held in some miserable African refugee camp or remote Central American village. And it certainly was not held in a country with (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.

It was held in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country that repeatedly pats itself on the back for having the best health care system in the world. The nonprofit group running the camp typically serves people in rural parts of the United States, where access to health care is notoriously poor.

Similarly, much of the scaremongering against any role for government in health care is based on the premise that it would take turn our stellar system into a nightmare where bureaucrats, not doctors, decide who lives and who dies. This piece in The Atlantic reminds us that such a nightmare is already the reality for many Americans.

The piece, entitled 'How American Health Care Killed My Father,' is described as such: After the needless death of his father, the author, a business executive, began a personal exploration of a health-care industry that for years has delivered poor service and irregular quality at astonishingly high cost. It is a system, he argues, that is not worth preserving in anything like its current form. And the health-care reform now being contemplated will not fix it. Here’s a radical solution to an agonizing problem.

The $1 million per day propaganda campaign run by the insurance lobby has focused primarily on smearing countries with universal health care, primarily Canada and Great Britain. Granted, Obama's weak plan doesn't even vaguely resemble either system, but these folks will not let facts interfere with their agenda. If they did, they'd be put in the awkward position of badmouthing the popular Medicare and VA programs, which are (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE and do resemble the Canadian and British systems respectively.

However, people in those countries have hit back against the willful ignorance and intentional deceit of the Know-Nothing smear campaign. Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper is under pressure from many quarters to defend his country's crown jewel against 'Swift Boat' style attacks made by those with zero first hand experience and largely ignorant of how it actually works.

Britons were similarly outraged at attacks on their National Health Service (NHS), a system whose survival was guaranteed by that hero even of conservative Americans Winston Churchill. Brits flooded Twitter with so many tweets in support of the NHS against 'right-wing American libel' that the website briefly crashed. #WeLoveTheNHS is still one of the hottest topics on Twitter.

Of course, neither of these prove anything but being opinions of those with actual first hand experience, they are certainly more authoritative and informed that virtually all of the half truths being bandied about over here.

And in many cases, a half truth would be an improvement.

Take the case of two British women who were exploited and lied to on behalf of a right-wing anti-reform group. A purported filmmaker invited the women to speak about cancer treatment in Britain for a purported documentary.

Except an excerpt of the footage was instead used in a propaganda ad trying to discredit the British NHS. The women objected to this blatant deceit. They also said they supported the NHS in general but just thought this particular aspect needed improvement. One woman said, "My point was not that the NHS shouldn't exist or that it was a bad thing. I think that our health service is not perfect but to get better it needs more public money, not less." According to the CBC, they both said wouldn't for a second trade their British system for the American one.

Not surprisingly, this NHS-endorsement did not make it into the right-wing ad.

Update: The Los Angeles Times also has a piece on the medical refugee camps.

Editor's note: I will be running two guest essays on health care this weekend. The first will detail one local man's account of his Kafkaesque dealings with an American health insurance conglomerate, an experience which leaves him begging for (insert menacing music) SOCIALIZED MEDICINE. The other is planned to be a first hand account of how the Canadian (universal) medicare system really works.

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