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W.E. Gutman: Health care reform: Morality triumps over greed

The Long View

Posted: March 27, 2010 8:30 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
In 1996, I published an essay in The Wall Street Journal. Titled "A Magnificent Misfit," the article eulogized my father, a European physician who dedicated his life to his craft and died poor but debtless.

Predictably, the essay failed to touch the sympathetic nerve of the medical establishment. I was deluged with nasty letters from doctors who called me an "agent provocateur." I was branded a communist. In short, I was scolded for advocating - yikes, break out the smelling salts - "national health care."

Ten years later, in a column published in The Signal, I predicted the fall of the eight-year Republican stranglehold on America and asked: Will Democrats wrest the instruments of state and use them to help the people? Or will they shamefully sully their victory by turning right to protect their own power base?

They did just that. None absconded more cravenly than those who held out to the bitter end on the steaming issue of health care. Prompted by uninformed or misguided constituents (or their own vested interests), they parroted the same fear-mongering claptrap spewed on Fox and roundly lampooned on "The Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report."

Yet, after months of wrangling, misinformation and disinformation, President Obama's long, stubborn effort to reform health care came to fruition.

Until March 21, I thought Obama had failed to explain his program, and that talking heads had either muddied the waters by engaging in vague conjectures or deliberately spread lies.

Alarmist and spurious rhetoric had obscured a dimension no one wanted to address. The reason cost had become such a bugaboo had nothing to do with fiscal prudence. Reform that ate into the predatory profits of insurance companies, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry was sure to fail.

After all, I mused, Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same tarnished coin, two factions indistinguishable from one another except for antagonism they inspire. Both serve the oligarchs and the special interests. Both are intent on blocking meaningful change - both are involved in immense larceny against the poor. Both are in the pockets of large corporations, and neither is about to betray the capitalist base that financed their campaigns.

Many Americans, among them "Democrats," still believe that 32 million people are uninsured because they're betting on their youthful good health holding out. They are convinced that the Obama plan is a form of welfare for undeserving parasites, that it will force them to buy into a "single-source" insurance system and that any reform that brings much-needed social parity somehow violates their Libertarian essentials.

The current plan that the dreaded Obama "shoved down America's throat" will extend health coverage to millions of uninsured, cap premium hikes and prohibit undue cancellations (especially those based on pre-existing conditions). That's a good start.

Obama presented America with the first democratic (majoritarian) president in memory. And when anti-democratic forces went to work to neutralize this egalitarian mandate, rather than point out the degradation that reactionary sentimentality was bringing to the public discourse, rather than speaking out against the disinformation and general red-baiting and fear-mongering that waste-capital was showering on the fledgling Obama administration, the "erudite" left took the castrati tenor line, and whether out of jealousy for a truly intelligent and popular leader or merely out of anti-authoritarian habit, began carrying the water with which they would wash the well-heeled feet of the very same capitalist thieves they so long pretended to oppose.

Short of a system that emulates the French model - the best in the world - I had no faith in the emergence of a "compromise" bill. The U.S. would continue to take its citizens to the cleaners and the big mucky-mucks would laugh all the way to the bank.
I was partially right. Let's see what schemes the clarions of conservatism concoct to trivialize, perhaps annul, America's latest moral triumph.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine, an American expatriate who's been living in Paris for the past 20 years, is prepping for knee replacement surgery. He pays the equivalent of $50 a month for a co-payer policy that picks up what the liberal French universal system doesn't cover.

When he walks out of the hospital, he'll owe nothing. If he requires post-op therapy, he will receive it free of charge. If his physician believes a fortnight at a spa is essential to his recovery, the state will pay for it. He will not lose his job. Yes, the French are heavily taxed. But they get something in return: Quality cradle-to-grave health care, six-week yearly paid vacations, job security and dignity in old age.

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and author. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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