Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get Healthy, America!

President Barack Obama has sorely disappointed me on education, largely by pursuing the path he said he'd pursue during the campaign. While I can't express any enthusiasm for his misguided appointments and plans, I can at least console myself that his opponent's plans were far worse.

Nonetheless, there are other issues of importance to Americans, teachers included, and one of the most egregious failures of our society has been that of providing health care for our citizens. On this front, President Obama may have a much better approach, avoiding the GOP filibuster before they even get a chance. In short, he can insert health care proposals into the budget resolution, which requires only a majority vote.

Poll after poll has shown that Americans are very worried about their health insurance. People are afraid to quit jobs they hate because they are worried they won't be able to get health insurance after their COBRA coverage expires. The core of the problem, of course, is the insurance companies' desire not to insure anyone who is sick or likely to become sick. All other industrialized countries solve this problem through laws saying that health insurance companies must offer a standard policy at a standard price to anyone who asks for one. Cherrypicking good customers is illegal everywhere except the U.S. To prevent young healthy people from going uninsured util they suddenly get sick and then applying for insurance, other countries make carrying health insurance mandatory, the same way most states in the U.S. mandate that car owners have accident insurance on their cars.

The Democrats and Republicans differ hugely on their views about cherrypicking and mandates. Any bill the Democrats came up with containing both of these items would be filibustered to death in the Senate. However, now that Senate Democrats (with Obama's blessing) have decided to make health care reform part of the reconciliation bill, the Republicans will not be able to filibuster it. This will make them absolutely furious--even though George Bush used the reconciliation process himself on a number of occasions.

There are some interesting assertions there. One is the mandate that all citizens carry insurance. I'm not sure whether that's entirely true, as most health insurance is government-run. But the preclusion of "cherry-picking" would certainly benefit Americans. Perhaps it's true that this would cut into the profits of companies who wish to insure only people who won't get sick. But not-for-profit companies like GHI-HIP, or Emblem Health, have managed to do well despite having to actually cover existing illnesses. That's one more reason to vehemently oppose its efforts to convert itself into a "for-profit" entity, no matter how much cash its IPO would net the UFT patronage mill.

If President Obama manages to improve our health care system it will be a monumental achievement. I, for one, will stand up and applaud, at least until Arne Duncan spouts some new unfounded nonsense about how subverting public schools will help our children.

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