Health care game has few rules

Health care is on everyone’s lips. Those familiar with my views on the matter know that I am in favor of a single-payer system that provides the same government service for our citizens that those in virtually every other industrialized nation receive. The thought of little children going without health care so that insurance companies can continue to make obscene profits is repugnant.

Let’s face facts. The insurance companies are greedy bloodsuckers. They take a huge portion of every health care dollar for themselves and their stockholders. Right now they’re spending like drunken sailors, trying to put a stop to the so-called “public option.”

I have always believed that President Barack Obama is much smarter than I am. I think his basic game now is to get a health- care-for-all package and then to build on it. I can just imagine David Axelrod saying, “Look, Mr. President. If you fail on this it will be your Waterloo. If you get something, anything, you’ll be the guy who did it first. We’ll worry about what comes later after we get this done.”

What’s more, I suspect Obama has a larger political strategy. It is becoming increasingly clear that his team believes they have a lock on everything from the center all the way over to the far left. Now his political people seem to want to capture the center right and on over. This strategy comes with tremendous risk. First of all, you can and will alienate your base. George Bush and his cronies had that down pat. They knew the key to electoral success was sticking with and pleasing their right wing base.

While it is true that Obama never promised a government run single-payer system during the campaign, his constituents just believed that he was being politically clever. They projected their beliefs into his action. Now many are very disappointed. Once I surmised what the game was I knew that his call for a so-called public option to compete with the insurance companies was just a gambit.

I think his people knew that they would throw in this chip at the right moment and they would end up with something, including some concessions on such matters as “cherry picking” the healthy folks, not allowing “pre-existing conditions” to be covered, and putting caps on how much could be spent by one ill person.

Then Obama was rapped on the knuckles by the progressives in the House of Representatives who said that they wouldn’t vote for any health care package unless it included a public option. Team Obama must have taken this as a very serious threat because they ran for the hills and wiped out the signal originally sent by their health care czar, Kathleen Sebelius, when she indicated that the public option could be dismissed.

My own view is that Obama had a massive mandate and a lot of goodwill. I suspect that if he had just called for extending Medicare to all citizens, he could have had a resounding political success just as conservative Ronald Reagan did when he called for a revision of the tax code.

Americans need heath care. The Republicans have been using it as a wedge issue by painting the public option as just another program for the poor, something that many middle class folks fall for every time. On the other hand, everywhere I go I hear horror stories about people who can’t afford health insurance.

I suspect you gotta do what you gotta do. Obama says no treating undocumented immigrants, even though he surely knows we will be paying through the nose as these folks are treated in emergency rooms. Meanwhile, the conservatives are going on about everything from socialism to mandatory abortions to death panels.

It’s all nonsense and they and their allies in the insurance industry know it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: sooner or later these people will have to meet their maker at the Pearly Gates. Surely they will be told “No health care for your fellow man, no entrance for you.”

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 8/29/09

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