In a better place, in another time, we might be talking about a single-payer system and nothing so conciliatory as a public option. But we're not nearly going to be that fortunate because, for far too many people, single-payer is not a politically viable option.
Last week, through serendipitous circumstance, I found myself staring down the very nasty gun-barrel of the despicable way we do "healthcare" in this country. The details are unimportant, but I can say that it had something very much to do with this Kaiser Foundation study that Ezra Klein limns here. This concentrated my mind wonderfully on the current dilemma. I came to the not unreasonable conclusion that most of the politicians involved in this business--up to and including the lemon in the White House--don't care about the simple fact that this country is going to allow people to sicken and die because they can't afford to do anything else. Period. Everything else is dumbshow, a WWE card covered by people engaged in a really bad form of sportswriting--people, I might add, who could care less themselves that this country is going to allow people to sicken and die because they can't afford to do anything else.
Does anyone honestly believe that this White House has acted in good faith? With its allies in Congress? With its constituents? Hell, with its own campaign promises? Does anyone honestly believe that, say, Chuck Todd gives a rat's ass how many people out in the country slowly sicken and die as long as Chuck can tell us who's up and who's down, and what's politically feasible and what's not, and that he can still get a good table at the Palm? Never in my long career as a professional cynic have I seen an spasm of Beltway bubblehood so far removed from the actual concerns of people's lives--so far removed that, last weekend, we had a gathering of the politically halt, lame, blind, and crippled in Washington, gathered for the sole purpose of petitioning various oligarchs to keep screwing them with their pants on. Never in my long career as a professional cynic have I seen a spasm of Beltway bubblehood so far beyond even the limits of Irish Smartass to describe it. The political class in this country - politician and journalist, lobbyist and legislator, Republican and Democratic, Executive and Legislative -- has made a collective decision to protect the profits of one of the least popular industries in the history of the Republic, to preserve the iron grip of corporate bureaucrats over the practice of medicine in America, and to refuse vitrually without serious discussion to adopt measures favored by 77 percent of the voting public. It is to be in awe, is what it is.
And I hate to personalize this, but one of the prime Democratic waffle salesmen throughout this whole unholy mess has been Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado) Now, as it happens, I spent half of 1975 and almost all of 1976 working to get Mark's pappy--Mo, of sainted memory--elected president. In the course of my duties, I handed out--or arranged to have handed out--about eleventy bajillion of these handbills. I handed them out at diners in New Hampshire, and hung them on people's doors in Massachusetts. I sent people out at 5:30 in the morning to distribute them at factory gates in Wisconsin in the middle of February. I even brought them (briefly) to the land of the Amish, where nobody votes and few people own telephones. Looking at the old flyer now, I am struck by this passage right here:
Why in America, with our immense wealth, should the poor get sicker and the sick get poorer? We have been promising ourselves a system of national health insurance for a quarter of a century. I am tired of apologizing year after year as we fail to achieve it. We have put a premium on conversation instead of coverage. America is the only industrialized nation in the world which does not provide basic health service as a universal right. As President, I will make sure that we do.
I didn't freeze my cojones off in front of the Allis-Chalmers plant so Senator Udall one day could calculate a half-dozen good political reasons why some people simply have to die. I didn't nearly get killed on a dark road outside Manchester in the snow so Mark Udall could come along thirty-three years later and quibble about which insurance company gobbler can suck up the biggest bonus this year. Jesus, Mark, if you won't listen to the people out there, at least listen to the spirit of the great man who was your father.
Which is, once again, proof that we usually get the government - and accordingly, the health care - that we deserve.
Sort of related, I recommend checking out McKenzie Funk's piece (subscription only) about AIG's private fire protection service. Though the story mostly centers on the problem of housing development creeping into fire-prone areas of California, even more interesting is the story of how fire insurance came into existence.
Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, English doctor, real-estate developer and economist Nicholas Barbon thought up the idea of the first insurance company. Things didn't work out so well from there.
Also, Barbon died deeply in debt. Which makes sense.