I am in my mid-fifties. My first memories of politics are black-and-white images of Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy debating on national television. I am not a politician of any stripe, and like most Americans, my enthusiasm for politics and for political issues waxes and wanes – typically around national election cycles. But nationalizing health care holds a somewhat higher level of interest for me than most national policy debates in recent memory.
For more than three decades, I have been involved in American business. I started out working in retail stores like Sears and K-Mart when I was in high school, poured molten grey iron in a foundry in college, worked in a factory making paint, worked for a couple of years as a psychiatric aid in a hospital that handled kids with special needs, and from there went into management positions at companies like John Deere, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and Computer Sciences Corporation. So I have seen and experienced a fairly broad spectrum of business issues and the plight of American business and American employees.
The broad national health care issue first really came into focus for me while I was Director of Materials Management at McDonnell Douglas back in the early 1990s. My boss, the Vice President of Production Operations, visited my staff meeting and addressed me and my staff jointly about McDonnell Douglas’ decision to discontinue providing life-long health insurance coverage for the company’s retirees. He said that this was the right time to implement such a change, because: “Hillary is going to implement nationalized health care anyway, so McDonnell Douglas can save a ton of money here without impacting our retirees.” I immediately asked: “So if Hillary is not successful, and we don’t get nationalized health care, then the Company will reinstate their plan for retirees?” My boss just looked at me and said: “Riiiiiiiiight.” We all knew what that meant, and the rest, as they say, is history. The cost of health insurance over 60 years of age is not insignificant, and it shifted from a company burden to a burden shouldered by retirees.
As a business leader, I have worked with profit & loss for a long time. I understand how difficult it is to wring additional profit out of the revenue from products and services just to survive in an extremely competitive business environment. I have seen how ruthless executives often become in pursuit of corporate profits, not only for survival, but also simply out of greed. Perhaps it is because I spent some years at the bottom end of the ladder in big manufacturing companies doing things like pouring iron, but whatever the reason, I detest shifting additional burden to the employees who earn the least and – from a physical perspective, at least – work the hardest. I feel as though it violates the partnership between the employer and the employee in many cases. I know that it damages morale, and often hurts the quality of the company’s goods and services. So as I have watched the cost of health care benefits rise over the last 35 years, I have had to work through how those costs were addressed and mitigated (to some extent) through the introduction of Health Maintenance Organizations, Health Savings Plans, and a broad array of other similar initiatives.
Now, as the baby boomers move like the proverbial pig through a snake, the costs of programs such as health care and social security have become critical for retirees. We are into a more-people-taking-out-than-people-paying-in situation. In addition, the off-shoring and outsourcing of much of the middle class work in the US has diminished the power of labor unions to negotiate substantive health care benefits for their membership among current work force. So not only retirees are at risk here; so are our current and future work forces. One solution that continues to come forward is – broadly stated – nationalized health care.
I have a little experience with nationalized health care. I actually lived and worked in Canada for a few years, and was part of the Canadian health care system. (I genuinely enjoyed my time up north; I found Canadians to be friendly, intelligent, and industrious. I made some life-long friends in Canada.) One day while working up there, I noticed that one of my colleagues was limping in a more and more pronounced way. I didn’t say anything at first, but weeks and months went by and he only seemed to get worse. When I finally asked him about it, he said, “I have to have my knee replaced.” I asked him when that was scheduled, and he told me it wasn’t scheduled yet. He was on a waiting list. At the time I asked him, he had been on that waiting list for 18 months. This guy was in pain, and it made me wince just seeing him walking around like that. Whenever I think of nationalized health care, I think of my former colleague.
And then there are the statistics. Unfortunately, over the course of the debate, some conservatives – especially the right wing of the right wing – have made claims about Canadian and UK health care differences that are untrue. I am very impressed with an analytical piece published in the UK recently that debunks some of these claims, entitled “Is public healthcare in the UK as sick as rightwing America claims?” authored by Denis Campbell and Girish Gupta.
However, even in this very even-handed article, the authors have to admit things like: “Breast cancer does claim more lives, proportionally, here [in the UK] than in the US. According to the 2002 Globocan database run by the World Health Organisation’s cancer advisers, 19.2 of every 100,000 Americans die of the disease, but 24.3 per 100,000 here die. On prostate cancer, a Lancet Oncology global study last year found that 91.9% of Americans with the disease were still alive after five years compared to just 51.1% in the UK. With heart attacks, 40% of Britons who suffer one die from it compared to 38% in the States”, and “Breakthrough Breast Cancer cite two recent studies from Lancet Oncology. One says that 83.9% of women in the US diagnosed with breast cancer between 1990-94 lived for at least five years compared to 69.7% in the UK – a 14.2% difference. The second showed that, among women diagnosed with the disease in 2000-02, 90.1% in the States survived for at least five years whereas in England it was 77.8% – a 12.3% gap.” The performance of nationalized health care systems is simply not as good as private systems like the US system – and that difference translates into higher mortality rates.
America does spend a great deal on health care, which intuitively explains why the health care available in the United States is world class. Looking at expenditures for health care per capita, the NHS posted the following numbers on annual per capita Health Care spending:
And in the spirit of objectivity, it’s useful to note that this world-class health care has not necessarily resulted in longer average life spans in the US. Due to our rich diets, poor exercise, and general propensity for obesity, we actually lag many other countries by 2 to 5 years. However, Obamacare is very likely to make it much worse.
Nationalized health care in its current manifestation, known among the citizenry as “Obamacare”, has traveled a byzantine route to gain passage. It almost certainly would not have made it through a full vote of citizens as a referendum. I have never seen anything quite like it. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi actually said, “We have to pass it so that we can see what’s in it.” No kidding, I actually SAW her saying those words on national television! What always fascinates me is how these people keep getting re-elected; but I digress. After watching the debate, the Corn Husker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, and the other brass knuckles shenanigans surrounding the passage of this bill, it seems to me that anyone who did not foresee an effort to repeal it at the first opportunity must be blind.
So what’s actually in the new 1,000+ page Obama Health Care bill? Among the specific items that many of us are concerned about:
At this point, of course, Congress has passed it (along party lines of course, with Democrats pushing it across the top) and the new Republican-led Congress has voted to repeal it. But there are not enough votes to over-ride the presidential veto, so there will be an enormous amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money spent to modify, de-fund, or otherwise mitigate the damage done by this legislation.
The bottom line then, from my perspective is this: Should Obamacare be repealed? Yes. It should never have been passed in the first place. The fact that this legislation got passed with all the back room deals fully exposed in the press says a lot about the rotting, putrid condition of our current legislative process, and the moronic condition of the citizens who re-elect these criminals to represent them in Congress. Will it be repealed? No. I don’t think the Republicans will garner the Democrat’s support in this issue any time sooner than the next Republican presidency. In the mean time, as I said earlier, there will be an enormous amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money spent to modify, de-fund, or otherwise mitigate the damage done by this legislation. Your tax dollars at work – wasted once again.
What do you think?