Reforming Health Reform?
(Photos by Robin Holland)
This week, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist John Nichols and women's advocate Terry O'Neill about the health reform President Obama signed into law on Tuesday.
Nichols said that the reform in and of itself is not sufficient, but that it's an important foundation and that activists must now demand further improvements to the nation's health system:
"For a hundred years we tried to create a project. We tried to take this vacant site and dig a hole, put in a foundation, and start some construction. That's what's happened. The fact of the matter is it's best to understand the health care legislation that was passed on Sunday as the beginning of a construction project, and that's why some people fought so hard against it, because they understood [that] once you begin that project, it is very unlikely that we're going to fill the hole in, tear down all the construction... Compromises are always made, and the most important thing is that we're here today screamin' and yellin' about it... The objections that we raise to this health care bill, the demands that we make that it be improved, that we in fact reform the reform - that's what's going to give us a health care system that is humane, that is decent, that is worthy of the United States... Barack Obama is a cautious president. It is time to go out and make him do the things that need to be done. That's an organizing task, and people are ready."
O'Neill said that the health reforms discriminate against women by, for instance, allowing insurers to charge them more for policies and not providing tax dollars to cover abortions, but that the new laws change the conversation and set the stage for an eventual shift to a single-payer system.
"My organization looked at the entire bill at the end of the day when it was passed, and we concluded that on balance, despite the good things that are in the bill, the bill is actually bad for women... What's best about this law, really, is the concept of it. The actual provisions of it are not good, but the concept that in fact the federal government has the largest role to play, the idea that we as an entire society must have health care for all of our people has not been implemented, but the concept is in the bill... We've been told over and over again that gender rating is gone, but it's not. [For] employers with more than 100 employees who buy into a plan on an exchange, the insurance companies will be permitted to charge higher premiums, up to 50% higher for women than for men just because they're women... [And] age rating - the triple premiums being paid by older people has a disproportionate impact on women... It's so crucial that we undo this pernicious idea that somehow federal tax dollars should not be used to pay for abortion. They must be used to pay for all health care needs, including abortion, because eventually where we need to get to is a single-payer system."
While Nichols and O'Neill both believe that President Obama's health reform laws provide an important first step towards a more equitable health system, others argue that they represent a troubling expansion of unchecked government power. Columnist A. Barton Hinkle wrote in the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH that the reforms centralize too much power in the federal government with no mechanism to prevent intrusion into citizens' private lives:
"The increased federal involvement in health care will become a pretext for increased federal involvement in, well, everything. The reasoning will be that individual health affects health care, which is now a federal enterprise. And everything can be said, with more or less sophistry, to affect individual health. So 'managing' the 'system' will become the all-purpose excuse for dictating the manner in which you live your life... Throughout the Bush years, progressives howled as the administration exploited a national-security crisis to expand executive power, while conservatives egged the administration on. Yet neither paused long to note that Bush did not even try to roll back expansions of federal power undertaken in the name of social policy... Obama has also pushed relentlessly for expansions of social welfare and the regulatory state. Every administration expands power where it wishes, but no authority is ever repealed. And so the ratchet tightens."
What do you think?