Thursday, January 18, 2007

Compromise & Healthcare

It is no news that in America we have a political climate where polarization seems to rule, rather than common ground being sought for the betterment of all. The extreme religious right has control of much of the Republican Party, while the Democrats have their own crazy fringe to deal with. Seemingly left out and forgotten are the great middle ground of moderates, people who have a variety of viewpoints, but are not tied to extreme positions and unwilling to compromise for the greater good.

Having spent the last six years ruling from the far right, the current administration in Washington is a lame duck. Although they have made it clear they have no desire to listen to the people, nor their representatives in Congress, their days are up come January 20, 2009. Two years and two days, and we can permanently say goodbye to Dubya, Cheney, and the entire bunch who have fueled their war with the lives of our military personnel, our nation’s honor, and yes, even with some constitutional liberties.

Despite what extremists may say, compromise is not a dirty word. It was compromise that allowed the founders of the nascent United States of America to create a representative Congress that protected the rights of both the small states, and the more populous ones. In order for progress to occur it require give and take, the ability to forge a win-win solution to difficult issues.

It is in the spirit of compromise that I see some hope from both parties. Newly-elected Democratic governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter, and Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, have proposed looking at health care coverage for the citizens of their states. I have long maintained that the resistance to, and fear of, a national healthcare plan would make it extremely difficult to initially implement at the federal level. It will take some progressive minded governors and legislatures to show the rest of us that this can work.

The rugged individualism of the American psyche and our Cold War experience makes us resistant to the idea of any program that even hints of socialism. Never mind that there are some things that can be best addressed by the government. We have socialized highways, schools, postal service, money system, and more. The United States is one of the few “First World” powers that doesn’t provide some level of health coverage to all its citizens.

I am no economist, so this is purely conjecture on my part, but I suspect that for what we currently spend, we could have universal coverage for all of our people. The fact is that we don’t really have healthcare for many of our citizens, but rather sick care. People who cannot afford preventive and early treatment end up generating huge medical bills for diseases and conditions that could have been averted, if only they were caught and treated early. One reason insurance costs continue to escalate is the fact that we all pay for those who don’t have insurance today. If we could do it proactively on a national basis, I think we could be surprised at how little it actually costs in comparison with today.

It is also my belief that universal healthcare is very much within the spirit of the Constitution. That document’s preamble lists among the reasons for establishing the federal government is to “promote the general Welfare”. Not welfare as applied to entitlement programs, but welfare and in the general well-being of the citizenry.

Heath care insurance tied to peoples’ employment leaves out the underemployed, the part-time workers, the unemployed, and the indigent from the system. These are the people who have no resources for health coverage. Instead, we end up paying their medical bills when they go to a public hospital or the debt is written off by the provider. Often, the provider ends up being a hospital emergency room, since the poor have no regular physician. Even the gainfully employed and covered are close to falling into disaster. If you lose your job, sure you are offered continuation of coverage under COBRA. However without income, who can afford COBRA payments of $700 and up per month?

I hope that the legislators in both California and Colorado will work together with the governors of those states and effect compromise on this matter. They can lead the way by showing how to fix our current system. Action is long overdue. It is now time to explore a variety of options that will finally provide all Americans with access to healthcare. It’s the right thing to do.

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