Maybe President Barack Obama, instead of portraying opponents of his
heath-care reform as liars, should cast out the mote in his
own eye. From him and his White House has flowed a never-ending stream
of misinformation, disinformation, exaggerations and just plain baloney.
Take the oft-repeated claim that 50 million, 60 million or whatever --
take your pick -- Americans have no health insurance, as if our
uninsured population is expiring in the nation's gutters because no one
(read: Republicans) cares. But what the Obama and Democratic operatives
don't tell you is the whole story, and by omitting it, they are
themselves lying. Here are the facts:
The estimate of the uninsured comes from the U.S. Bureau of the Census'
Current Population Survey, with analysis of the 2007 survey provided by
the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation. The total
uninsured was 45.7 million (and is likely higher now), but of those,
9.5 million were non-citizens or illegal immigrants; 12 million were
eligible for other public health programs but hadn't bothered to sign
up; 7.3 million were in families that had income exceeding $84,108 a
year and chose not to be covered and 9.1 million were only temporarily
uninsured. That leaves 7.8 million lower-income American citizens who
are uninsured long-term.
That of course is a lot, and steps must be taken to get them good health care.
The Obama administration wants you to believe that covering these 45.7
million people of unequal needs is America's highest health-care reform
priority. Truth is, most Americans don't agree. A Kaiser Family
Foundation survey last year found half of U.S. voters say making health
care and insurance more affordable is the No. 1 health issue; that's
twice as much as the second priority, which is expanding coverage for
The biggest deception by Obama and congressional Democrats is that you
must explode the current system. And all of this without knowing
whether the new structure will provide better shelter or collapse into
the basement. What information we have on the workability of such
grandiose plans comes from the more expansive and intrusive health-care
systems in Canada and Europe. The comparison favors Americans: They are
more likely to survive cancer, receive medical treatment sooner and
have more intensive-care units and technology such as MRIs available.
These facts and arguments were brought together by a coalition of
moderates, including U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who have offered a
compromise package that doesn't presume that you have to destroy the
health-care system to save it. I lay them out here because they don't
receive all that much attention in the media. Kirk, Rep. Charlie Dent
(R-Pa.) and members of the centrist Tuesday Group have proposed the
Medical Rights and Reform Act, which more narrowly and reasonably
targets the system's ills and proposes problem-specific solutions.
According to Kirk's Web site, the proposal would lower health-care
costs by fostering "state innovation through insurance market reforms,
high-risk pools, community health networks and new association options
for small businesses." It would provide other reforms, the most
important of which I believe would impose legal reforms "to end the
practice of defensive medicine while ensuring fair compensation for
injured patients." The high cost of liability insurance that doctors
and health-care providers must pay is a huge factor in the exorbitant
cost of health care.
I'm not necessarily endorsing this specific set of reforms because
there may be better ones out there. One would allow competition across
state lines for medical insurance. Another is a return to the idea that
health insurance is just that -- protection, as homeowner's insurance
is, against unforeseen and large expenses. Home insurance doesn't pay
for such preventive expenses as painting frame houses and hiring
exterminators. Just so, health insurance isn't meant to pay for every
preventive expense imaginable.
The White House propagandists -- the chief one being Obama -- would
have us believe that dropping, say, the demand for a "public option"
would be a compromise (albeit unacceptable to the left). That's more
baloney. It would leave us with the rest of the mammoth and unworkable
proposal. Centering the debate on such proposals as Kirk's is real
compromise. And a good way to cut the baloney.
This column also appeared on the Chicago Tribune's op-ed page