Health Care Reform–The Train is Ready to Leave the Station

Universal Health Care? Don't Be Silly! Image: oldamericancentury.org

Update 18 Mar, 12:50 p.m., PDT:  The U.S. House Rules Committee has just posted the text of H.R. 4872–Reconcilation Act of 2010.  http://bit.ly/aUWBUK #healthreform.

The very first post for Extreme Thinkover was to advocate for health care reform.  Although I have written dozens of posts since September 2008, my most frequent theme has been to make the needed, and yes, sweeping changes to the nation’s health care system that will establish access to medical care as a right and not a privilege available to only those who can afford to pay for it, that these reforms rectify an endemic injustice that mushroomed into a national health crisis of unprecedented historical proportions.

By July 2009, it had become evident that the Big Medicine, often led by the

The Sniffer. My Buddy to Detect Nuclear Radiation. Photo: Ajax

American Health   insurance Providers (AHIP), while publicly mouthing support for reform was, in fact, spending hundreds of millions of dollars and perhaps the most intense lobbying in U.S. history to kill reform once and for all.  They were gearing up to use what I labeled their “Nuclear Option”–to destroy the health care reform legislation in one large blast.  To accompany me on this journey, I invented The Sniffer.    The Sniffer has been constantly busy, doggedly pursuing every whiff of anti-reform nuclear odor, as Big Medicine worked and spent millions of our dollars paid for our care to try to deny us the very care we were paying for.    The Sniffer was “semper fi” in his work.  He helped reveal attempt after attempt to do in the legislation.  Big Medicine ratcheted up the pressure week after week as the President and the Democrats (with the exception of the shameful behavior of the “Blue Dog” Democrats, who on more than one occasion nearly succeeded in pushing the button), struggled through a barrage of anti-reform initiatives, advertising and lobbying, and the increasing pitch of outrage by such groups as the Tea Partiers.

Nuclear Option Button. Photo: Courtesy Getty Images

The Town Hall Meetings of August 2009 devolved into the summer of discontent and ended up as the month that will be remembered as the time when throwing political tantrums erupted onto the American political scene or else a new form of Primal Scream Therapy had become vogue.  It was difficult at times to distinguish which one was happening at the moment.  To be honest I experienced moments of angst and despair that this negative energy might provide the critical mass Big Medicine needed to construct its nuclear device.  One thing I was very certain of is that with the support of the congressional Republicans, if the legislation appeared to have the votes to pass, the Anti-Reform Mission Control would press the button.

Then something else arose out of the smoke and mirrors of the August tempest.  It began to lose steam.  In reality, the tantrums burned themselves out.  The American Public, being smarter and more insightful than given credit by  either many politicians, in particular the Republican Leadership, one Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell (minority leaders in their respective houses), or the political consultants and pundits, soon tired of endless pictures and TV video of people, appearing to be adults in terms of their chronological age, acting like four-year olds who hadn’t gotten their way at the pet store because mom or dad refused to let them buy that cuddly little mastiff puppy.

In the midst of this din of obstructionism and protest being broadcast at a volume equivalent a Rolling Stones concert at Yankee Stadium, the House passed their version of the health reform bill.  I held my breath.  The Senate was still wrangling over the details.  In October 2009 I wrote:

America’s Health Insurance Plans pushed the button on their “nuclear option” bomb to blast health care reform into oblivion. The safety was released, the countdown went to zero, and “click!”

The device failed to detonate.  Through November and into the Holidays, the Senate sat paralyzed as Montana Democratic Senator, Max Baucus, employed a strategy to get his version out of committee.  He did, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) finally broke and said she’d vote yes, but only to move to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.  It passed finally on December 24 on a strict party-line vote.

The Late Sen. Ted Kennedy with Pres. Obama. Photo: PBS.org

When Massachusetts held its special election to fill the seat left by Ted Kennedy (who had died months earlier from brain cancer), which had been filled by an appointee Democrat and the voters chose a Republican, the champagne bottles were uncorked by the Anti-Reformers.  The Democrats had lost their filibuster-proof majority and could no longer pass a bill over the heads of the Republican opposition.  The airwaves fairly sizzled with pundits announcing that without Kennedy to champion the cause it was over; health care reform was dead.

Instead the Opposition made a fatal strategic error in their plan of destruction.  The Republicans failed to have at the ready a full-blown alternative bill to introduce as the savior of health care to fill the vacuum.  Their “start over with a clean sheet of paper” backfired, because no one in America believed it was possible, including those who opposed reform.  The tide shifted.

House Health Care Reform Bill. Photo: Jesse Blumenthal.

After the Health Care Summit in which President Obama invited members of both houses and parties to participate, the Republicans during the televised seven hours long event had nothing to offer. They repeatedly sniped at the bills that had passed and the fact they were over 2700 pages long , copies of which they had sitting on their tables as a prop making an impressive stack.  The pundits also got it wrong.  The Republicans spoke with a carefully rehearsed unified voice, but rather than its intended affect to present to the people a solid wall of principled objection, they showed a solid wall of obstructionism–and with nothing behind it to present to the public.  They had been determined to cause the failure of this bill and Obama’s presidency.  They failed on both accounts.  The President and the Democrats came out energized.

As I write this post, three days from now, the House of Representatives will vote on the final version of the bill.  The Senate then will vote, as well.  The Republicans are desperate to stop it, but only have an expensive nuclear dud left in their arsenal.  AHIP and Big Medicine are still spending millions to thwart it.  This last ditch effort is failing on both fronts.  If they have something up their sleeves, a secret device they can detonate and kill the process, now is the time they must use it.  That they apparently are losing ground, and that they appear to have been outflanked by both Pres. Obama and the Democratic leadership in both houses seems to be the evidence they have no nuclear option left to use.

Short of a secret weapon unleashed, the bills will pass and health care reform will begin to move, like a freight train beginning to roll, almost imperceptibly at first, but with an inexorable increase in velocity rumbling down the track, creating in its path an new era for Americans and their health and medical needs.

Photo: Cape Care, MassCare

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