Keith Harris – 3/26/10

Health care reform has come at last. It seems that baseless accusations of fascism and Fox News-inspired hyperbole were not enough to stop Democrats from reaching this landmark accomplishment. And yet, for all the back pats exchanged by Democrats, little has actually changed.

Certainly the new system has its merits. Gone are the days of insurance companies denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Well, sort of. Once the plan goes into full effect, insurance companies will be charged the staggering sum of $100 for each day they deny a patient coverage. To say that $100 is petty cash to an insurance company is an understatement at best. To deny a patient coverage for a year will cost insurance companies under $40,000. This meager amount, when compared to the absurd price of modern medical procedures, ensures that it is still in the financial interest of insurance companies to deny coverage. Worse still, this means that it is in the best interest of insurance companies for those suffering illnesses to die quickly – less days alive mean less days that coverage is denied.

Shockingly, conservatives condemn the new plan as a form of socialism. If anything, it is a triumph of capitalism. True, a public option would have had similarities to a socialist system – specifically in that it would have benefited the working class. In the absence of a public option the bill merely forces citizens to rely further on the private sector. Moreover, a lack of regulation makes the new plan prone to exploitation by insurance companies.

It is disturbing to see with what degree of enthusiasm Democrats are now congratulating themselves. The process of drafting this bill was, for Democrats, a continuous exercise in conciliation. Throughout its course, the bill was altered by Republicans over 100 times. Among the worst alterations made is a provision greatly restricting women’s right to choose. For all the Democrats sacrificed, Republicans voted unanimously against the bill. A bill proposing significant change would, therefore, have received at least as much bipartisan support as this watered down legislation.

All this is not to say that the new health care system is a bad thing. If nothing else, it reflects the need for a change in our current system. It is not okay that two men with the same disease may meet different fates based on the varying contents of their bank accounts. It is not OK that families are forced into bankruptcy by unforeseen injury. It is not OK that one’s ability to survive illness is based on his or her wealth. That the measure passed is representative of the fact that Americans, and some politicians, recognize these facts.

It is a step in the right direction. A step of the type from which great movements are built. Perhaps in time, when conservatives find that their grandparents have not been killed by a marauding hit squad of liberal doctors, when it is understood that the bill did not contain a provision promoting Obama to supreme chancellor, when no microchips are found to have been inserted into the skulls of Americans, more progress will be made.