Katha Pollitt’s new book of poems, The Mind-Body Problem, has just been published by Random House.
I am not a wonk. Usually this is not a problem. But when it comes to healthcare reform, it matters. You see, I long to dash forward, flaming sword in hand, to champion President Obama’s healthcare plan. Every day I get e-mails from Health Care for America Now, Organizing for America, MoveOn.org and similar groups urging me to write my Congressman, attend a town-hall meeting, host a gathering. But how can I speak knowledgeably about a plan that does not yet exist and in which the parameters keep shifting?
I’d like to tell people, Obama’s plan is great–for example, it has a public option that will insure those who can’t afford private coverage, help rein in the insurance companies by competing with them for members and drive down drug prices through forceful negotiation. But maybe the final bill won’t allow the government to negotiate drug prices, because that’s the price of Big Pharma’s support, which apparently the Obama administration negotiated for in secrecy. Maybe it won’t even have a public plan; it will have insurance co-ops instead. And then, maybe, I should say those will be just as good, as Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ezekiel Emanuel, the MD/PhD bioethicist, says.
OK, but what are insurance co-ops? I poked around online for fifteen minutes and discovered that they’re untested, small, unregulated, that they exist in twenty states and that Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota really likes them–but I didn’t discover what they actually are. I understand “public option,” and “public” has a good, strong ring to it–it says, Healthcare is a right, part of the common good, something everyone should have, and if you can’t afford it in the marketplace, the government will provide it. “Insurance co-op” speaks a whole other language, of commerce and complexity and exclusivity.
Sarah Palin puts forward crazy lies about how “Obama’s death panel” will euthanize Trig Palin and the elderly; right-wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh talk about socialism and compare Obama to Hitler. We respond with wonkery: burdens lifted from small business, the unsustainability of rising costs. But people who would believe Obama wants to kill Grandma are the last people who’ll respond to rational economic arguments. They are too irrational and, let’s face it, too ignorant. The retirees ranting about the evils of government healthcare don’t even get that the Medicare they rely on is a government program.