U.S. democracy may be imploding, eating itself up from within. Constitutionally guaranteed free speech has become the right to say absolutely anything, no matter how untrue or inflammatory. The right of assembly approaches mob rule, and hostility toward a legally elected president drifts toward insurrection. How did this happen?
There’s a disconnect in the public psyche, and nothing illustrates it more than the debate over health care. We believe we are a humane people, but we are caught between an economic system based on competition and profit and our spiritual nature that tells us we are brothers and sisters, children of a single God.
When someone like Sarah Palin says President Barack Obama’s health care plan will require "death panels," part of our subconscious says, "It must be true. That’s the way the business world works." So we ignore the fact that no one anywhere has ever proposed anything of the kind. There is simply something in us that accepts these absurdities. It is our well-trained capitalist minds at work.
The strange thing is, many of the people who insist the president’s health plan will condemn the sick and the elderly to an untimely death are the same people who attacked Obama for his "empathy standard," his belief that U.S. judges should have a heart in addition to respect for the Constitutional.
Obama won a decisive victory last November. Was it because he promised change or because the country was fed up with the Bush administration? If it was the former, why have Obama’s attempts at reforming health care not received more support from the majority who elected him? If it was the latter, why aren’t more Republicans trying to redeem their party by working with the president on health care?
Understand this. There is as yet no all-inclusive health care bill before Congress. It’s under debate in various committees in the House and Senate, and nobody really knows what will be in the final package. This is what leads Obama’s opponents to suspect the worst and what fuels the ugly demonstrations we see in the news.
Nationally syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer recently challenged the president, saying preventive care will not save money. In fact, he writes, according to the Congressional Budget Office, that the preventive measures in either one of the two bills being debated in the Senate would cost more than a trillion dollars in the next decade. But what preventive care measures were they talking about?
Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder that leads to severe mental retardation. It hits a very small percentage of the population but leads to total disability. A simple test on newborns followed by the proper diet stops the disease in its tracks. In short, it saves a lifetime of expensive care.
At one time, Medicare didn’t want to pay for hip replacements for people older than 70. Then studies proved that keeping the elderly on their feet and walking actually saved Medicare money. The same is true of cataract operations.
Krauthammer mentioned mammograms and diabetes tests. I’ll add colonoscopies and tests for prostate cancer to the list.
Cancer and diabetes are expensive diseases. Furthermore, the tests don’t need to be preformed on everyone every year, but once the disease hits, the need for medical intervention is costly and ongoing.
Clearly some preventive tests do save money and suffering, and clearly Krauthammer is being disingenuous. He is a smart man. He understands the game: speak in half-truths, sow doubt, and defend the status quo.
But if these tactics work and we continue down the road we’ve been on, health care costs will continue to rise, fewer people will be covered, and more Americans will do without the medical care enjoyed by almost every other industrialized nation in the world.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.