There were a few surprises. Many audience members vented equal frustration with the MSM as do conservatives. About half of the panelists expressed the view that they already paid enough in taxes. Health Care Social Worker Lorraine Jurrist observed that mandating that all employers provide health insurance could cause many small businesses to hire fewer people or shut down and that competition can help keep prices down. Dr. Elissa Palmer acknowledged that socialized medicine will lead to “less innovation.” A couple of panelists even admitted that nearly all socialized medicine systems are actually two-tiered systems, where those who can afford it take advantage of a private system to avoid the lines and waiting lists the less well-off are forced into. (This is what I call the dirty little secret of socialized medicine – that the wealthy and well-connected do not suffer the same deprivations as the rest of the population.)
But it was largely as I expected from “a project of the Democratic National Committee” that exists to promote President Obama’s agenda and a panel chosen seemingly with much regard for diversity of experience but little for diversity of views. Most seemed to favor a single-payer or socialized system as the ultimate solution but thought that interim steps would be necessary first. They also largely avoided using those specific terms because of the negative connotations that are associated with them. While she didn’t specifically endorse such a plan, Dr. Palmer, in response to a question about why there was little discussion of the single-payer bill (HR 676), said,
Single payer is kind of what we’re talking about, maybe without using that word, because that word is kind of an anathema in some ways. Single payer kind of means, you know, like a Medicare for all. And so that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about here quite a bit, I think.R-J columnist Geoff Schumacher received one of the loudest rounds of applause when he said, "What I think we need to do is make a decision that health care is a right in our country."
Once we’ve established that, as we have with other rights in this country, then we say to ourselves, if you have a right to this health care then we need to create a system and pay for that system in such a way that everybody is entitled to that care and that they can get it. And once you’ve done that you know you’re going to have to pay for it. The current plan in Congress right now is around $1 trillion. Now that’s a lot of money. But if we’re actually going to do a plan the way that I envision it, it’s probably going to be twice that or three times that, maybe more.Others concurred with idea of health care as a right. RN Cindy Lubiarz offered the example of encountering a child injured in an auto accident and asked, “Would you rush to their side and demand that they get medical care? Of course you will because you feel that it is a right for that child to get medical care.” I agree with Ms. Lubiarz that few would be so heartless as to deny that child life-saving care instead waiting to verify his insurance card. But expanding that specific example of an emergency situation to every visit, procedure and test is quite a stretch indeed. There is no system in the world that provides unlimited access to every procedure regardless of cost. Inventing a new “right” does not, and will not, change that.
While participants condemned the “scare tactics” of their opposition they were not above employing some of their own. One speaker asserted that “we are all one step away from [financial ruin].”
The bashing of lobbyists and insurance companies was aided by an appalling abuse of numbers. Part of the introduction consisted of reading a Las Vegas Sun editorial decrying the “unhealthy rhetoric” of opponents of the Democrats’ version of reform. The editorial approvingly cited a flawed New York Times poll whose respondents voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a nearly 2-1 margin, when the actual result was 53-46.
Dr. Parker claimed that, while discussing the failure of past attempts at reform, Sen. Harry Reid pointed out that insurance companies were the #1 contributors to Senators and Congresspeople. One quick visit to OpenSecrets.org reveals that claim to be greatly exaggerated.
The most shameful statement formed the basis for much outrage over insurance company profits. Dr. Parker declared early in the program that, while 30 years ago the profit margin of health insurance companies was 9.0%, today it had swelled to 41%. This claim seemed incredibly overstated, so I decided to check it when I got home. I selected the 7 largest (by market cap) companies listed on the NYSE. Using the Wall Street Journal’s company research utility, I was able to calculate the net margins (after taxes) for these companies for their last 5 fiscal years. The highest profit margin for any company in any of these years was 9.0%. The five-year averages for each were: UnitedHealth Group – 5.53%, Wellpoint – 5.05%, Aetna – 6.03%, Aon – 7.26%, CIGNA – 6.15%, Humana – 2.46% and Coventry Health Care – 5.81%. Far from averaging 41%, these companies averaged just over 5%. Lies, damned lies and statistics, indeed.
The purpose of this meeting was merely to provide the first step in a process that this organization hopes will create a groundswell of support for a massive overhaul of the nation’s health care system. Audience members were given a call to action. They were exhorted to write letters to the editor, to contact their Senators and Congresspeople and to use the communication tools that the Obama campaign employed so successfully during his Presidential run to get the message out. They were instructed to tell their health care stories and provided with avenues to publicize them. They were given a handout with websites to use as references to counter claims made by their opponents. They were urged, if they received an email or other correspondence that expressed the views of the other side, to immediately delete it and not read, respond or forward it - mustn't allow any shred of doubt to take root. They are serious, they are motivated and, as shown by their creative use of facts and figures, they are not about to let the truth get in the way of their agenda. Those of us who oppose their plans for the takeover of our health care system should not take them lightly.
UPDATE: Thanks for the links - Kickin Up Dust, The Right Rev Rowland, E! and Write on Nevada.