Thursday, December 13, 2007

W’s Christmas present to American children: Vetoing health insurance

As one of the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance, my feelings about the American healthcare system - where private health insurance companies and physicians reap enormous profits by charging exorbitant premiums, denying care to the sick and artificially inflating the price of drugs - could not be more vehement. The American healthcare system is utterly, completely broken and even some of the more well-known proposals for rectifying it (such as that of U.S. presidential candidate and New York senator Hillary Clinton) strike me as woefully feeble in terms of addressing what is a terrible crisis for so many Americans. Speaking as an American who has spent much of his life living abroad, I can say with some authority that I don’t think I have ever seen a more predatory, exploitative approach to healthcare than I have seen in the United States. When taken in tandem with a consumer culture than encourages people to eat unhealthy foods packed with unnecessary sugars and hormones, the approach seems doubly cynical.

Along with the Bush administration’s irresponsible, negligent approach to climate change (which has lead the European Union to threaten to “boycott U.S.-led climate talks next month unless Washington accepts a range of numbers for negotiating deep reductions of global-warming emissions”), the healthcare debacle has, in the last week, thrown in the starkest relief possible to me how terribly out of synch the U.S., for so long a leader on so many issues, is becoming with the rest of the world.

This week, as the United States enters its holiday season, President Bush marked the occasion by vetoing an extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which attempts to provides health insurance to children from families earning too much to qualify for Medicaid (a very low threshold indeed) but unable to afford private insurance. The SCHIP proposal sought to increase federal funding for the program by $35 billion over five years, adding around 4 million people, partially funded by a 61-cent rise on a package of cigarettes. To give you an example of the context of the price tag, the cost of the war in Iraq, by end of fiscal year 2007, was at least $456 billion, to say nothing of the lives of nearly 4,000 American service personnel and those of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Bush vetoed a similar bill in October and, in July, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that the bill was a step toward “government-run health care for every American,” "

You mean like every other country in the industrialized world? As the U.S. government has taken responsibility for the post office, the police, the fire department and the national defense, so should it take responsibility for providing health care for every American. Despite the many problems I have with the French government and other aspects of society here, I think that their health system, like that of some other European countries, remains a model of a responsible state approach to taking care of its citizens well-being that the United States could learn much from.

My native country simply cannot continue being so out-of-step with the rest of the world, so easily suckered by the false piety (married to brutal cynicism) of political snake oil salesmen like Bush and company. If the Democrats had any conviction at all and took their responsibility as guardians of the constitution seriously, we would be deep in impeachment proceedings by now. But alas, they greet this, like other outrages, with the feeblest murmurs of dissent.

My fellow countrymen have been fooled and lied to for so long by their government, I wonder if they will recognize the truth when it finally comes crashing down. Starting with the ridiculous banana republic farce of the 2000 election in Florida, continuing through the illegal use of torture and detention without trials of hundreds, possibly thousands, of people, through the illegal invasion of Iraq and the naked profiteering there that the administration’s cronies engaged in, the terrible abandonment of the people of Mississippi and Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and now continuing with the denial of basic healthcare for American citizens, in a just world Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Feith, Mr Gonzales and many more fellow travelers would at least be facing criminal and civil prosecution in the United States if not an appearance at a tribunal in the Hague.

It a strange time to be an American with an internationalist outlook on the world, proud of the open, optimistic spirit and intense creative drive of my country, but very worried about the direction that its political leaders appear intent on taking it, which seems to be straight over a cliff, ever angrier, more closed-off from the rest of the world and more authoritarian by the day. It’s still not too late to change course, but I fear that the hour is growing ever more late.

I’ll be in a better mood next post, I promise.


Mira Kamdar said...

I am an American with health insurance who totally shares your dispirit and disgust with America's healthcare debacle. Our supposedly "blue chip" corporate health insurance costs us $800 per month for family coverage with a $1,500 deductible per person! There is a lifetime maximum payout of $1 million, which is why even Americans with what is considered in the U.S. to be "good" health insurance can be bankrupted by a major illness.
The current system is unconscionable indeed. As for the rest, Americans simply don't have access to the information or perspective that those of us who have lived abroad and who follow life and news from the rest of world have. Try learning something about the world from mainstream television news in the United States -- and most Americans don't even follow that. The way the role of government has been demeaned, derided and devalued in every aspect of American life except, of course, the military and homeland security -- and even there privatization is rife! -- has done more to damage the life prospects of ordinary working-class and middle-class Americans than anything else perhaps over the past few decades beginning with Ronald Reagan. Why, even Richard Nixon's commitment to welfare and basic social services puts him well to the left of any of the current presidential candidates with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. Whether it is healthcare, education, basic housing, public transportation, investment in basic infrastructure -- it's all going down the toilet just about as fast as the dollar is falling.

Anonymous said...

America is a political democracy. To make democracy truly relevant to the majority of people political democracy plus economic and social democracy are required. I do not think this
is what you are advocating. Alors, dis donc quoi?

Michael Deibert said...


I think "economic democracy" and "social democracy," so far as I understand them, would both fall under the social democratic banner, in the sense that they seek to preserve though democratically reform some of the injustices put in place by the free-market system. The political organizations that I have found most reflective of my personal viewes on this would include both the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) and the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) in Brasil, as well as the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) in Spain. I am less comfortable with the Parti Socialiste (PS) here in France as, in its present incarnation, it seems to me to be a redoubt of elites rather out of touch with the needs of the common people.

Also, given the electoral college system (recall Florida in 2000?), on a national level the United States is not, strictly speaking, a political democracy, i.e. the concept of one person, one vote is not directly responsible for the election of the U.S. president.


Joe said...

I completely agree about our healthcare system.It is repugnent and it is tunning that our government lets it stand.