Thursday, February 25, 2010

Here's to your health...

Needless to say, nobody expected today's "bipartisan health care summit" to accomplish anything resembling bipartisanship. The advantage was in the Democrats' court for this one — Republicans would have been much happier to avoid direct interaction and just continue to snipe from the sidelines. Who won, of course, varies based on the news outlets individuals chose to get a report of the proceedings. I suspect that even members of the press couldn't force themselves to witness all six hours of partisan bullshit redux.

Like the rest of America, all I could bear was an occasional sampling — enough to assure me that I really wasn't missing anything significant. Just the same, I feel safe when I say that the biggest problem affecting health care costs — the problem of "freeriding" — was not addressed. Freeriders are those who use a system without paying their way. Good examples are those who benefit from a union contract without paying union dues. In the context of health care, the freeriders are those who go to the emergency room when their injuries or illnesses are bad enough, but pay neither for insurance nor the costs of their care.

Mind you, I have considerable sympathy for health care freeriders. Many would buy insurance if they thought they could afford it without significantly impairing their lifestyle choices — and they are inclined to wait until they are very sick before they head for the emergency room. Unfortunately, the very sick cost a great deal more to treat than those whose illnesses are diagnosed and treated early. Health care freeriders are a lot more expensive to carry than union contract freeriders, who can collect union negotiated salaries and benefits without necessarily breaking the bank.

And so, in the absence of a single payer plan financed by genuinely progressive taxation, I suppose forcing the young and healthy to buy coverage — bringing down average per-person health insurance costs — currently is the only viable option. The question remains, though: did today's "summit" give candy-assed Democrats enough political cover to dare going with reconciliation?

I suspect that a health care bill passed by reconciliation is quite likely. Sadly, it is likely to drive quite a few young, uninsured former Obama supporters into the arms of the Republicans, since money spent on health insurance cannot be spent on the latest and most fashionable clothing, drugs, and hair styles.

Was Obama really serious when he said he'd rather be a successful one-term president than a two-term president who failed to accomplish his goals? We'll see.

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