John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly

How many times do the American people need to say something, collectively, before their elected leaders get the message?

If we go back to the lessons of the Vietnam war, the answer would have to be something like, “infinity plus one,” meaning no matter how often we said we wanted an end to the war, our leaders failed to act. It took a military defeat at the hands of some very determined people to boot us out of their country.

Now, look at the current health care debate. Poll after poll says that we, as a nation, are tired of having our health care system run by bean counters, lobbyists and insurance companies.

Still, our elected leaders seem determined to keep us on a course of “business as usual.”

Health care reform, as viewed in the hall of mirrors known as Congress, means twisting a few definitions and putting on a little makeup to make the thing less recognizable. But it is still the thing that has not functioned adequately for a half-century or so, ever since someone decided that health insurance paid a higher return on investment than actual health care.

From that point onward, we’ve been held hostage to an ever-growing reliance on insurance companies to do the right thing, when all they have ever been interested in is doing the profitable thing.

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Our health care really has not been part of the equation since 1965, when Congress passed Medicare as an amendment to the Social Security Act. Ever since then, it has been left to the insurance companies to decide who gets health care, how much they get and what it will cost them.

Every effort at reform of this crippled system has gone down in flames, thanks to an endless repetition of the idea that the private sector must hold the reins because government is so inept. To my mind, at least, government is theoretically accountable to “we, the people,” where the private sector is accountable to, well, no one.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing something the same way over and over again, and expecting a different result. And that’s pretty much a definition of health-care reform in the U.S.

Currently, Congress is tied up in knots over the “public option” being championed by President Barack Obama.

Conservatives have compared it to Communism, in one of those classic throwback moments that call to mind Joe McCarthy telling us our nation was being taken away from us even as we were enjoying a mind-boggling march of technological and economic progress. It wasn’t until all concerned recognized old Joe as the egotistical, power-grabbing hustler that he was, and his campaign as one of the foulest brands of political terrorism the world had known, that he was unceremoniously dumped on the trash heap of history.

Well, it’s time we adopted the same attitude toward our health care system. It is a self-serving Gordian knot of conflicting policies and regulations that, in the end, is of no good to anyone but those who profit by it.

The “public option,” in and of itself, is not the answer to this puzzle, but it is a good first step. It would establish coverage for health care costs by a public agency that would compete with private insurance companies. As Medicare has proven, government can and does do a better job at meeting our real needs and keeping costs down, as opposed to the needs of corporate shareholders and middle managers.

One hope, among those who have any in this realm, is that among other things the public option would increase the emphasis on preventive care and healthier lifestyles. Conceivably, this could might bring us back from the brink of total national obesity and end our addiction to junk food.

The fight is a real one, and the stakes are high. As things now stand, our health care system is the biggest factor contributing to the bankrupting of this country, not to mention the deplorable state of our national health profile.

Call your senators and representatives, call your state legislator, sign up to help organizations fighting on your behalf, such as MoveOn.org. At the very least, call the White House hotline, at 202-456-1414, or 202-456-1111, and leave a message for Obama telling him that he must hold firm on the public option.

If you don’t do something, you’ll have only yourself to blame when nothing gets done.

jcolson@aspentimes.com

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