Beware health-industrial complex

By Jack Bernard
Opinion - Voices
Ledger-Inquirer (Columbus, Ga.)
Sunday, Aug. 23, 2009

Virtually all national polls show that health care reform is in trouble, just as it was under the Clintons. Once again, lobbyists from the health industrial complex have purposefully confused the American public, as they did with the misleading but highly effective “Harry and Louise” ads in the 1990s, and bought off our elected representatives in both parties.

I am a Republican, former chairman of the Republican Party in Jasper County, Ga., and chair of that county commission. Under our two-party system, it is easy to see why we Republicans oppose Democratic Party reform proposals. We are the opposition party and do not want them to get the political credit for solving a nasty problem. After all, some Democrats did the same thing when Richard Nixon wanted national health insurance.

Opposition to reform was not right then and it is not right now (20,000 Americans die each year because they do not have health insurance), but in the cynical world of politics, it is understandable. I guess what gets me is why Democrats do not support their own leadership.

Since the Democrats are in the driver’s seat, it is up to them to lead and bring their stragglers in line. However, the Democrats are fighting internally, failing to articulate a straightforward vision of the future or even one bill (Obamacare, if you will). Democratic leaders talk about access, but Blue Dog conservatives talk about cost, all the while receiving tremendous donations from health-related businesses. Insurance companies are buying them to prevent cutting costs via a public plan option or single payer, clearly the best way to cut costs.

Republican pundits are sitting back and chuckling, as they always do when reform is mentioned, and repeating the same self-serving platitudes: “If we only had tort reform all our problems would be solved.” Like it is just coincidence that trial lawyers happen to be one of the Democrats’ largest contributors! And how, exactly, does cutting down on unnecessary tests lead to more of the 50 million uninsured people getting coverage? But remember, this is politics and we must do what is right for the party, not the nation.

What amazes me is that no one is calling these individuals to account. In my view, it is unpatriotic to continue to lie to the American public about the situation facing us. Over the last 10 years, wages have gone up by about one-fourth. Health insurance premiums have gone up well over 100 percent. We cannot continue along this path to fiscal destruction. Inaction is not an option.

It is also against American values to mislead the public into believing that everyone can get good care even if they do not have insurance. The mark of a great nation is not how well it treats its privileged, but rather how well it treats its downtrodden. On this measure, we fail miserably; strange for a nation that prides itself on being the most religious democracy in the world. Where in the Bible did Jesus say “might makes right” or “those with the gold rule”?

Very few health or insurance professionals advocate for a single-payer system, the best way to control costs and ensure access. I hear all sorts of reasons: rationing (really, like HMOs do not do that now), paperwork (apparently insurance company bureaucracy does not count), socialism (come on — practitioners will still be independent and we all know it) and so forth. It is rare that we hear the underlying cause openly stated: greed. It will cut my income.

The members of Physicians for a National Health Plan are an exception to this rule. If you take a look at their Web site,, the rationale for a single-payer system is clearly articulated. The French have the top system in the world, with something like Medicare covering 66 percent of costs and private insurance for the rest, yet their cost per capita is half of ours. Universal Medicare will both control costs and achieve universal access to high quality care. Congressmen would get the same insurance as you and I. You better believe your coverage would be just as good as or better than what you are getting now.

The problem is not technical; it is political. It is high time we put the country ahead of ourselves and establish a single-payer system.

Jack Bernard is CEO of Monticello (Ga.) Health Care Solutions and a former chairman of the Jasper County Commission and the Jasper County Republican Party.