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Now, let's talk a real health care reform

By Clark Newhall
Salt Lake Tribune
01/22/2010

It has long been apparent that there was no consensus among progressives on the best way to achieve universal health care. From the very beginning, MoveOn and the labor movement gave lip service (sometimes) to single-payer ideas, but put their money behind whatever the president proposed.

As we now know, what the president proposed changed daily, shifting each time one or another well-heeled lobbying group demanded a "compromise." Eventually there was no legislation that addressed health care, only legislation addressing health insurance. The Obama administration shifted its labeling from "health reform" to "health insurance reform." After that, the supporters of President Barack Obama's plan began to talk about jumping ship, but never got up the courage to actually do so.

Instead, despair at ever achieving universal equitable health care led to disgust with the blatant purchase of congressional votes and then disarray among those who voted and worked for Obama's election.

The result is a Democratic senatorial candidate intended to replace Teddy Kennedy, but who lost to a Republican whom no one had ever heard of. The next result will be a dramatic loss of the Democratic majority in the Senate and probably in the House during the midterm elections. The final result will be the likely emergence of a challenger to Obama from within the Democratic Party and, ultimately, the election of a Sarah Palin lookalike (if not Palin herself) as the next president in 2012.

What a horror show!

At this point, despair, disgust and disarray may be all that will save us from driving over a cliff with the Palinistas. How so?

With a Republican elected in Massachusetts, say goodbye to any health legislation that can be styled as reform. Even without a new Republican senator, health reform may never have been enacted. No matter how much Obama pushes Congress, the disarray among progressives guarantees that no one on the left will like what is proposed for passage. Even those who say "something is better than nothing" only say so out of a forlorn loyalty to the idea that a defeat for Obama's health legislation is a defeat for Obama.

I think not. The best thing that could happen to Obama (and America) is for the Congress to fail at passing any health legislation. That would give Obama the chance to do now what he should (and could) have done at the beginning. That will give everyone the chance to say "OK, we now know that the system is beyond any rational attempt to repair it. We are starting from scratch."

That will give Democrats, Republicans, progressives and Tea Partyers the chance to talk about health care rather than health insurance. That will give citizens the chance to reconsider, regroup and perhaps even join together to promote the one plan that could conceivably gain the approval of most Americans, whatever their ideology -- Medicare For All.

Don't laugh at the idea of a progressive sitting down at a Tea Party. The opportunity is there. We have to change the dialogue from health insurance to health care. And then we have to show the Tea Partyers that they are better off when they enjoy the same type of health care that everyone else (rich and poor) also enjoys. Because very few of them (or of us, or of anyone) can be sure of equitable and reliable health care now, regardless of what kind of insurance anyone has. That is, very few of us except those already getting Medicare.

So it is time to show the Tea Partyers that we progressives can reject despair, disarray and disgust.

It is time to show them and ourselves that health care is what we should have been talking about all along. The argument is not about money. The argument is about whether we should all get health care -- you, me, the guy next door, everybody.

Clark Newhall is a Salt Lake City physician and attorney.