Originally published in The Guardian
Before you contemplate America’s historic new healthcare reform bill, here’s an inspirational Bible verse from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verses 28 and 29:
“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father 50 shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”
Now rewrite this so it’s the victim who has to pay her attacker and stay with him forever, and you’ll know what happens in the US when big corrupt out-of-control industries screw some little guy, or the entire economy, and government gets involved. The healthcare reform bill rests on the same assumption as the bank bailouts: “Hey, America! Remember those rich, sleazy, politically connected assholes who caused the problem in the first place? We’ll reward them with your money. That ought to teach ’em a lesson.”
And how do lawmakers respond to our problems with the health insurance companies? By forcing us to marry the bastards, with the IRS ready to fine us if we don’t perform our wifely duties.
I haven’t read all 2,700 pages of the healthcare bill, but whatever’s in there makes Wall Street very happy, judging from the way stock prices reacted to the news. If you, personally, support the bill, you can also tell yourself the stock market went up because Wall Streeters and health insurance executive types always feel warm and fuzzy when they think about expensive legislation benefiting the peasants. Only a cynic would suggest insurance companies love the bill because they know it’ll make them richer than they already are.
As a sop to anti-abortionists, the bill has a special amendment stipulating zero federal dollars be spent on abortion services. There’s also supposed to be fifty million federal dollars earmarked for abstinence-only sex education classes. Such just-say-no programmes consistently fail to reduce teen pregnancy rates, but at least the kids who get knocked up won’t cost taxpayers any abortion money.
The abortion restrictions shouldn’t surprise anyone; of course there’s going to be strings attached to any government largesse. Healthcare will become even more politicised as costs grow. Do you smoke? Drink? Eat too much? Hump like a bunny? The state now has a vested interest in forcing you to stop.
The bill’s supposed to be similar to the mandatory insurance plan in Massachusetts. So how’s that working out? Last week, the Massachusetts state treasurer spoke out against the programme, saying it works only thanks to heavy subsidies and regulatory props from the feds. “Who, exactly, is going to bail out the federal government if this plan goes national?” he asked.
Taxpayers, of course! Except we can’t afford it. And the health bill, for all its high costs, still won’t fix what’s broken in our healthcare system. Most Americans will still be expected to get health insurance through their employers, even though that’s one of the worst aspects of our current healthcare market, taking all control away from the actual customers.
If you don’t like your car insurance company, you can switch to a new one in minutes. But if you don’t like your health insurer, all you can do is find another job and hope your new employer makes better choices. The healthcare bill does nothing to make Americans less dependent on this dysfunctional setup.
The bill is supposed to contain anti-rescission provisions forbidding companies from dropping customers with expensive health problems. But such laws are only as strong as the will (and resources) to enforce them; California’s anti-rescission laws have had little effect for that very reason. And the bill does nothing to slow the rise in health costs for everyday people. Remember, health insurance and healthcare are not synonymous. This bill requires every American to buy health insurance – complete coverage, not just catastrophic care – but having insurance, especially with high premiums and deductibles, doesn’t necessarily mean you can afford an actual doctor visit when you need one.
Oh, well. At least Wall Street and the insurance companies are happy. And from ordinary Americans’ perspective, things could be a lot worse. Over the last few weeks, there have been science-fiction-esque news stories about hybrid cars taken over by crazed computers, and careening out of control down busy highways. Luckily, Toyota is a Japanese company. If it were domestically owned, the healthcare reform bill would include provisions requiring every American to buy a Prius.