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Obama Stands Firm for Public Option
Throws down gauntlet to professional liars among Republicans and lobbyists

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
September 9, 2009

For weeks, even months, we've been hearing from right wingers and paid liars that the public option was dead, that Obama was going to sacrifice it for a “trigger plan” in which insurance companies had two, five, ten, thirty years to clean up their act or he would lower the boom. That, or it would be a Japanese style co-op, without, of course, the Japanese regard for the public interest.

Even on the day of the speech, we were hearing that Obama would mention the public option, but just as something for Congress to consider if Republicans were willing to put up with such insubordination. Mind you, this wasn't just the usual liars and ideologues; this was coming from the worthless, overpaid blow-dried blobs that infest American television.

I wasn't convinced of that, and in an essay I wrote last week, noted that the voices prophesying the death of public option “is coming from people who are more interested in persuading than they are in informing, and who prefer to create realities rather than describe it.”

Of course, knowing that the American media is full of shit doesn't give one the answers; it just provides a list of answers that cannot be trusted. I didn't know what Obama was going to do.

So I was delighted and only mildly surprised when he came out four-square for the public option. He didn't downplay it, he didn't offer it as a “something to do if the insurance companies don't behave” It is an integral part of his plan, and Congress is expected to move forward on it.

He also encouraged Democrats, decent Repubicans (there are some) and anyone for health care reform to help fight the tidal wave of lies about health care reform by calling them out.

It didn't take long. The first official lie about his speech came two minutes later, when Rep. Dr. Charles Boustany, a Republican from Louisiana, tried to pass the first health care plan Congress came up with in July as pertaining to this one, and said it “creates 53 new government bureaucracies, adds hundreds of billions to our national debt, and raises taxes on job-creators by $600 billion. And, it cuts Medicare by $500 billion, while doing virtually nothing to make the program better for our seniors.”

Obama has promised that his health plan will be revenue neutral, will not raise taxes on small businesses, and will, if anything, greatly reduce bureaucracy.

In his own words, “It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.”

Great deal, if he can make it happen.

The Republicans sat stolidly, glowering. While promising to always having his door open to honest discussion, he made it clear that he wasn't going to waste any time with people who wanted to kill the bill entirely rather than negotiate on it. The same brittle cowardice of the American right that led to such a debacle in foreign affairs under the Bush administration is leaving them with no seat at the table. They don't want to talk; they just want to chant “no” like a pack of two year olds, and America is prepared to move on without them.

Obama was clear about the basic points in his plan. Nobody with an existing health care plan need change it. The only difference for them is that they can quit worrying that their provider will cheat them by dropping them if they get sick, or refusing some treatment on the pretext of an undisclosed prior condition, such as acne. Obama cited an example of an insurance company doing just that to a woman about to undergo a double mastectomy, and by the time the insurance company finally backed off, the cancer had metastasized. Insurance companies will no longer be able to impose arbitrary “caps” on the amount of coverage offered.

For the uninsured, an “insurance exchange” system will be set up, in which the uninsured actually become a discrete group, eligible for group rates and preferences. An insurance insurance policy, I suppose you could call it. A way of assuring low(er) cost access to health care coverage.

Health insurance would be mandated, but with important waivers. As Obama explained, “That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance – just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage, and 95% of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements.”

People without means to pay for health insurance would be enrolled in the public option at government expense, which addresses the nastiest and most cruel deficiency in the present system.

Obama estimates that only 5% of Americans will sign up under public option, and he might be right. But I'm guessing that a lot of small companies and low-income working individuals, plus the millions of proprietors of micro businesses, will be joining up over the next couple of years.

The insurance companies hate that, of course, and will fight it with everything they've got. They feel entitled, you see. They are big, they are rich, they are powerful, and therefore they have the RIGHT to control access to medical care. Obama noted that “Unfortunately, in 34 states, 75% of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90% is controlled by just one company.”

They aren't, and public option will be an insurance company owned by the government that is mandated to cover its own costs, but otherwise is run on a not-for-profit basis, with administrative costs much lower than the private sector can manage, a characteristic of government that Republicans hate to admit to be true.

One of the most amusing moments of the speech came when Obama lauded Republican Senators who had worked with the late Ted Kennedy on health care issues. “But those of us who knew Teddy and worked with him here – people of both parties – know that what drove him was something more. His friend, Orrin Hatch, knows that. They worked together to provide children with health insurance. His friend John McCain knows that. They worked together on a Patient's Bill of Rights. His friend Chuck Grassley knows that. They worked together to provide health care to children with disabilities.”

The expression on John McCain's face was priceless. It said, for all to read, “Oh, you sly asshole!” But I suspect it's going to make it just a little bit harder for McCain to blindly oppose the bill now.

One of the most affecting moments of the speech came when Obama quoted from an email sent by Kennedy, to be delivered on his death: “What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

Kennedy was right. It's a moral issue, and it reflects on the character of the country.

Americans have developed a reputation for meanness. Meanness on the battlefield. Meanness in the prisons. Meanness in how they treat subjugated people. Meanness in how they treat the growing ranks of their own impoverished. Meanness in how they treat their own children. Meanness in how they treat their own sick and dying.

It stems, in large measure, from a desire by the far right to make life miserable for all, so they will throw away the strengths of the American people and replace them with the brittle ersatz values of the far right. Should that happen, there will be little hope for Americans.

This is a point where America can address that sad trend and start to reverse it, to move toward being the great country it was before.

Obama stood firm when it counted.

Now it's up to the rest of us.

Posted: September 15, 2009

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