Thursday, August 27, 2009

Obama’s Health Care Reform Plan

By Saeed Qureshi

Let us begin this crucial topic with the startling information that the number of US inhabitants without health insurance is around 45.7 million or 15.3% of the total population. It means that the prevailing healthcare systems have flaws and lacunas that need to be addressed. Hence the landmark healthcare plan called “Universal health care” unfurled by Obama administration as one of its top priory issues besides the security and economic crunch. The plan deserved to be lauded as ground breaking, stipulates the creation of a National Health Insurance Exchange consisting of both the private insurance plans and government funded health care programs such as Medicare or Medicaid. According to the proposed plan, it would be entirely up to the patients to choose one of these keeping in view their best interest.

In United States with a rigid two party system, there seems to be a tug of war going on between the Democrats and the Republicans for and against the features of the projected health plan. While democrats have no vested interest in implementing a health plan which they believe is in the best interests of the people, the Republicans seem to be hell bent to prove it as worst as encouraging “death panels.” The political debate on health care has become overly demeaned, degraded and acrimonious. The people are being scared with concoctions and falsehood as if heaven would fall if the Obama’s sponsored health care reforms see the light of the day. President Obama has very rightly pointed out that, “that the debate has been infected by falsehoods.” It is being made by Republicans to look diabolic, sinister and anti-people.

For instance, it is being sounded by Republicans with Sara Palin in the lead that the democrats’ health plan would hasten, the critically ill patients, to death. The parallelism is perhaps sought in killing the Jews by the Nazis in concentration camps. Nothing can be far from truth and one wonders that political stalwarts can stoop so low merely to defeat a plan floated by the rival party. It leads one to doubt the sanity or modesty of those who attribute horrendous motives to it and are trying to, throw into the dust bin a health plan of far reaching import for the less privileged people of United States.

A similar landmark health care reform plan was also mooted by Hillary Clinton, the incumbent Secretary of State and formerly the first lady, when her husband Bill Clinton was the president (1993-2001) of the United States. As chairwoman of the “Task Force on National Health Care Reform”, the thus named “Clinton Health Care Plan”, contained far reaching proposals that would have required the employers to provide health coverage to their employees through individual health maintenance organizations. The plan was bitterly opposed by its opponents, to the extent that she became the target of ridicule and invectives. The plan was defeated in both the House and the Senate, and was abandoned in September 1994.

Such is the irresistible clout and powerful influence of the interest groups in the pharmaceutical empire in USA that any fresh reform that would diminish their profits and benefit the people in a big way can be easily neutralized by highly questionable tactics and vicious and scandalous propaganda and by building up negative public opinion against such hugely beneficial schemes.

Interestingly, a similar government guaranteed universal health plan was launched by the Australian government during 1970-1980. Like Obama administration, the then Australian government had to face stiff opposition from the opponents of the scheme. But ultimately the government prevailed and the plan was adopted. Now in the hind-sight, the health plan that was then being projected as lethal and harmful has proved to be very successful and is in place for the last thirty years.

As one would discern, the opposition to the envisaged health plan is not because of its merits or demerits but due to the unpalatable fact that the neo cons from the GOP cannot stomach the success of an efficient plan conceived and advanced by a democratic administration headed by a popular president. That attitude sidetracks and obviates the supreme national interest and the welfare of the public resulting from the implementation of such a remarkable plan.

The supporters of the new plan plead that a streamlined, non-profit, universal system would make the money spending mechanism more efficient and transparent. Due to the existing faulty system of management and disbursement of funds in various disciplines of heath care, “America despite spending a far higher percentage of GDP on health care than any other country has worse ratings on such criteria as quality of care, efficiency of care, access to care, safe care, equity, and wait times.”
These proponents also argue that “shifting the US to a single-payer health care system would provide universal coverage, give patients free choice of providers and hospitals, and guarantee comprehensive coverage and equal access for all medically necessary procedures, without increasing overall spending. Shifting to a single-payer system would also eliminate oversight by managed care reviewers, restoring the traditional doctor-patient relationship.”

The opponents argue that the publicly-funded medication and treatment leads to greater inefficiencies, administrative red tape and inequalities. The critics have opposed Obama’s publicly-funded health systems also on ideological grounds, castigating the administration for socializing the health care domain like socialist countries and thus extending the state control at the cost of the individual freedom of choice.

In all fairness and with dispassionate understanding of the new health plan, one may infer that the proposed reforms would extend the health care to the entire population irrespective of the financial status or social position of the beneficiaries in the society. If it is socialism then let it so because it brings the maximum good to the maximum people in the country. The old, archaic and holes- ridden plan has been posing heavy and on occasions insurmountable odds to the financially handicapped sections of the society and to those who cannot pay for heavy bills for treatment of serious ailments. It has been reported that precious lives are lost due to the inability of the patients to pay their hefty medical bills. The Americans suffering from chronic diseases involving long time care are forced to discontinue the treatment because either the insurance companies refuse to pay more than a limited amount or else they run out of their personal savings. Many cases of bankruptcy have been cited in such desperate situations.

The new plan would treat every patient on equal footing with regard to the best treatment and without financial burden. As such a senator and a small vender of a farmers’ market would receive the equal attention and the same quality of medical care. Such people who are being denied treatment for financial reasons or who go bankrupt because of a complicated illness, will immensely benefit from the new plan. Thus precious lives could be saved at the government expense which is not the practice under the prevailing insurance schemes.

Besides raising the quality and guaranteed access to the treatment, the plan would be instrumental in saving 286 billion dollars currently being wasted in bureaucratic tangles, and on the avoidable overhead expenses and paper work. In a nutshell the basic philosophy behind the debated reform is to ensure that everybody has access to health care regardless of their means.

Unfortunately filibuster, gerrymandering, falsification and exploitation of the people in the name of phantom enemies, patriotism, security, nationalism, Americanism, fabricated dangers and phobias is becoming a norm to browbeat the political contenders, and their reforms, no matter how uplifting these might be. As is known now, the invasion of Iraq, that in its wake brought enormous economic miseries and infamy to this great country, was fed and executed on lies and concocted grounds.

It is deemed as a sin and undesirable to appreciate even the good work of the political rivals in the largest democracy called the United States of America. Party lines should be steadfastly adhered to, albeit during the elections. But the momentous matters such as launching a people- friendly universal health program, generally believed to be fulfilling and revolutionary, ought to be treated above the party interests and deserve plaudits from both sides of the political divide.

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