Sunday, January 16, 2011

Health care and the Tucson 13

The vote expected this week in the House of Representatives on repealing the health-care law is widely understood to be a reflex political gesture; the House, now under GOP management, is expected to pass the bill to repeal, which would then presumably move to the Senate, where it’s expected to die in that Democratic-controlled body. If somehow if got through the Senate and the House, any repeal measure would face certain veto from the president who’s championed this cause for the last two years. DOA.

But events over the last week underscore how necessary health-care reform is in the United States. The attempted murder of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 other people on Jan. 8 may do more to ensure the permanence of the Obama health-care law than anything else, by revealing its obvious need — and despite the empty threats of House Republicans to repeal it.

Consider the specifics of what happened that weekend in Tucson. In one incident, numerous Americans were physically victimized by the same event at virtually the same time. Despite the uniformity of their injuries — gunshot wounds all — the disparities of their short-term and long-term care by doctors and health-care professionals are symbolic of the gradations in health care across the country.

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Doctors for Giffords say she’s expected to survive, noting her constant improvement since the attack. For her, of course, concerns over the cost of health care are pretty much nonexistent. As a federal employee and a member of Congress, Giffords enjoys the benefits of a platinum federal health-care plan that’s the best in the country — the same plan that the president and his family are entitled to. That’s probably true for members of her paid congressional staff, too.

Jared Lee Loughner’s rampage on Jan. 8 could have been more deadly than it was, if not for his errant marksmanship. Six people died in those terrible seconds, but a dozen others besides Giffords were wounded. The other people Loughner shot have different backgrounds — one’s a fire inspector at Raytheon, another is a pilot, at least four are former members of the military — but more than half were treated and released after the incident, some back at home that evening, others within days. At least one remains in the hospital.

Whatever their current status is, the people wounded in Tucson should be glad the shooting incident didn’t happen in California, which may be setting yet another national trend. Nearly 200,000 Blue Shield policyholders in California face a huge rate increase, according to a story in The Sacramento Bee. The San Francisco-based insurer has stuck by its raising of rates by as much as 59 percent on March 1, despite broad outcry against such premium increases in a still-fragile economy.

Last week, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones asked Blue Shield to hold off on the rate hike for 60 days, The Bee reported. Blue Shield spokesman Johnny Wong told the newspaper in an e-mail Friday that the insurer believes the rates “are appropriate … We are moving forward with the March 1 rate increase."

State insurance officials can review the rate hike, but can’t reverse it without proof that Blue Shield fails to comply with regulations on the percentage of premiums spent directly on medical care.

"It's not every day that an insurer spits in the eyes of nearly 200,000 Californians and their newly elected insurance commissioner," said Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, to The Bee.

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It doesn’t have to be this way, and the health-care reform law being phased into American life between now and 2019 will address some of the differences only partly revealed among the Tucson victims.

It’s these disparities — between services, between what people pay for health care and what they can afford to pay, between what Californians pay for health care and what Americans elsewhere pay, between Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ health care and our own — that make the need for health-care reform that much more obvious. They show why the health-care law makes sense.

Yeah, it hasn't got the single-payer, public option approach that was a cornerstone of Obama’s presidential campaign. And late last year a federal judge ruled part of the law went too far to ensure compliance. But the measure signed into law in March is the first needed comprehensive step towards health care for all Americans, one this country has mulled and debated and pulled its chin over since the Roosevelt administration.

The Theodore Roosevelt administration.

The new Republican Congressional leadership prepares to take up a largely symbolic vote on health-care repeal as an expression of what that leadership represents: A new beginning in the House. For the 32 million people expected to benefit from the health-care law in the coming years, that law and its move into everyday life signal something a lot more important: A new beginning for the country.

Image credits: Obama signs health-care bill: Pete Souza/The White House. Giffords: Associated Press via The Huffington Post. Blue Shield logo: © 2011 Blue Shield of California. Theodore Roosevelt: The Prelinger Collection. 

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