Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A compassionate conservative on healthcare

On a call-in show yesterday, Republican former congressman Tom Davis was called out on his party's callous attitude toward the uninsured.
DOROTHY: Yes, good morning. I’d like to talk about health care. I’m in a predicament right now. I have diabetes, I’ve been shopping around, I’d like to retire at 62 and I’m having a difficult time. All — most insurance companies, they reject me for having diabetes. They don’t even want to accept me. Is that, is that possible they could get away with that?


I work in retail and I’ve been in contact with, you know, customers and I speak to them about it on this side. I hear their comments about health care and no one is satisfied.

DAVIS: Well, Dorothy, let me, let me say a couple things. First of all, you know, I understand the dilemma you’re in. ... If you can find a job with a major employer, they’re not going to be able to reject you under those cases. I don’t think you’ll find, probably be able to find some health insurance but if its with a small business or you’re going out on your own, it’s difficult at this point. There may be a government plan or private plans that are mandated coming out of this that are maybe able to help you. ... I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t be able to find something out there, but you want to look for an employer that has a health care plan. Good luck.


UNNAMED CALLER: [O]ne of the things that I noticed this morning was Tom’s reaction to the woman who called looking for the job with health care and his final statement was “good luck,” which I think encapsulates the entire Republican party’s attitude towards any problems that are facing the American people today. ...

DAVIS: ... I think we all feel for people that are in those kinds of positions. But it’s very difficult. When you start having the government take care of everybody with a problem, as I said you’re doing it with borrowed money, what you want to see is — these are not simple solutions. It is progressive to continue to borrow money, to spend to take care of people’s problems. This tends to be a pretty inefficient way of doing things,... I don’t think “good luck” was like a kiss off. I would generally say good luck to you as you try to move through this problem. But I don’t know that she can count on Washington to solve it for her. She will be eligible for Medicare in 3 years. And at that point, you can probably get some relief on some of the issues she’s looking for.

Matt Corley at Think Progress does a good job of guiding us through Davis' contortions. First, he tells Dorothy that she's not going to get insurance unless she can get a job with a large company. That assumes that there is such a company in her area and that it hires her. As a service employee nearing retirement age there's no guarantee that she will find such a job. If she does, it will likely be a big box store and the Walmarts of the world have a terrible record of providing for their employees. Next, he says the healthcare bill might produce something that meets her needs (without mentioning that his party, aided by conservative Democrats, is doing everything it can to make sure the bill does not provide an alternative to the insurance companies that are the source of her problem). With the second caller, he says that we shouldn't create a government alternative because it might be expensive and that it's inefficient in any case. He produces his most painful twist at the end: "I don’t know that she can count on Washington to solve it for her. She will be eligible for Medicare in 3 years." That is to say, she shouldn't count on the government to produce any insurance to help her before she's old enough for government insurance. The message of the GOP is: "You're screwed. We feel sorry for you, but we're opposed to helping you. Good luck."

Let's give Davis the benefit of the doubt and assume that his "good luck" really was a sincere wish that things turn out well for Dorothy. So what? Even if things turn out well for Dorothy and for millions of other Dorothys, it's just as likely--maybe more so--that they won't turn out well. Right now, health insurance for tens of millions of Dorothys is a crapshoot. Maybe they'll have some, maybe they won't. It depends on who they're working for. Most people are not in a position to pick and choose who they work for. Unless they are at the very top of the food chain--one of the elite that Republicans pretend to disdain--one employee does not have the leverage to negotiate for better insurance with their employer. Many employees could join together to increase their bargaining power, but that's collective bargaining and Republicans are opposed to that. It doesn't matter whether Davis meant his "good luck" callously or not, the position of his party, the position he was on the air to defend, is callous.

I'm not the first to say it and I won't be the last, but I'll say it anyway. Those members of congress--Republicans and renegade Democrats--who don't think the government should be in the the business of providing health insurance should live up to their principles and opt out of the congressional insurance program. Let them look for insurance on their own. I'm sure some staffer (paid by us) will do the actual looking and some insurance company lobbying against the coming bill will give them a sweetheart deal. If the interruption of service and small inconvenience register, it will be worth it. And symbols matter. Make them put their money where their mouths are. Ask them at every opportunity whether they are still using government health insurance. Those who are should be held up to ridicule and contempt.

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