Friday, October 9, 2009

A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope
Remember Bob Dole? He’s a former GOP senator from Kansas, and he ran against Bill Clinton for the presidency. Recently this venerable old GOP warhorse said he was asked not to take a stand on health care by Republican leaders in Congress. To his credit, Mr. Dole did more than take a stand; he teamed up with former Democratic Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Together they released a statement acknowledging that although the various reform bills currently in Congress are flawed, they “provide some basis on which Congress can move forward.”

“The American people have waited decades and if this moment passes us by, it may be decades more before there is another opportunity,” the statement said.
While it may seem odd for such opposing figures as Mr. Dole and Mr. Daschle to release a joint statement in favor of health care reform dialog, hopefully it is the spark that lights a fire under the stalled partisan mindsets of our legislators. Something needs to remind them that the times, indeed, are a-changing. One interesting effect of Mr. Dole’s call for bi-partisanship is that may be just the catalyst that Republican Senator Olympia Snowe needs to cross the great divide and vote with the Democrats in favor of health care reform.

Other Countries
Recently I’ve been speaking to people from other countries about their views on national health care. One conversation was quite unintentional, but revealing. I was talking 70s progressive rock music with an Englishman in a neighborhood health food store. We were naming bands, and the group “National Health” came up. My English friend remembered them, but then said, “Funny you should mention it, but our system of National Health is a far cry better than anything I’ve seen here in the states.” He had no horror stories about long waits and care denied, only that the English just don’t have to worry about their health care. It’s a given.

One of my recent gigs as a laid-off teacher has been performing at local organic farmers’ tailgate markets. I do a set of 20 old tunes, mostly Dylan, Donovan, and some 50s thrown in for fun. Recently I met a very intelligent 20-something Canadian girl. I was singing a Donovan tune and it drew her like a moth to a flame. Turns out she really likes Donovan. She heard it at her parents’ home as she was growing up. I asked her about the Canadian health care system. She said, “It’s great. We get the care we need when we need it. It’s so simple. I don’t know why Americans are making such a fuss about it.” Isn’t it odd how the Canadian health care system can pool its influence and get far lower prices on pharmaceuticals from the U.S. drug companies than we can here in the good old USA? There is strength in numbers.

Another opinion comes from my nephew in Denmark. My brother’s first wife was a Danish woman, and after a divorce when my nephew was only three, she and Michael moved to Denmark. That was 40 years ago. Michael says the health care in Denmark is great. It’s guaranteed to all. He also said they get guaranteed retirement. That’s quite a combination – decent retirement pay with no health care costs to erode spending power. “It’s why we pay taxes,” Michael said. “Our taxes don’t go to wars. We use them to help our people.” What a revolutionary idea. Taxes can actually be used to help people.

Time to Connect the Dots
My young Canadian friend asked a very interesting question. Why are Americans making such a fuss over health care reform? Let’s connect the dots and see.

First, follow the money. During the summer mobs of angry Americans showed up at health care town hall meetings and street marches to protest against their own best interests. Where did the funding for such “grassroots” democracy come from? Does anyone remember Dick Armey? He was once the House Majority Leader. He is also a long-time lobbyist for the health insurance industry. His group, FreedomWorks, funded and staged these “protests.” Funny, but the insurance industry has been spending about a million dollars a day to spread misinformation about health care reform. Mr. Armey’s group “FreedomWorks,” gets a lion’s share of funding from big insurance companies, as well as corporate giants like Exxon-Mobil. After they leave health care in the dust, their next target would be the President’s green energy initiative. But that’s a topic for another day.

Second, follow the money. The CEO of Aetna, a major player in the insurance business has a really sweet compensation deal. On the profits made by Aetna in the health care insurance market, Ron Williams brings home $24,300,112. Yes, you read it right. That’s tens of billions. No wonder these companies like to deny claims and refuse to treat pre-existing conditions. Sickness is a really big business. Mr. Williams earned $24,300,112 in total compensation for 2008, with more than half of that ($13,537,365) coming from option awards. He also received an additional $6,456,630 in stock awards to go along with his base salary of $1,091,764. Personal use of a corporate aircraft and vehicle, as well as financial planning and 401(k) company matches added up to another $101,487 for Williams, You can find more information on

Third, follow the money. Mr. Williams is not alone. Cigna’s H. Edward Hanaway takes home more than $12 billion annually. Wellpoint’s Angela Bray takes home nearly $10 billion. The list goes on. This is why there’s so much opposition to a public option. When the public finally realizes how long these guys have been ripping us off, the whole game will collapse like a house of cards. That’s why the industry is spending so much money to fight this.

Going back to Mr. Dole, I give him credit for trying to break the deadlock. It’s a bold move. Maybe the plans in Congress really are flawed. In my opinion, they don’t go far enough for real reform. I would favor a single-payer national healthcare system, like the ones in England, Canada and Denmark. Does that make me a “socialist?” I don’t think so. No more than it makes my young Canadian friend a dangerous radical. These are labels. If we move past the labels, we can meet and greet each other on equal terms and make some real progress.