The Universal Notebook: In the spirit of health-care compromise

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Back in 1980, my lovely young bride chipped a tooth. Young and foolish and head over heels in love, we had no money, no jobs and no insurance. Fortunately, we were in Scotland at the time. As a college student studying in the UK, Carolyn was covered by National Health.

A dentist in Edinburgh performed a temporary fix free of charge and offered to make an appointment to fit a crown. Unfortunately, we were headed home in a few weeks, so it ended up costing us $800 for the cap back in Portland. It took a year and half to pay off the dental bill.

Personally, when it comes to health-care reform, I am one of those liberal Democrats who favor a single-payer universal health insurance system such as those in England, Canada and most other developed nations. That’s the most equitable, efficient and economical way to deliver health care. But as a pragmatist, I understand that a single-payer system doesn’t stand a chance in this highly charged political climate, so I am willing to settle for a reform package that, at the very least, contains a public option, even if it’s just Sen. Olympia Snowe’s public option of last resort.

The fear-mongering death panel disinformation hysteria of the far right not withstanding, most Americans of good will favor some sort of public health option. We understand that Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Veterans Administration benefits are good things. Anyone who opposes “socialized medicine” might want to consider where we would be as a nation if we did not have these safety nets. And any member of Congress who opposes a public option should, in order to avoid the shame of hypocrisy, be required to relinquish the publicly funded health insurance coverage they now enjoy.

I confess it’s a complete mystery to me why anyone would defend the health-care status quo unless, like GOP congressmen, they were being paid to do so. Talk about health-care rationing and bureaucrats getting between you and your doctor? Seriously, they must never have had to deal with private for-profit health insurance companies other than to accept campaign contributions.

Over the past 10 years I have made a good-faith effort to understand what motivates my conservative cousins. I understand their preferences for individual initiative and personal responsibility, but, alas, our social problems are just too vast and systemic to be adequately addressed by the thousand points of light of the faith-based initiatives that compassionate conservatives seem to favor.

There is also a mean-spirited ugliness on the far right that is impossible to ignore. Despite (or perhaps because of) the xenophobic outburst of Rep. Joe “You Lie” Wilson during President Obama’s address on health care, I wish HR 3200 did (as the belligerent, benighted congressman from South Carolina wrongly asserted) extend public health insurance to undocumented immigrants. Not only would it save money in the long run, it’s the right thing to do.

One of the biggest differences between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives tend to see government as the problem, the enemy of the people, while liberals tend to see it as the potential solution, the will of the people. When it is working correctly, our government is just we, the people, acting collectively and collaboratively to solve problems in the name of common good.

Here in Maine, we are indeed fortunate to be represented in Washington by reasonable people willing to collaborate and compromise in order to achieve results. We just have to hope that our moderate Republican senators, Snowe and Susan Collins, will cross the aisle to support comprehensive health-care reform; that liberal Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree won’t fall on the sword for a public option, and that Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud won’t desert the party in the hour of our greatest need.

Do us proud, ladies and gentleman. Get it done.

Sidebar Elements

beem-edgar-op.jpgThe Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.