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Bring On That Socialism

Bring On That Socialism

By Richard Reeves - August 1, 2009

NEW YORK -- The headline of the Gallup Poll released last Friday was: "Seniors Most Skeptical of Healthcare Reform -- More seniors think reform law would be harmful, not beneficial, to them."

The Gallup numbers indicate that 23 percent of Americans from 18 to 49 believe they will have less access to medical care if the country's health care system is "reformed." Thirty-four percent of respondents between 50 and 64 say they expect to have less access. Among seniors, those 65 and older, only 12 percent say they think they will have more access, while 36 percent say they will have less access.

Is that because seniors are wiser than everyone else? Yes! Americans 65 and older, eligible for Medicare, know they are getting a good deal. So they figure if younger people, who have no deal, get government help, that could mean less for the seniors.

Old folks are not fools, though they sometimes seem confused. More than one public official, including Rep. Robert Inglis, a South Carolina Republican, has had to fend off apprehensive seniors who have said at town meetings: "Tell the government to keep its hands off my Medicare."

Inglis' answer: "Sir, Medicare is a government program."

"He was having none of it," the congressman said later. O Democracy.

As you get older and pass that magic 65 number -- the age of eligibility for Medicare -- more and more conversations focus on health and, wherever you think it comes from, on Medicare. The line I have heard most often among my cohort is this: "Thank God for Medicare!"

Because of family illness, I have had much more experience with Medicare, and with health insurance companies, than I ever imagined I would. We, luckily, have very good private insurance. None of it is fun, but my personal experience is that Medicare is more generous, more decent and more accessible than private insurers.

When you call a Medicare number, you get a real human being, a knowledgeable person who speaks plainly. They say yes, they say no, they tell you what to do next. Often, when you call private companies, you call, you call, you call -- and you tap in numbers until you think your fingernails will bleed.

Physicians and other health care providers apparently have it even worse. On the same day I checked with Gallup, I received a little booklet from Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, once the socialist mayor of Burlington, a second mini-volume of letters he has received from around the country. The first volume, issued a year ago, was about the economy in general -- stories told by scared people.

The new one is about health care letters. Its 20 pages are filled with heart-rending stories, which I will not repeat. Suffice it to say that people die in this country and families are broken because they cannot afford health care and so do not see doctors and use pharmaceuticals until it is too late. What was interesting to me, however, was the last section of the booklet, which printed letters from health professionals. Their views are about the same as my experience.

Here are three depressingly similar views:

"I want to relate my positive experience with Medicare as a health care provider. ... Working with private insurance companies involved more work, filling in review forms, justifying treatment to their staff and often having to re-bill. ... The government-run payment system was much more satisfactory."

"It is infuriating to have our hands tied by insurance companies, to have to jump through hoops to get what we know our patients need. ... We waste huge amounts of time getting approval for routine medications. ... It is infuriating to have to play 'Mother May I' with insurance company bureaucrats."

"I am tired of making medical decisions based on the profit motives of insurance companies. I want to treat patients, not fill out insurance forms."

Sanders is, as you would expect, advocating a single-payer system. He, of course, is not afraid of being called a socialist. That is not going to happen this time around, perhaps after the next crisis. But liberals in general are unarguably right in working toward a government option plan to compete against insurance companies. Competition -- I thought that was the American way.

Copyright 2009, Universal Press Syndicate

Richard Reeves

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