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Progressives Screwed, Democrats Suckered, Republicans Smitten

Step back and consider how the Obama administration has been handling what is supposed to be its highest priority: health care reform. People who see themselves as progressives overwhelmingly supported the Obama run for president, sufficiently for him to beat the early favorite, Hillary Clinton. It is fair to conclude that within the progressive community, much of which may be also seen as liberal but not loyal members of the Democratic Party, there was considerable enthusiasm for a government single-payer system. But it did not take very long for the Obama administration to abandon this authentic reform for a government option.

It is true that a government single-payer system would deal a serious blow to the huge and hugely profitable health insurance industry, though it could survive by providing supplemental insurance, just as it does for Medicare. And what is wrong with greatly shrinking the health insurance industry that siphons off many billions of dollars annually from national health care spending to maintain itself, make profits and spend money on lobbying and advertising?

Few people seem to understand that more than one third of Americans now get their health insurance from the federal government, including 98 million with Medicare or Medicaid coverage and millions with coverage from the Veterans Administration. Then recognize the nearly 50 million without any health insurance and you account for half of the population. That leaves about half getting coverage from private health insurers. However, some 50 million people who work for government agencies (federal, state and local) and their families have access to the very best private insurance polities. So that leaves just a third of the population falling victim to the worst, most costly private medical insurance. They are the ones who have faced rapidly escalating copays, deductibles and premiums, plus encountering countless problems getting coverage for all kinds of medical services because of exclusions and limitations by insurance companies. And any reform law passed will surely let insurance companies keep escalating costs.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has it right: "The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. Insurance companies are delighted with the way "reform" is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry's welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over. This additional business - a gold mine - will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Giving consumers the choice of an efficient, nonprofit, government-run insurance plan would have moved us toward real cost control, but that option has gone a-glimmering. The public deserves better."

Obama the change agent has capitulated to conservative Democrats and Republicans by moving away from insisting on a government option in a reform law, proving that he is just another phony politician willing to sell out to corporate interests, just as so many members of Congress have.

What is so amazing about what is going on is how the results of the last national election that put Democrats in control of Congress and the White House have not preempted the power of Republicans and their many nutty and lying right wing supporters to derail the health reform movement. They serve corporate interests, mainly the insurance and pharmaceutical sectors.

Obama has already lost credibility and deserves to lose still more from progressives, moderates, independents and Democrats. It is time for more people to seriously see the benefits of not passing an awful weak reform law; better to wait for a better effort to get serious and meaningful reform. If Congress passes something that mainly serves corporate interests, then Obama needs to have the integrity to say no and clearly blame Republicans, conservative Democrats, and corporate interests for derailing the reform effort. Americans deserve to have the kinds of changes they have been waiting for, reforms that truly serve broad public interests.

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Joel S. Hirschhorn has succeeded as: a full professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; a senior staffer, U.S. Congress (Office of Technology Assessment); head of an environmental consulting company; Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, National Governors Association; now an author and consultant. Recent books are: Sprawl Kills - How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money, and Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. He has published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, journals and on many web magazine sites. He has given hundreds of talks at a wide range of conferences worldwide. He focuses on American culture, politics and government, and health issues.