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Raising hackles over Liberty Belle's attack on health care

Judy Garland, Community Voices Columnist • Feb 16, 2019 at 7:45 AM

Several months ago I wrote an article for this column I knew would require more than one visit.

Rep. Phil Roe had used his weekly email newsletter to raise the alarm about single-payer healthcare, the “threat” he had never seemed to take seriously enough to give it even a paragraph before public opinion changed dramatically and Democrats took the House, in large part because of their support of Medicare-for-All.

He followed what has been the health insurance companies’ successful strategy to sway public opinion — the scary headline. Prepare for a deluge of scary claims as congressional Democrats begin to make the case for healthcare as a right, not a privilege, which cannot happen with Big Insurance continuing to control cost and access to care.

The prompt for this second cautionary article came from the recent headline of a syndicated column in the Press on Jan. 17. The words read “’Medicare-for-all’ would take most of your paycheck.” The byline was no surprise. The far-right conservative Betsy McCaughey, a.k.a. pen name Liberty Belle. Her predictably extreme bias never fails to raise my hackles, but this one takes the cake.

Before accepting any of her claims, it would seem smart to remind ourselves, or inform ourselves, that countries which guarantee healthcare to all their citizens manage it without burdensome individual cost and for, on average, around half the healthcare cost in our country. In the U.S. healthcare spending contributes 17.8 percent of our GDP, compared to 11 percent which is the highest of any of the other countries. Private spending on healthcare in the U.S. is now at 8.8 percent compared to 2.7 percent in countries with some version of universal healthcare.

When Liberty Belle peals that Medicare-for-all will cost $32 trillion over 10 years, what she doesn’t bother to tell us is that we already spend that much or more. As I said in my first article, the $32 trillion comes from the Mercatus Institute, heavily funded by the libertarian Koch brothers, which composes scary headlines and carefully selected parts of their study and sends it out to the media, for folks like Liberty Belle and Phil Roe to grab onto and pass along.

What they don’t tell you, or maybe even haven’t bothered to discover for themselves, is that a thorough study of the Mercatus work reveals that Medicare-for-All would be far better than what we have now and would cost trillions less than our current system. Wendell Potter says, “…it would save businesses money, raise wages, create savings for families, cut administrative costs in half, and save hundreds of billions in prescription drug costs.”

Consider the enormous savings to businesses if the burden of providing health insurance for their employees were lifted, savings you would think should result in higher wages. Consider the enormous savings to hospitals and medical groups who’d no longer have to hire phalanxes of billing clerks to handle the complicated health insurance mess, like wading through more than 700 different private insurance plans out there, any of which could land on any desk.

Liberty Belle misleadingly says that public unions are protesting. What she means is that a couple of public unions in New York are unsure of what it will mean for their members once New York City initiates its new healthcare-for-all plan. Mostly they’re in a wait-and-see mode. Labor unions have always favored universal health care, and I’ve no doubt they’ll continue to be supportive and actively involved once movement in that direction begins.

We should expect more extreme language, like Liberty Belle’s, from those who pretend they are not committed to dismantling Obamacare, including pre-existing conditions, and letting market forces determine our way forward. Other countries enjoy the advantages of simpler and more affordable healthcare with better outcomes.

They have built models from which we could learn. With low maintenance Medicare infrastructure already in place, it makes sense to approach universal healthcare through such a trusted time-honored and time-tested program, a solution which would keep Medicare, which covers the sickest of us, solvent as well. It’s a matter of putting our best minds to the task.

Democrats are ready to begin the process which should go more smoothly this time and benefit from the fact that there is growing acceptance of the concept that healthcare is a right, not a privilege for those who can afford it.

It won’t serve Republicans well to spread irrational fear to create uncertainty. When the system is as tangled and complex as ours, the ones who win are the ones who created it in the first place. They who are behind the resistance to universal healthcare.

Of course any such overhaul will be a challenge, especially against well-funded pushback. We must be well prepared to resist those who act at behest of Big Insurance greed and other Wall Street heavies. They know which buttons to push and will employ every weapon in their arsenal, the most powerful of which are misinformation and fear of change.

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