Paul Krugman: Health Care Terror

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BY PAUL KRUGMAN | Dateline: July 09, 2007

Paul Krugman discusses how the “medical-industrial complex and its political allies have used scare tactics” to prevent Americans from making health care available to all:

EDITORS’ NOTE: Cyrano was founded to expose and correct the misinformation and topical omissions pouring out of the corporate media, and, back in 1982, when Cyrano appeared, it was The New York Times, the dean of the American press, that provided some of the classical and most skillful examples. This continues to be the case, although the most sensational examples naturally come from the Rupert Murdoch-dominated media, and lately from CNN itself. We reproduce here Krugman’s column to underscore the fact that the establishment is breaking ranks over the health issue, as powerful sectors of capital—especially manufacturing (i.e., autos) and most of their small business popular base are unhappy with an status quo that has long benefited financial institutions (insurance) at the expense of the other sectors. It is that crack in the establishment’s unity that explains the appearance of progressive arguments such as Krugman’s.

Another possibility for Krugman’s relatively outspoken article is the radicalizing effect of any quality radical action. When you see how warmly a piece of cinema such as SiCKO is received, it prompts the timid to come out from behind the usual mealy-mouthed flim-flam. [Webster’s definition: Mealy-mouthed—Using soft words; not straightforward; plausible; affectedly or timidly delicate of speech; speaking deviously; unwilling to tell the truth in plain language. Opposite of frank or blunt.]

The lesson is important: both courage and fear are contagious. American social activists need to start shedding the crippling fears they have carried for far too many years.

These days terrorism is the first refuge of scoundrels. So when British authorities announced that a ring of Muslim doctors working for the National Health Service was behind the recent failed bomb plot, we should have known what was coming.

“National healthcare: Breeding ground for terror?” read the on-screen headline, as the Fox News host Neil Cavuto and the commentator Jerry Bowyer solemnly discussed how universal health care promotes terrorism.

While this was crass even by the standards of Bush-era political discourse, Fox was following in a long tradition. For more than 60 years, the medical-industrial complex and its political allies have used scare tactics to prevent America from following its conscience and making access to health care a right for all its citizens.

I say conscience, because the health care issue is, most of all, about morality.

That’s what we learn from the overwhelming response to Michael Moore’s “Sicko.” Health care reformers should, by all means, address the anxieties of middle-class Americans, their … fear of finding themselves uninsured or … den[ied] coverage when they need it most. But reformers shouldn’t focus only on self-interest. They should also appeal to Americans’ sense of decency and humanity.

What outrages people who see “Sicko” is the sheer cruelty and injustice of the American health care system — sick people who can’t pay their hospital bills literally dumped on the sidewalk, a child who dies because an emergency room that isn’t a participant in her mother’s health plan won’t treat her, hard-working Americans driven into humiliating poverty by medical bills.

“Sicko” is a powerful call to action — but … defenders of the status quo …[are] very good at fending off reform by finding new ways to scare us.

These scare tactics have often included over-the-top claims about the dangers of government insurance. “Sicko” plays part of a recording Ronald Reagan once made for the American Medical Association, warning that …. the program now known as Medicare … would lead to totalitarianism…

Mainly, though, the big-money interests with a stake in the present system want you to believe that universal health care would lead to a crushing tax burden and lousy medical care.

Now, every wealthy country except the United States already has some form of universal care. Citizens … pay extra taxes as a result — but they make up for that through savings on insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. The overall cost of health care … is much lower…

Meanwhile, every available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries. …

All of which raises the question Mr. Moore asks at the beginning of “Sicko”: who are we?

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs — here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can’t overcome those forces here, there’s not much hope for America’s future.

Paul Krugman is an op-ed columnist with The New York Times

RELATED MATERIAL: See our entry on this blog filed by our friends from IndyMedia (NYC):

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