Holding out hope for real health reform

Suhail Khan Institute for Global Engagement
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As my friends and I cheered-on Scott Brown on Tuesday, Jan. 19, in that Boston hotel ballroom, like many Americans, I hoped and believed that Brown’s dramatic election victory meant the Democrats’ massive health care bill was dead. After all, a relatively unknown underdog Republican state senator—underfunded and out-registered—had just defeated the favorite Democratic nominee in the bluest of states. Importantly, Brown had run as the candidate who, if elected, would cast the 41st vote in the U.S. Senate against the pending health care bill.

And yet, despite Brown’s upset victory and the clear message of the voters, Congressional leadership astonishingly appears hell-bent on imposing their mammoth federal mandate on all of us. When asked if Congress might abandon President Barack Obama’s troubled health care initiative, Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded: “I don’t see that as a possibility. We will have something.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Pelosi’s response to the voters in Massachusetts (not to mention the voters in New Jersey and Virginia only weeks before) and to poll after poll demonstrating the majority of Americans’ opposition to the oppressive bill, is to ignore the majority and to continue plans to force passage of a bill. Like Marie Antoinette, Reid and Pelosi’s effective response to the voting public is to let Americans “eat cake.”

Now, it’s no wonder the vast majority of Americans have rejected Obama’s proposed government take-over of our health care. First, there was the frightening substance of the bill. The thousands of pages of complicated legislation included a mandate forcing every American to buy health insurance. Did I miss something or is this a bailout of Big Insurance? Then there were the cuts of $500 billion in Medicare and the $400 billion in job-killing tax increases. At a time when the economy is gasping for life and unemployment exceeds 10 percent, a massive tax hike is the last thing we need to get the American economy moving again.

Time after time, House and Senate Democrats met behind closed-doors to hammer-out, horse-trade, and haggle over the massive healthcare legislation. Deals were cut—such as was the case with Sens. Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson—and votes appear to have been bought outright. Much like Landrieu’s infamous “Louisiana Purchase,” Nelson secured a provision in the bill—at a cost of $45 million to the nation’s taxpayers—where the federal government will permanently pay all costs of new Medicaid enrollees in his home state of Nebraska, rather than splitting the tab with the state, as is normally required by federal law.

Beyond the onerous provisions and sweetheart deals contained in the bill, there was the shameful process in which it was being forced on all of us. Before important votes in either chamber of congress, the legislation was never posted on-line with sufficient time for elected officials, staff or the public to actually read the thousands of pages of federal mandates.

And despite President Obama and the Congressional leadership’s promise to the contrary, the ongoing negotiations have been far from open and transparent. Republicans and the press have been locked out, prompting C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb to write a letter to Congressional leadership requesting that cameras be allowed in the negotiations. To date, this request has gone unanswered,

In the immortal words of President Obama, let me be clear: like most Americans, I’m not a fan of Big Insurance. I’ve dealt with health insurance companies for years, and they basically leave me wanting to open a window and scream. They are bureaucratic, huge, lousy in customer-service, and even the “cheapest” plans are very pricey. But as much as the current health care system may be at rock bottom, most Americans are convinced handing the system over to the feds would be digging us deeper still.

Let’s stop, take a deep breath, and begin the process of health reform anew. And this time, let’s bring all sides to the table, including the cameras, and work towards a bill that fosters real competition, patient choice and the quality of care that all Americans deserve.

Suhail A. Khan is a member of the Board of the American Conservative Union.