Obama’s spin vs. the reality of cutting Medicare

The email alerts on health care reform have been pouring in from a lot of camps, including the Administration. Obama’s Organizing for America is doing its part to convince me to support the president’s health care policy (and send them some money too).

In a recent post, Organizing for America’s Director wrote,

“Every single day, special interests spend a staggering $1.4 million lobbying Congress to shut down the President’s agenda for health care reform. To fix our broken system, we’ll have to counter big corporate money with a grassroots network of folks like you.”

I’m thinking, “Really? You’re asking me to support health care reform by sending you a $5 donation by midnight to “counter big corporate money” and maybe win a trip to Chicago to meet President Obama?”

I’d like to support the president. But, I can’t quite get a fix on where he stands. His tone makes me feel like he wants all Americans to have access to health care coverage, but his words are often vague, insubstantial and equivocal, spinning like a brightly colored pinwheel powered by his personal charisma.

The president says he wants to : reduce costs, guarantee choice and ensure quality care for all. But he’s leaving it up to a bipartisan effort in Congress to supply the details.

Yet at times he insists on being “clear,” repeating for emphasis that we cannot add to our deficit with health care reform.  He insists that health care coverage has to be “deficit neutral.” Obama said,

“Let me repeat: Health insurance reform cannot add to our deficit over the next decade and I mean it. Already, Congress has embraced our proposal to cut hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending and unwarranted giveaways to insurance companies in Medicare and Medicaid. So we actually believe that about two-thirds of the costs of reforming health care could be achieved through these savings alone, without any new revenue.”

President Obama is saying that he plans to prevent health care reform from adding to the deficit by cutting Medicare and Medicaid spending.  But reducing spending means reducing coverage for people who have no way to pay for private insurance, doesn’t it?

My daughter, Emily, developed schizophrenia when she was 18, and the illness has devastated her life. As her primary caregiver for seven years, it was tough trying to help her obtain medical care. I was forced to haggle with insurance companies and to find my way around the convoluted maze of what passes for mental health care in the United States.

One of the first things I discovered is that there is no way a mentally ill person can manage their own care. Even with a strong advocate’s help, obtaining adequate health care for mental illness requires a Herculean, never-ending effort. Thanks in part to dismal insurance coverage, the American system is mostly cracks with a few specs of services if you can find them. Unless you have plenty of money for “private pay” treatment.

I also learned that monthly Social Security disability benefits, Medicare and Food Stamps don’t cover a disabled person’s basic needs.  Even with Medicare coverage, it was often nearly impossible to have her hospitalized when she was completely incapacitated by her delusional thinking.

During really bad episodes, for example, I had to be constantly vigilant to keep her from eating cigarette butts, dirt or poison plants.  Or I had to try to protect her from by being taken advantage of by gang members.  Her illness makes her easy prey.

When Medicare did approve an admission, it was with the mandate to medicate and discharge her as quickly as possible.  Temporary warehousing in a hospital or imprisoning mentally ill Americans has become the standard of “health care” treatment for most.

So when I listen to the president’s speeches or read news reports about the proposed cuts to Medicare benefits  being put forth by his Administration and Democrats in Congress, I’m appalled. Then I’m devastated.

Although grossly inadequate health care programs for mental illness is a grave concern, the prospect of cutting Medicare funding really terrifies me.

What will happen to my daughter if Medicare funding is cut?

I feel so betrayed.  I canvassed for Candidate Obama. For the first time in my life, I donated to a political campaign.  I voted for him.  I’ve hosted house meetings for his “Organizing for America” initiatives.

Yet, he appears to be more concerned with what the corporate-kowtowing Republicans and Blue Dog Dems are demanding than what his Progressive base is pleading for: a single payer public option.  We’re left out in the cold behind a door that’s been slammed in our faces. And we helped put him in office!

What gives? I wish our president would show as much deference to our demands for a national public health program. He seems to either ignore us or dismiss progressive legislation like H.R. 676, which would extend Medicare coverage to everyone.

Candidate Obama supported single-payer health care, but now President Obama says it’s not possible. He says we can’t “start from scratch” to provide health care for all Americans. But if you’re disabled, you don’t have a job or you develop a catastrophic illness you can’t pay insurance premiums and co-pays no matter how “affordable.”

Even with limited funding, Medicare has been functioning very well for 44 years with only a 3% administrative overhead. Expanding it isn’t  starting from scratch. It’s investing our tax dollars to provide this Made-in-America public health care insurance to cover everyone.

In 2005, economist Paul Krugman wrote:

“The great advantage of universal, government-provided health insurance is lower costs…The savings from a single-payer system would probably exceed $200 billion a year, far more than the cost of covering all of those now uninsured.”

The solution seems simple enough. And it’s not a new idea.  America should join the rest of the industrialized nations in the world and provide publicly funded and privately delivered health care for all of us.

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