Sunday, June 21, 2009

Will Congress Sell Out Americans’ Health Care to Insurance Companies Again?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Benjamin Franklin

The assault on a public option for health care is a mounting obscenity as Republicans, insurance lobbyists, and some Democrats roll out a propaganda campaign designed to scare Americans – and Congress – into turning their backs once again on the American people in favor of corporate greed.

Contrary to industry propaganda, the system we have does not work. High costs are bankrupting families and businesses and our quality of care is abominable. The United States is the richest country in the world but it provides the poorest health care among Western industrialized countries. According to the World Health Organization, The United States ranks 37th – lower than all the Western European countries. We rank lower than Saudi Arabia, Colombia, Israel, and Canada. (France is ranked #1, Italy #2, and Japan #3.) What a miserable shame we can’t – or won’t – do as well

Ranked by “Health System Attainment and Performance,” the U.S. was 72nd, between Argentina and Bhutan!

Nor is the U.S. any better than some Third World countries in average life expectancy. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s rankings for 2009, the U.S. ranks 50th, (78.11 years), between Wallis and Futuna (You aren’t alone if you never heard of these two tiny islands in the South Pacific.) and Albania. In comparison, Japan’s average life expectancy is 82.12 years, Canada’s 81.23 years, and France’s 80.98 years.

With respect to infant mortality, the U.S. has the worst rate in the Western world, ranking 37th with 6.37 deaths per 1,000 live births, between South Korea and Croatia. In comparison, Sweden’s infant mortality rate is 2.76 deaths per 1,000 live births. Keep in mind that these are average rates. In America’s inner cities, the rates are much worse. In 2007, Washington, D.C., had the highest rate: 12.22 deaths per 1,000 live births. In New York City, the infant mortality rate for black babies was 9.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births compared with 3.9 deaths for every 1,000 live births among white babies. Minnesota had the lowest infant mortality rate in the U.S.: 4.78 per 1,000 live births.

The U.S. maternal mortality rate is scandalous, ranking 41st among 171 countries surveyed by the United Nations. Even South Korea has a lower maternal mortality rate than the U.S. Based on the United Nations’ 2005 estimates, one in 4,800 American women carry a lifetime risk of death from pregnancy, something the anti-choice crowd doesn’t bother to mention. In contrast, among the ten top-ranked industrialized countries, fewer than one woman in 16,400 carry such a risk. The most probable reason is that many European countries and Japan guarantee women high-quality health care and family planning services.

For those who tout the U.S. health system as “the best in the world,” there’s an important qualification – IF YOU’RE RICH. Anyone in the top one percent of wealthiest Americans can buy the best health care in the world no matter where they have to go to get it. But the majority of American citizens have to fight their way through a maze of bureaucratic fine print to obtain health care that, in far too may cases, is no better than that in the Third World. Families have the triple financial whammy of foreclosures, lost jobs, and mounting healthcare costs while insurance executives and pharmaceutical companies rake in huge profits. Paying for health care is the major reason for personal bankruptcies, a situation that analysts say will continue unless Congress passes meaningful health reform.

Our current healthcare system is not only a burden for citizens, it also burdens physicians. By enabling insurance companies to run our healthcare system, Congress usurps physicians’ medical expertise and burdens them with voluminous paperwork and restrictions. The nation’s doctors want to be healers not secretarial assistants to health insurance companies. Doctors – not insurance companies – are the experts in providing medical services, yet in too many cases, insurers dictate medical decisions to doctors and hospitals. Sometimes patients die because an insurer has delayed or denied needed medical care. Yet those who support corporate profits rather than public health don’t seem to give a damn.

President Obama calls for a public option. The message of the last election is that the people support a public option. Now is the best opportunity since Clinton’s failure on health care for Congress to pass a real health reform bill. If our elected officials turn their backs on we-the-people this time, such an opportunity may not come again in our lifetime.

NOTE: Since publishing this post, economist Dean Baker has published an excellent commentary on Truthout. See ""Spreading the Wealth Around to the Insurance Industry and Friends," Truthout, June 22, 2009.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Terrorists In Our Midst

So a woman-hating, American terrorist has struck again. Murdering Dr. George Tiller, a healer, in his Wichita, Kansas, church. The alleged murderer, Scott Roeder, a so-called “pro-life” advocate, has taken a life. Some anti-choice spokespersons quickly rushed to condemn Dr. Tiller’s murder, express their “shock” and attempt to disassociate themselves from this heinous crime. But they drool hypocrisy. Over the years, the antiabortionists’ inflammatory rhetoric has incited the most extremist, perverse, and maniacal among them to break the law and commit crimes.

Linking abortion to murder, genocide, and the holocaust, the anti-choice movement has done more to incite domestic terrorism against women and the medical profession than any other home-grown group. “Pro-life” has always been a misnomer. These groups are not pro-life of the mother. Many endorse the death penalty. They are pro-defamation of character, pro-misinformation, pro-harassment, pro-extremist, pro-anti-woman, right-wing propaganda. Media that buy into the “pro-life” label should step back and look at the anti-life positions these groups support.

Yes, there are many well-meaning, nonviolent people who oppose abortion. Although I disagree with their position, they have a right to their opinion. But they do not have the right to impose their views on everybody else. They do not have the right to harass women seeking medical services. They do not have the right to bomb clinics and murder doctors. While calling for “peaceful protests,” many of the movement’s leaders speak with forked tongues. Even as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry issued a statement of shock and grief, he implied that Dr. Tiller’s murder was justified. After all, Terry said, Tiller was a “mass murderer.” It was Operation Rescue that coined the term “Tiller the killer,” which was taken up like a mantra and endlessly repeated as “Tiller the baby killer” by Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, cheerleader for violence.

One group, calling themselves the Army of God, are celebrating Scott Roeder as an “American hero” on their toxic website. With a variety of Biblical quotations and a ribbon of animated “hell fire,” this website condones murder and has links to several articles, such as “Why Shoot an Abortionist,” by Paul Hill, who was executed September 3, 2003, for murdering Dr. David Gunn and his bodyguard outside a women’s clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Hill is also portrayed as a hero on the Army of God’s website.

But Dr. Tiller was no killer. For three decades, he was a compassionate physician, a practitioner of family medicine, a protector of women’s legal right to control their reproductive biology.

Terrorist attacks on women and their doctors have been waged for decades in the United States. According to the National Abortion Federation, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, there have been 10 murders, including that of Dr. Tiller, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 619 bomb threats, and 1264 incidents of vandalism. In addition, there have been 383 death threats and 655 bioterror threats. Dr. Tiller survived an assassination attempt in 1993 and his personal information, including his address and names of family members, was posted on antiabortion websites. Such invasion of privacy, even to the extent of going through people's garbage, is a favorite tactic of some anti-choice groups. In Kansas, at least one clinic employee was harassed by parking a trailer with loudspeakers across from her home. The intent of such tactics is to frighten employees into leaving their jobs.

This terrorism must stop. Congress must take the antiabortion terrorists as seriously as it takes Al Queda for they are no less dangerous. Like other religious extremists, the antiabortion terrorists claim they are carrying out “God’s will,” that they are on “holy” missions. George W. Bush made the same claim in leading this nation into a disastrous and unnecessary war in Iraq. One should always be wary of any movement or politician that justifies violence as the will of any god. The founding fathers, fresh from the terrors of Europe’s theocracies, provided for the separation of church and state in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Of course, the ultimate goal of the anti-choice zealots is to take away a woman’s freedom and her right to control her own body. By murdering, intimidating, and assaulting doctors, these extremists aim to terrorize doctors into closing their clinics, making abortion inaccessible. These modern-day terrorists are in line with centuries-old male-dominated efforts to control women. Incredibly, some women also support these efforts that go against their best interests.

As I have written in the new update to my book,
Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, “Although we now live in the 21st century, superstitions, practices, and attitudes from a prescientific era are still with us. Even in technologically sophisticated countries like the United States, women’s reproductive autonomy is threatened by fanatical groups that would turn back the clock on contraception, ban abortion and, in effect, make women’s bodies property of the state. . . . In line with male subversion strategies in other species, the antiabortion movement is driven largely by fundamentalist religious groups led predominantly by men.”

Unfortunately the terror tactics are working. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, the number of abortion providers has declined almost 40 percent since the peak of 1982. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider and some women are forced to travel long distances to obtain an abortion. Yet Americans support reproductive choice. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 76 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or certain circumstances.

Right now, we have a minority of hoodlums waging a terror campaign against a vital legal health service for women. It can be stopped if we the people bombard our members of Congress with calls to protect reproductive choice and treat domestic antiabortion terrorists with the same vigilance and vigor that our government exercises against foreign terrorists.