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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'Truth' Takes Back Seat in Health Care Debate

Posted By on Tue, Mar 23, 2010 at 1:20 PM

click to enlarge Yes, Virginia, she's infected -- with socialism!
  • Yes, Virginia, she's infected -- with socialism!
Health care, undoubtedly, is the subject du jour. We are in the midst of a crescendo of health care coverage so overpowering and unrelenting -- well, it could make you sick. But are we learning anything via the nonstop written and televised coverage regarding the passage of health care reform?

That's hard to say. For many, this has devolved into a matter of personal and political feeling. You're either supporting the president, or supporting the tea-partiers and their Republican enablers. Getting hard facts from health care proponents or opponents about why they feel the way they do often has less to do with premiums and more to do with partisanship.

So, it's hard to find straight talk on health care (though we've found the Kaiser Family Foundation Web site to be helpful -- but not easily digestible). And if someone purports to tell you the "truth" -- well, that depends on what the definition of the word "truth" is. You don't need to be a psychic to guess how the Examiner -- owned by a messianic, conservative billionaire -- feels about ObamaCare. Its article this morning was titled "Ten Inconvenient Truths About Obamacare," a nifty jab at both Obama and Al Gore (the Examiner is also not too hot on global warming).

While the Ex, predictably, trumpets the views of ultra-conservative think tanks to make its points, this article's premises aren't so easy to dismiss. Simply put, some of these things are true -- and inconvenient. 

Take, for example, the article's claim that higher Medicaid costs will gradually shift to the states. That's true. That's what the ill-fated "Cornhusker Kickback" was all about. 

The article notes that plans costing more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families will be subject to a 40 percent excise tax -- and Medicare payroll taxes will go up 3.8 percent on those earning $200,000 or more. That's true, too -- but whether you think it's a bad thing depends on how you feel about the well-off paying higher taxes. In San Francisco, meanwhile, where costs are higher and premiums are higher, a lot of "Cadillac Plan"-holders will be taxed. San Franciscans likely supported this plan disproportionately. Good -- because we'll likely pay disproportionately.

And, finally, the article notes that many people's insurance premiums will go up, up, up. Yes, those in the individual insurance market will see their premiums jump 10 to 13 percent in the next six years; that's right out of the Congressional Budget Office report. But there are important distinctions here that the Examiner ignores -- because it doesn't fit in with their sturm und drang argument.

First of all, the individual insurance market -- which is largely for folks whose employers don't provide coverage -- is one of the most volatile and distorted there is. And while these people stand to be paying more for what the Ex calls "more generous" plans, this is not a trifling distinction. Many individual insurance plans don't cover all that much, and contain lifetime limits. These are the sorts of plans where you run out of coverage right when you've been diagnosed with something big and unexpected -- and need it the most. Paying a bit more for a plan where that wouldn't happen is not a matter to be so simply brushed aside.  

If the point of articles like the Examiner's is to toss red meat to the tea-partiers or make fence-sitters uneasy: Mission accomplished. But as far as informing readers about the realities of what we're attempting to undertake: Mission failed. For example, the article chides Obamacare for opening the gates to runaway costs, but also bemoans the slashing of Medicare funding.

Well, what's it going to be? If you're going to enroll millions of new people in insurance plans, you've got to control costs. You really can't have it both ways; you have to find savings somewhere.

Will we ever see honest debate about health care coverage? Don't count on it. Dishonest debate is far easier -- and more fun.

"In terms of political debate, what we saw in the House, in terms of substance, was kind of embarrassing," said professor Patrick Murphy, the chair of the University of San Francisco politics department. "It's really boiled down to people using cues, and the cues are, 'Who do I feel comfortable throwing my lot in with?' It's really too bad it gets reduced to that. Now I sit with 18- and 19-year olds who think this is what passes for discussing policy."

Sadly -- it does.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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