By amarkow

I was talking with a perfectly sane friend the other day who told me he was opposed to “Obamacare” because it had provisions under which government bureaucrats make end-of-life decisions for older people.  That didn’t sound right to me, and I told him I thought he was misinformed.  But he insisted.  So I looked it up on the web.

It turns out that there is a provision in the current health insurance reform bill that reimburses physicians for counseling sessions on end-of-life options such as medical directives with “Do Not Resuscitate” provisions.  Most people don’t know about health care directives, and have never prepared such a document to guide their families should they become seriously ill.  So the idea of free counseling on such matters seems like a good one.  And it’s optional, anyway.

Presidential Press Secretary Robert Gibbs believes that the morphing of this benefit into some sort of “death squad” run by Washington bureaucrats is a result of intentionally spread misinformation.

“I think there are people that have knowingly spread inaccurate information to hold up progress on health reform,” said Gibbs.

That’s what I’d call an understatement.  But my friend is intelligent, well educated and informed.  How could he be getting this so wrong?

Then I realized that his personal situation and resultant self-interest is considerably different from mine.  He’s young, working, well paid, and fully insured.  If he or his wife or children get sick, they can be sure of reasonable medical care that doesn’t break the bank.

My wife and I are at retirement age, no longer drawing salaries.  Our private insurance has been costing us a fortune, so we’re relieved to be going on Medicare, which has already proved to be not only vastly cheaper, but also vastly better than the insurance we’ve been on since we left the corporate cocoon. Our kids are grown and covered by insurance provided by their employers.

To us, it is obvious that Medicare is better than private insurance (for example, we can see the doctor for free on Medicare, but it costs us a $40 co-pay on our much more expensive private policy).  Some of our prescriptions have dropped from $70 to $7 a month with Part D Medicare coverage.  And our premiums for the private parts of Medicare (the medi-gap and prescription coverage) are a fraction of what we used to pay.

My friend feels he is threatened by government involvement in health insurance.  Why mess with a good thing?

I know my life, health and financial well-being are threatened by any single major illness, and that as I age I am more likely to suffer such an illness.

He is looking for proof that government medicine (“socialized” medicine, he calls it) is bad.  I’m looking for proof that it is good.

How can we ever have a rational discussion when our self-interests are so variously served by different truths?

Of course, it doesn’t help that the world of politicians is best-served by simplifying issues and employing scare tactics (military defeat, socialism, xenophobia), and poorly served by nuanced discussions and rational compromises; and that the language of public policy is often confused with the language of marketing.

Health care policy is a critical issue for this country.  We all need to think about it more seriously, learn the facts for ourselves, and fight the tendency to buy into branding concepts (e.g., Republican, Democrat, Socialist, Libertarian) as if they are the real issues.   The bottom line for me is that we have a health insurance problem in this country, and we can’t solve it by doing nothing, or by arguing that the government needs to keep out of the health care business.  They’re already in it up to their eyeballs.

The lies, innuendo and misinformation are not helping.  Neither is our ignorance of the issues.

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