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November 28, 2000

To Arms for Universal Health Care

by Townsend Walker, Sr.

There seems to be no limit to the American genius for inventing and propagating lies designed to prejudice us against Canadaís single-payer system of health care. You may remember the Harry and Louise television commercials propagandizing us against the Canadian system of health care a few years ago. That was when surveys were showing, as I recall, that fully two thirds of us here in the States would have settled happily for the Canadianís way of doing health care -- enough of us to rattle the purveyors of health care, especially the American Medical Association, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hospital association, etc.

The gang with their hands in the health-care till, determined to suck their sugar-tit to the last drop, developed a two-pronged strategy to avert the "evil day" when a Canadian-type system of universal health care would take the teat from them. They bought off the Congress and manipulated the President of the United States, and continue to do so to this very day. (Remember Jackson Hole -- the place where the Presidentís minions hung out with the inventor of "managed care" and other snake oil hucksters?) And they lied to the rest of us night and day, in commercials, in anti-Canadian propaganda disguised as news on the airways and in the print media. There was no stopping their Harry and Louise who gushed bad things -- lies -- about Canadaís single-payer system. I suppose some of us actually bought into their lies -- easy enough, especially if, in some devious way, we had our hand in the till with them. They tried to put us at ease with tidbits like: "Weíve got the best health care in the world!" and "If itís not broke donít fix it!"

They didnít tell us the issue was never about quality at all, in the way they were thinking about quality -- but simply about making quality care available. They didnít tell us it was never a matter of fixing, but of nixing a system defective in conception and dead at birth. And if you corrected their presentation of the problem, the stock answer of those who paid for their lies was "Socialized medicine!", harrumphed very loudly and dripping with disdain for the poor wretch who would set the record straight.

It brings back memories, doesnít it? And you know, theyíre still doing it. And have you noticed how seldom it is these days that anyone outside the health care reform movement dares mention Canadaís single payer as a rational system to the god-awful mess our profit-driven system has produced -- 45 million people without a health-care policy. And how many more who pay to be insured but really arenít. Even that which they think they have is being taken away. And numberless others so beaten down and deprived and, yes, made invisible in their isolation, that no one really knows the full measure of their suffering.

Do you suppose Mr. John Sweeney and Mr. Lane Kirkland of the labor movement would have stood up for publicly funded universal health care had they been able to visualize what weíre trying to say? Or would they, too, have turned a sour face on their suppliants and hissed, "Socialized medicine!" -- leaving us to ponder whether other needs as well would be better socialized? Would it have been too much to expect Messrs. Sweeney and Kirkland to say to the bosses of the American Association of Retired People: "Team up with the unions representing the millions of American workers and let us all work together for universal health care. Work with us to solve the problem or weíll set up a Peopleís Retirement Association and you can look elsewhere for a gullible clientele!"

Usually I try, not always successfully, to be a nice guy in dealing with the issue of health care. Why, I even "intellectualize" a lot, hoping that will somehow soften what Iím really thinking. So why am I so direct and bilious with you now? Well, a week or so ago I read an article in the Guardian Weekly that really ticked me off. (The GW comes from England and helps me in knowing whatís really going on in the States.) It was about some ingenious Wall Street high rollers (discreetly called "hedge fund vultures" in the article) who have perfected a financial scheme for ripping off poor countries.

It works like this: They buy up the debts of a struggling third-world country (at a big discount, of course) and then sue the government of that hapless country for the full face value. For example, one vulture recently bought up a Peruvian debt for $20 million, then turned around and collected $65 million from the Peruvian government -- money that could have been used for schoolbooks, medicines, clean water. Neat. Nuff said. Oh, well -- it just reminded me of our legal drug lords and others of that ilk. As George Wallace used to say here in Alabama: "How long, O Lord? How long!!" There must be a lesson there, somewhere.


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