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February 2, 1999

Cameos on Health Care

by Townsend Walker

Two items on health care in a recent issue of the New York Times raise provocative questions for all of us. It's not that we're unfamiliar with the horror stories they tell. The fact is, we have heard and read about them virtually every day for as long as we've lived, but especially during the last twenty-five years. Many ignore them, content within their own little privileged worlds. And those of us who become exercised about them continue to do the same things over and over. The more we engage in these patterns of behavior, the more our miserable world remains the same. And the terrifying facts continue to pile up --

Consider these tid-bits from the New York Times:

And now for the questions

It figures that many union leaders and supporters of organizations like the American Association of Retired People (AARP) -- we might as well include veterans groups, political parties and a host of others -- will consider themselves under attack by the previous questions and the answers they lead to. The explanation for that hostile reaction gets to the very heart of what is behind the way Americans think, and especially the taboos that limit public discussion.

The word "socialism" and the name "Marx" are pronounced off limits in acceptable discourse in any but a pejorative sense. Ideas viewed with hostility by the rich and powerful are dismissed with a shrug and contemptuous intonations suggesting dreadful socialism will seal the fate of the existing order with solutions to social problems "that neither you nor I want." In time, the poison of Mr. Rockfeller's remarks spread to those who would benefit most from something like universal health care. These latter, less adroit with words than Mr. R, transform his deceptively oblique "something that neither you nor I want" into a war cry that injures most of all themselves. "But that's socialism!" In this fashion, the ideas of the rich man become also the ideas of the working class.

One of the most disturbing examples in recent memory of this insidious victimization of working class Americans through the removal of authentic political dialogue from public discourse, is in an AFL-CIO commissioned report released this year. Title Paying More and Losing Ground and subtitled How Employer Cost-Shifting Is Eroding Health Coverage of Working Families, this report makes for abstruse rhetoric but contributes nothing to making decent health care available to every U.S. citizen on the basis of need. Had Mr. Sweeney and Company focused instead on producing a report on The Case for Universal Health Care in the U.S., they would have given us all a valuable tool. Had they gone so far as to throw down the gauntlet for the AARP, veterans and others to join the AFL-CIO in waging political war until health care is enshrined as a human right, the prize would have been within our grasp. As it is, and in the tradition of Rockfeller & Company, they have given us a report that will be of little practical help.

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