By Ruth Conniff on September 15, 2009

In his speech on health care to a joint session of Congress, President Obama talked about the long, long history of health-care reform efforts in this country, and said he wants to be the last President to take up the issue. Let's hope not.

The reform now shaping up in Congress--with a heavy dose of industry-written language--is not likely to be much of a fix. Without a robust public option--a "Medicare for all" program that can cut administrative costs and compete with the profit-hogging private insurance companies—we are not likely to see a big improvement in health care for Americans.

By taking single-payer health care off the table and working on a compromise the insurance industry can support, Obama is letting us down.

But that is no reason to give up the fight. Some progressive members of Congress are still pushing for single-payer legislation. And rarely does health care receive so much intense public attention. Now is the time to get the message out about what a functional health insurance system would look like.

Industry knows that and that's why we are hearing the echo chamber of talking points: beware a "government takeover" of health care, the "consequences of rationing," and "bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine." These words and phrases are all over Fox News, conservative talk radio, and in the mouths of Republican members of Congress, repeated at town hall meetings, and at the recent Tea Party rally in Washington, DC. They are also, verbatim, in a memo produced by Republican strategist Frank Luntz directing the party how to oppose health care reform.

On the other side are the Mad As Hell Doctors, members of Physicians for a National Health Program. This group of physicians from Portland, Oregon, is driving across the country to a rally in Washington, DC, in support of single payer on September 30. They are in Madison, Wisconsin, today to meet with health care providers and hold a rally on the steps of the state capitol building at 5 pm. The so-called Kucinich Amendment--HR 676, the "Medicare for All" bill, sponsored by Representatives Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, is supposed to come to the floor this month, and various single payer advocates are planning events around it.

Kucinich begins hearings tomorrow in the domestic policy subcommittee entitled "Between You and Your Doctor: The Bureaucracy of Private Health Insurance" with a witness list that includes the family members of patients denied needed care because the industry needs to maintain its high profit margins.

This is the message health care reform advocates need to get out: Private health insurance companies are the bureaucrats who stand between you and good medical care. Because these companies must maintain 20 percent profit margins--that is, keep 20 percent of the money you pay them for health care--in order to maintain their high stock prices, they have a perverse incentive to limit medical care.

Under our private insurance system, America wastes 30 percent of health care dollars on advertising, administration, and CEO pay. The idea that we have more "choice" is also ridiculous. People in other industrialized countries with universal, national health care are far more satisfied with the care they get and their choice of doctors. What we have is a system in which your employer or your HMO can push you out the door if you start to cost too much. After all, they are in business to make money, not to see that you get the care you need.

As health care reform reaches the homestretch in Congress and Americans tune into the issue, it is important for everyone to get these facts. Members of Congress need to hear from real constituents, and your friends and neighbors who are being fed so much of the industry line need to hear from people who understand the issue and care. It may be a long road ahead for health insurance reform, but this is an important step along the way.

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From a puny real-estate deal to campaign finance scandals, Walker's stench is in the air.

By Julia Burke
Ali Abd ElRahman believes the United States has the potential to take a leadership role in food...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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