A note on Massachusetts and Health Care

January 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

Just a quick note on Massachusetts’ stunning election results – like most everyone, I think, I’m surprised to the point of not knowing what to say. There is, of course, a terrible irony in the fact that Ted Kennedy spent most of his life trying to reform the healthcare system, only to have his unfortunately-timed death and this subsequent election become (perhaps) the determining factor in stalling the latest serious attempt at reform. (For those who live on Pluto, Republican Scott Brown’s victory deprives the Dems of the –already tenuous– 60 vote “supermajority” needed to override a Republican filibuster on health care.) Ironic, also, that Massachusetts voters may have the final verdict on reform since (as the state already has pretty much universal health coverage) they’re just about the only people who won’t be affected by the Senate’s decision, either way.

For those who are already looking to the practical ramifications and feasibility of still passing something, well – Brown has already vowed to vote against health care reform, and the likelihood of the Dems picking up a vote somewhere else seem slim to none. But let’s not forget that the Senate had already passed a bill, and the issue at this point was resolving the discrepancies between that bill and the one passed by the House. Thus, as various folks have already pointed out, the most realistic move would be for the House to pass the Senate’s (more conservative) bill exactly as it stands –which would then send the bill straight to Obama– and then afterwards to address some of the differences through budget reconciliation moves, which only require a bare majority vote. This would of course strip the bill of much of its teeth (and the House of much of its negotiating power) but the argument is that “some change is better than nothing.”

I confess to being pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. With the public option basically off the table, the bill would be mandating that all citizens purchase private health care insurance – and I have some serious concerns about a law that would force all Americans to “buy in” to a for-profit, corporate enterprise. True, there are already similar laws on the books: for instance, if you want to drive a car, you’re legally obliged to purchase auto insurance. But the difference is, of course, that one still has the right to not drive a vehicle (however infeasible that may often be in practice). And, while we are of course obliged to pay money to the government, and while I have no problem with that (in theory if not in terms of my practical poverty), being obligated to put money into corporate hands feels different, and slightly terrifying.

At the same time, this is the closest we’ve gotten to any kind of deal (however incremental) in a long while, and there’s an argument to be made for pushing something through now and then (hopefully) making gradual changes, as we did with Medicaire. If nothing else, a “yes” vote would be a gesture saying that we take the idea of affordable universal health care seriously. Then again, I think that’s pretty much what American politics has become these days: a gesture towards the possibility of a change which never materializes.


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Bennett Carpenter
Leiden, Netherlands

Random musings about literature, art, politics and (occasionally) my life as a graduate student in sunny Holland. Click on the pic for more about me.


January 2010
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