In a celebratory statement about a federal appeals court ruling striking down the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, state Rep. Mike Ritze argued that so-called Obamacare “takes us away from a healthy and efficient free market health care system.”
But surely Ritze, a doctor, doesn’t believe the current health care system in this country and especially in Oklahoma is “healthy and efficient” or that focusing on insurance company profits will improve medical outcomes. If anything, the United State has demonstrated how much an unfettered free-market system that places profits above human suffering leads to wasteful spending and poor medical outcomes.
Yet one can understand Ritze’s political posturing here. He was the author, for example, of the state constitutional amendment recently passed here that would supposedly allow Oklahoma to opt out of the new federal law. Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow, must feel validated by the decision of the Appeals Court of the 11th Circuit, though he said he was disappointed “the ruling only extends to the individual insurance mandate rather than the entire bill.”
Under the individual mandate, people would be required to purchase health insurance. The government would also provide subsidies for low-income individuals and families.
But here are some facts Ritze surely has encountered in one frame or another: The United States ranks 37th in the world among countries in medical outcomes but spends more money that any other country on health care, according to the World Health Organization. In 2006, the country ranked 39th in the world for infant mortality. On a local level, Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate is the sixth highest in the nation. The black infant mortality rate here is second highest in the country.
I could go on and fill this space with even more gloomy statistics from simple Google searches about the declining health care system in this country and Oklahoma, but the facts will never trump right-wing ideology. The truth is that the great health care divide in the country breaks down this way. Some of us, myself included, believe medical care should be a human right; others believe it shouldn’t be a human right.
Some pundits have even argued the recent ruling is not as significant as Ritze and others claim.. The respected Firedoglake blog makes this point about the ruling:
. . . Despite what some on the left and right are saying, the individual mandate is not essential to the overall function of the law.
It is both possible and legal to expand Medicaid, require guaranteed issue, establish new insurance regulations, and provide people with subsidies to buy insurance without a mandate. These policies can and have been put into effect in states without a mandate.
The U.S. Supreme Court will probably decide the fate of the new health care program, but it seems unlikely the court would invalidate the entire law. What would solve the issue is some type of public option for health coverage, which many other countries offer, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon given the current political milieu.
A recent editorial in The Oklahoman shows just how intractable and narrow minded some city leaders are when it comes to significantly improving the quality of life here.
The headline says it all: “More bad news on obesity, but government isn't the solution.”
Published July 12, the editorial cites a national report that shows Oklahoma is ranked at seventh in the nation with an obesity rate of 31.4 percent. The editorial goes through the report, says “no thanks” to a recommendation that everyone get screened for obesity and diabetes as part of a preventative medical effort and then ends with this typical caveat:
Getting out of it will take another generation, or more. But it will result from individuals making better choices about diet and exercise, not from government fiat.
Individual responsibility over community. Survival of the fittest—literally—over advocating common sense planning choices.
The Oklahoman doesn’t speak for all leaders here, but I think it’s fair to argue this particular, hands-off philosophy when it comes to health issues has contributed to some dubious distinctions for the state. Just recently, for example, the Oklahoma City area was named the most unfit metropolitan area among the nation’s largest 50 cities.
Obesity is not just an Oklahoma problem, of course, and these never-ending reports about our collective weight should not be used as a cudgel to embarrass anyone.
But the state, and especially the Oklahoma City area, needs more sidewalks, bike lanes, ball diamonds, soccer facilities and parks. It needs more swimming pools and jogging trails. People need to walk more and drive less. People need better access to medical care. These arguments are not part of some “government fiat.” They simple argue for better planning to improve the quality of life for everyone, even those in the best physical shape. Obviously, this has an impact on overall economic development as well, but it’s primarily small-business focused and doesn’t necessarily affect the area’s high rollers. That’s a major problem given the leadership dynamics in Oklahoma City.
Meanwhile, the editorial exposes a crass attitude that makes it terribly unsurprising the Oklahoma City Council has voted to move up the timeline in building the new convention center under the MAPS 3 project. The convention center will primarily benefit a segment of the business community here, though some city leaders dispute that, and will do nothing to improve the collective health here. When do we get the urban park, the biking and walking trails and the new street-car system, which are all part of MAPS 3 and would improve the collective health here? Let’s hope all city leaders, not just the handful who opposed moving up the timeline on the convention center, can get as enthusiastic about those life-affirming aspects of MAPS 3 as they can about hotel profits.
It’s a long shot prediction in red-state Oklahoma, but those local U.S. Representatives who recently voted in favor of dismantling Medicare could face reelection problems in 2012.
All the Republicans in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of a budget proposal by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) that would change Medicare into a voucher program in which seniors would have to eventually pay substantially more for their health care and insurance. (I wrote about the proposal here. Here is Paul Krugman on the issue). To his credit, U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, a Blue Dog Democrat, voted against the plan, which passed the House because of the Republican majority and failed in the Senate.
Amid all the negative hoopla over Ryan’s plan, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a U.S. House special election race in upstate New York in a predominately Republican district by campaigning against the GOP’s Medicare elimination plan.
Could a Hochul-like victory happen here? Unfortunately, there are no clear signs that it could, and with the local, anti-Obama hysteria fanned constantly by the biased, corporate media here, it seems almost impossible for Democrats to make gains in the short term. Yet Democrats could have an opportunity in some races if they pushed back against the destruction of Medicare and fielded good candidates.
U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe are not up for reelection in 2012, but all House seats will be up for grabs. At this point, the best chance for Democratic success would seem to be in U.S. Rep. James Lankford’s 5th District and U.S. John Sullivan’s 1st District. Those districts cover large metropolitan areas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and, by default, have more diversity in political philosophies. Grassroots campaigns probably have a better chance right now in those areas. Perhaps, the perennially cash-strapped Democrats could focus on those two districts as they offer to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from the Republicans.
Lankford, pictured right with Ryan, who is serving his first term, seems especially vulnerable because he has really done nothing in Washington but essentially expressed frustration about the political process and supported Ryan’s plan to end Medicare as we know it. The idea that the Ryan plan on Medicare is a serious proposal is just nonsense. But that’s what Lankford wants us to believe. Why does Lankford want seniors on fixed incomes to pay astronomical amounts of money for health care? He needs to be held accountable.
Can Democrats here keep Medicare as an issue if the GOP backs away from the radical proposal? Yes, but those efforts need to start now and continue through the general election in 2012. The issue is simply that the current Republican political ideology in Washington is radical and dangerous. A prevailing number of Republicans apparently want to dismantle programs for seniors and end them for future generations. Those programs include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
The Republicans argue they want to cut government spending, but, meanwhile, we continue to pour money into two military actions that Americans quit supporting years ago. Here’s what the GOP political strategy seems to be right now: Ignore what people want Congress to do and hurt as many old people as possible in the process. It may not be political suicide here among the Obama haters, but it didn’t fly in upstate New York, and it’s not going to fly in other places as well.
The idea, pushed by Republicans, that any protest against their plan is “Mediscare” and hyperbole is laughable and ludicrous given the GOP political venom used to attack the Affordable Care Act.
So the Democratic strategy here right now should be two-fold when it comes to the Congressional races: Pound Republicans on their cruel, inhumane votes to dismantle Medicare and find good candidates, who will have to work extremely hard for a long-shot chance at victory. It’s not much, but it’s something.