President Obama appears to have a serious case of demoralization induced by the financial power of the insurance industry. Obama has trapped himself with the same kind of thinking that initially demoralized his hero Abraham Lincoln, who ultimately rejected that kind of thinking, regained his morale, and fought against what was morally wrong.
The sad fact is that Obama is now embracing a bill that gives the insurance industry far more than it gives the American public. With this bill, the insurance industry, via mandates and government subsides, gains tens of millions of new “dream” customers — those who will least likely use their benefits; and insurance companies can charge exorbitant rates to older people, as well as dump completely undesirable customers on to the taxpayer. This is the sober analysis of Marcia Angell, physician and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, who concludes: “Yes, more people will have insurance, but it will cover less and less, and be more expensive to use.”
Earlier in 2009 Obama said, “If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense.” Obama knows that in those industrialized nations which have some kind of guaranteed coverage for all citizens, there are lower health costs with far better health outcomes. He knows that it is right for U.S. citizens to have Medicare for all, single payer guaranteed health coverage for all, yet he has allowed the intimidation by the insurance industry to derail him from fighting for the right thing.
Even as Obama professed an inclination for a single-payer system, he allowed an illusory realism to deflate him, adding, “The only problem is that we’re not starting from scratch. We don’t want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we’re trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy.”
Like Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln was, at one point, demoralized by the power of another economy, the slave economy in the South. In 1856, the idea of abolishing slavery was not even on the table for Lincoln, and he even doubted whether it would be possible to stop the spread of slavery. He stated:
The slaves of the South, at a moderate estimate, are worth a thousand millions of dollars. Let it be permanently settled that this property may extend to new territory, without restraint, and it greatly enhances, perhaps quite doubles, its value at once. This immense, palpable pecuniary interest, on the question of extending slavery, unites the Southern people, as one man. But it can not be demonstrated that the North will gain a dollar by restricting it. Moral principle is all, or nearly all, that unites us of the North. Pity ’tis, it is so, but this is a looser bond, than pecuniary interest. Right here is the plain cause of their perfect union and our want of it.
However – and this is a monumental however — Lincoln concluded that despite these overwhelming financial realities, slavery’s spread still must be actively and aggressively opposed on moral grounds: “But why should any go, who really think slavery ought not to spread? Do they really think the right ought to yield to the wrong? Are they afraid to stand by the right?”
Obama knows his history. He knows that the U.S. is quite capable of reinventing not simply “one-sixth of the economy” but the entire economy of an entire region of this country — as was done post-slavery in the South. Obama knows the tyranny of the insurance industry has resulted in (1) health care providers such as myself routinely having our hands tied and wanting to quit practicing; (2) no coverage for 47 million Americans; (3) joke coverage — including outrageous deductibles — for millions more Americans; (4) inability for businesses to afford coverage for their employees and still compete in the global economy; and (5) routine bankruptcy for those with major health problems. Obama knows that the health insurance industry is a parasite destroying the U.S.
Barack Obama is an intelligent man who knows that what is best for U.S. citizens and the U.S. economy is a Medicare for all, single payer, guaranteed health coverage for all. What Obama needs is morale and the courage to do the right thing.
Bruce E. Levine, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and author of Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007).