Health Care Reform: Is it about politics? Or power?

Categories: Hacking Life, The Juggle, Uncategorized, Working? Living?


Last year, my main employer looked into saving money on health insurance by switching most of its employees to a plan that offered less coverage for more money. The immediate savings, of course, was mostly for the health insurance company: The new plan shifted responsibility for paying for many standard procedures, prescriptions, and routine tests from the insurance company to the patient. The long-term savings were for the employer: By setting a precendent in which the patient pays for most of his or her care, the employer could eventually reduce the amount of money it had to pay in to our health care plans.

We ended up lobbying to keep our old plan — turned out the much-feared increase in premiums was a fraction of what we were told it would be — but the incident was on my mind recently as I listened to the debate about health care reform. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the brouhaha isn’t so much about politics as it is about power.

Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (not in power) on Monday called the current health care bill “an unconscionable abuse of power,” conveniently glossing over the fact that just four years ago conservatives (then in power) were lauding him for passing a similar bill in Massachusetts (as Salon points out, he’s the only governor in American history ever to mandate health care insurance for individuals). When then-candidate Obama (not in power) was running for president, he was against the Romney model of a mandate for individuals; now (in power) he’s signed it into law. Some Liberals (in power) felt that the bill needed to do even more; some Conservatives (not in power) felt it went too far. Some are just caught up in the heat of it all — take Republican Randy Neugebauer shouting “baby-killer” at pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak, for example. And others are enraged in general, using this bill as a catalyst for their anger: Protesters shouting racial slurs at black lawmakers, including Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis, and Wiley Drake, the pastor who ran as Conservative presidential candidate Allan Keyes’ VP pick, asking his supporters to help him pray for the deaths of all 219 Democrats who voted for the bill.

I suppose death is one way to keep health care costs down.

For the most part, the people who are angriest and most vocal about it are people who aren’t currently in power, or whose representatives aren’t currently in the majority, or who feel that their authority has somehow been threatened by the Obama administration. And, interestingly enough, they aren’t all politicians.

As former Bush speechwriter David Frum points out, “Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible.” Frum writes on his blog: “By mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.”

“We can’t sugar-coat the gravity of this,” Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show Tuesday. “Our enemy is now clearly defined… they’re anybody with a D in front of their name.”

“Our enemy”? That’s not politics. That’s power.

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20 comments so far...

  • I would say it is power. This is why. In this democratic country, the majority of voters were clearly and overwhelmingly against the bill that became law. Politicians passed it anyway, because they could. Politics would have meant the politicians actually gave a rip about what their constituency wanted. Power meant ramming it down the throats of those they had promised to represent.

    SKL  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 8:19 pm

  • I think that’s a good point, SKL. I wonder if the states that are suing now are also trying for a show of power? National law supercedes state law and, and the bill is an individual rights issue, not a states rights issue — a state can’t sue over the rights of individual citizens. So the lawsuits could be about making a statement — about asserting power — and not about politics, too…

    Lylah  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 8:52 pm

  • I haven’t seen what the states’ lawsuits are, so I can’t comment on them.

    Speaking of power vs. politics, do you think O will honor the deal to sign an executive order against using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions? I heard he didn’t sign it along with the bill today.

    SKL  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 9:49 pm

  • States are saying that the bill is both unconstitutional and that it infringes on states rights.

    I don’t know about the executive order, but I do know that religious orders representing 59,000 nuns urged congress to pass the bill, saying that they do not believe that the bill funds elective abortions and they believe the bill supports pregnant women instead:

    Lylah  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 9:57 pm

  • But there was a deal, and supposedly some of the votes hinged on that deal (if you believe what politicians say). I am sure there are millions of people who don’t care about the deal, but the question I have is, will the agreement be honored or will this too be shoved down everyone’s throat? To me this is very telling in a government we still call a democracy.

    SKL  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 10:01 pm

  • Aren’t we technically a republic?

    Lylah  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 10:04 pm

  • Are you saying that voters have no right to expect that their representatives (in the “House of REPRESENTATIVES”) will represent them?

    Choose whatever word you want (I think the going term nowadays is democratic republic); this country was based on democratic principles, and especially today, when it is feasible for each individual to have his vote heard, we understand that representatives are elected to represent (not overrule) their constituents.

    There are some areas where the federal government should not meddle and state law trumps, according to the constitution. But the federal government has arguably overstepped its bounds on more than one occasion. There are many cases debating just where the line is drawn. It is not a settled field. Generally liberals prefer federal control versus states’ rights. Roe v. Wade is an example of this battle. But the Constitution still protects states’ rights unless an exception applies.

    SKL  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 10:33 pm

  • Whoa, SKL. I’m not saying anything like that. I’m saying that we’re not a democracy — which is government by the people — we’re a repulic — which is government by official elected to represent the people.

    Also: Note that I haven’t given out my opinion on the health care bill itself. All I’ve said is that the hoopla has been more about power than politics. I have pretty much given out my opinion on talk show hosts, though…

    But. There were similar lawsuits filed over Social Security and over the Voters Rights Acts. Both failed, even though states were had many more bookkeeping and administrative responsibliities for both of those than they do (or will) for Health Care reform/”reform.” If the Heallth Care bill is found NOT to be in violation of the constitution — as social security and the voters rights act were — then federal law supercedes state law.

    Lylah  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 10:40 pm

  • Not sure why you want to cloud the discussion with technicalities. Ask each member of Congress when they are campaigning whether they think the US is a democracy (in principle, obviously). (Though it is a bit ironic that many who call themselves “Democrats” were the ones who failed to represent their constituents.)

    I would have to read the state lawsuits before weighing in on whether they have a case. Of course, since there is bias in the courts, an objective opinion one way or the other doesn’t mean much.

    Whether or not the states have a case, individuals or corporations might. Telling someone they have to enter into a contract that they don’t want to enter into? At a price different from the true value of the contract?

    But I could see the insurance companies sucking it up and just spreading the cost among their responsible customers, rather than fight the government. The government can be a dirty fighter. Just look at what is happening to Toyota and what happened to the GM bondholders.

    So much for government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

    SKL  |  March 23rd, 2010 at 11:19 pm

  • Well, if SCOTUS hadn’t allowed corporations the rights of individuals and had upheld campaign finance reforms, we’d have a chance of being a government of, for, and by the people. What it sounds like you want though is governance through opinion polls. Most polls use sketchy methodology at best, and are outright skewed at worst. The amount of statistical “wiggle-room” in them is astonishing. Quite frankly, I think if our elected representatives never worried about polls and only about standing up for what they believe is right, we’d probably have a much better government. As it is right now, on both the left and the right, our lawmakers allow themselves to be held captive by polls and their potential (or lack thereof) for reelection.

    LMJN  |  March 24th, 2010 at 10:57 am

  • Thanks for your comment, LMJN! Actually, my point is that maybe the pundits and polls have too much influence over politicians, not that they should have more.

    Lylah  |  March 24th, 2010 at 11:00 am

  • Lylah, sorry that part of the comment had been in response to SKL, I just forgot to differentiate. I appreciate your post, especially because you kept your personal politics out of it, and focused on the more basic issues of how we treat our lawmakers and how they treat us.

    LMJN  |  March 24th, 2010 at 11:32 am

  • No worries! Thanks for weighing in. This discussion is very intersting (much more so than what I’ve been reading elsewhere!)

    Lylah  |  March 24th, 2010 at 11:37 am

  • No, LMJN, I don’t want governance through opinion polls. The polls are just one example of the ways that US citizens have made their views known to their representatives. Certain of the representatives clearly chose not to represent their constituents. The extent to which this occurred is unprecedented in this country in recent years. And the American voters will be more careful where they place their trust next time.

    SKL  |  March 24th, 2010 at 11:55 am

  • The power note is interesting. I do think there is much of that going on because of the levels of flip flopping all sides of the issue. The polls are near worthless ranging from 60% for the bill to 80% against the bill; obviously both are skewed. Since history goes to the victor that is what each side wants to be.
    The question now should be how to go forward. He signed the order as promised, now we need to make sure it sticks.
    Do I like the thought that I’ll pay more for what is a good employer plan? No.
    Do I like the reduced set-asides in pre-tax medical? Absolutely not.
    Do I like the thought that if I lose my job I’ll still be able to get/keep coverage despite pre-existing conditions? Heck yeah!
    Do I like knowing my friend who had non-recurring brain cancer will still be able to be covered after she hits her $5 million cap? Absolutely.
    And maybe that is why the polls are all over the place; many of us like some provisions of the bill and hate other provisions. But of course in a truly successful compromise, no side actually feels like they won. And I think people forget that.

    Mich  |  March 24th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

  • My mother always said that the sign of a good compromise is that everyone is unhappy with the outcome. That may be the case with healthcare reform. I think we’ve lost the idea that compromise is absolutely vital to representing the wishes of the people. Without compromise you typically end up with a tyranny of the (very, very slight) comparative majority. It is incredibly rare to have a true majority in favor of anything in our country. Compromise is the only way to ensure that 40% of the population doesn’t dictate how 100% of us live.

    LMJN  |  March 24th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

  • It is absolutely about politics and power. What the Republicans conveniently forget is that a version of health care reform remarkably similar to the current bill was proposed by Richard Nixon (a Republican, for anyone who’s hazy on ninth-grade Civics) in 1974, and members of the GOP have brought it up several times in the past 30 years, including John McCain. They’re only opposing it because their own party didn’t bring it up, much like (I’m sure) Democrats have not supported it in the past due to the origin. I’m not convinced that *anyone* in Congress is truly representing their constituents, but rather is representing their party. It all makes me sick.

    akmom  |  March 25th, 2010 at 8:34 am

  • akmom - I think what is even sadder, is they’re not necessarily following their party; they’re doing what they think will get them re-elected, be that to go vote for a bill because their particular gerrymandered district wants it, or against it because the party wants them too (and will thereby give them money for their race).
    What I find so interesting about this bill is that even among my friends who generally vote the same way, they are divided over this bill.

    Mich  |  March 26th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

  • Funny, I think your political viewpoint is blatantly obvious. You question the power of those opposing the health care bill, but fail to recognize the arrogance of the ones who jammed it down our throats. The power that Obama so gleefully weilds on a daily basis, not to mention the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who all but said we don’t care who likes it, we’re going to do it anyway.

    Hmmm, your blog is featured in the BOSTON GLOBE and you wrote an indepth blog about the fact that you and your husband have never co-mingled your monies. Maintaining your independence if you will - a very LIBERAL thing to do :)

    You are who you are, why are you pretending to walk the line??

    JMS  |  April 15th, 2010 at 10:38 am

  • Thanks for commenting, JMS, and for reading my blogs. You’re making some interesting assumptions based on where I work and other topics about which I write. I don’t question the power of the people opposing the health bill in this post, I question whether it’s really about politics and say that I think it *is* about power — that goes for its passage as well — and I agree with Bush speachwriter David Frum in thinking that the people holding much of the power aren’t politicians. Many of those who oppose Obama’s plan lauded it when Romney imposed it on Massachusetts, and many of those who support it now were opposed to it before for not doing enough.

    As for my other post: Maintaining financial independence when one spouse has financial issues that the other doesn’t isn’t liberal, just sensible — plenty of conservatives out there do it, too!

    Lylah  |  April 15th, 2010 at 10:57 am