Unless you were asleep or out of the country, you probably know this already: The debate over the Obama administration's healthcare reform scheme has heated up considerably in the past month, to say the least.
We've been living day to day with ugly newspaper and television accounts of the disastrous town hall meetings on the subject, the nonsensical Sarah Palin ridiculously chiming in with dire talk of government "death panels" (you betcha!), and that talk-radio windbag, entertainer and grand poobah of the GOP Rush Limbaugh outrageously likening the Obama plan (is there an Obama plan?) to something out of Nazi Germany.
It's gotten to the point where we don't know if the president is a fascist, a socialist or just a plain, old Democrat. Such is the civil and rational state of the national discourse on universal healthcare, if you'll pardon the irony, an issue that has engaged us all since the days of FDR.
The bottom-line upshot of all of this at this writing is that the Republicans have pulled the plug on a plan that embraces a public option and which they maintain would pull the plug on dear old grandma. Even usually moderate Republicans like Sen. Charles Grassley of Kansas are using such language.
It remains to be seen whether they'll pay the piper for this course of action. The Democrats, meanwhile, have been left to go it alone, although they seem to be lowering their sights. Suddenly, the White House and liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, representing San Francisco--a buzzword if there ever was one--and the lady who actually cobbled the administration plan together, were talking less about universal healthcare and healthcare reform than they were about "health insurance reform" and "consumer protection."
Yet again, or should I say as always, the insurance industry is caught in the crosshairs. It's an easy reach for the Democrats. Insurers are bracing to pay again for past sins and for the appearance, at least, that they are reaping windfall profits at a time when common folk are suffering.
Let's face it. "Insurance" is still a dirty word for most people. The AIG mess is the latest reminder, with Hank Greenberg arrogantly and defiantly saying on the lead business page of The New York Times that he bore "no responsibility" for his empire's fraudulent accounting activities.
A recent poll reveals that conservative doctors despise the thought of government intervention in healthcare, but they hate insurance companies all the more. Another poll tells us that people generally fear change (in this case, the government stepping in) as much as they fear the status quo.
As movie actress Bette Davis memorably said in "All About Eve," "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
Health insurers can only pray that they'll find the equivalent of the heroic "Sully" to sit in the cockpit and guide them to a soft landing. I'm referring here in case you've already forgotten this past winter's headlines to the US Airways pilot Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III who "safely" crashed his plane in January and saved all 155 passengers onboard.
THOMAS J. SLATTERY,
a writer on industry affairs, is managing director of Slattery-Esterkamp Communications, Baldwin, N.Y.
September 1, 2009
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