Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Breakthrough on Healthcare?

by Ben Sears

In Sunday’s (Feb 28) Philadelphia Inquirer (or “Inky” as it is known locally) there appeared an opinion piece that I found surprising (or maybe stunning!), and I must say, encouraging. The article, with the headline “Healthcare Lessons from Europe, Asia” and written by columnist Trudy Rubin (about whom we will say more below), actually makes the case that Congressional leaders have not been up front with the American people about what our healthcare options really are. They have, the article tells us, spoken and acted as if the US has nothing to learn from the experience of other nations when it comes to the life and death matter of healthcare.

Trudy, our author, takes the leaders to task for this failure and throws in a swipe at “conservative talk show hosts”, naming Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, who “decry the evils of ‘socialized medicine’ in countries with universal health coverage” and who perpetuate the “myths about European health systems”: long waits, bureaucratic waste, etc. She takes pains to debunk the myths pointing out that, “in countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland or Japan … coverage is universal, affordable and top quality, and patients see private doctors with little or no waiting.”

And why are the countries mentioned able to deliver top quality care at lower cost? “That’s because every developed country but ours has decided that health insurance should be a nonprofit operation.” She notes that “universal coverage” does not necessarily mean “a single payer system or a government run health system. But it does sharply cut health costs by eliminating the mish mash of records and charges used by our myriad insurance firms….” Our columnist goes so far as to suggest some valuable reading for us and for our Senators, recommending T.R. Reid’s The Healing of America.

So why am I telling you all this? Because of who the columnist is and where the article appeared. To begin with, the Inky has been under local, and conservative, ownership for a few years now. Primary owner Bryan Tierney has been a Republican fund raiser and activist; he led a group of investors who purchased the paper from Knight Ridder. Although he pledged not to interfere with the liberal editorial bent the paper enjoyed previously (this is debatable, but that is how the editorial board liked to see itself), the Inky’s op-ed page leans disturbingly to the right. “Columnists” such as Charles Krauthammer and former Senator Rick Santorum appear regularly, but never Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert or Frank Rich. (OK, sometimes E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post).

And the Inky’s authority on international matters is Trudy Rubin. She fits the Inky’s mold perfectly: seemingly straight up and objective. She has traveled to world hot spots, such as Iraq and Afghanistan; she has interviewed U.S. military and civilian leaders on the ground and local figures as well. She will, sometimes, be mildly critical of a particular policy emphasis. But Trudy has never condemned the Bush invasion of Iraq or the occupation. She has never questioned the basic thrust of the Bush foreign policy in Iraq or Afghanistan.

So, I must say that Sunday’s article on healthcare took me by surprise. In my opinion, it is the best column I have seen from her. I do wonder why it took her so long to get around to writing it, but—hey—better late than never. But, more important, if Trudy can write this and the Inquirer will publish it, does this signal a break, or at least a crack, in the conservative log jam on health care? Could it be that some powerful middle of the road forces are angling to distance themselves from the increasingly embarrassing performance of the Congressional Republicans, not to mention tea baggers and others, following the nationally televised health care summit?

For Trudy Rubin, this does not yet amount to a direct challenge or criticism of U.S. foreign policy, but here she does bring her international experience to bear on an issue of basic significance to the American people in a positive vein as she calls on our leaders to take off their imperial blinders and look at the world in a new way.

“Have you heard,” she asks, “anyone [in the senate] talk about European health systems? Of course not. It’s easier to embrace our myths and pretend Americans know best about managing health care. But that’s the biggest myth of them all.”