October 6 2009

Washington D.C.'s Credibility Gap

Nancy M. Pfotenhauer

Only masochists listened to all of last week's Senate Finance Committee debate on the bill Democrats hope to bring to the Senate floor in the next two weeks. Emails flying around from listeners included terms such as "wrist-slitting" or "adult beverages required."

Although there were many policy experts who had specific areas of concern, one over-arching theme about the individual mandate trumped the rest:  only in Washington, D.C. could folks think it's a good idea to subject Americans who can't afford health insurance (or the stiff fine for not purchasing health insurance) to criminal penalties   while Charlie Rangel - the top tax policy writer in Congress - has been "forgetting" to declare major sources of income for years.  For that matter, didn't Tim Geithner also have a convenient loss of memory when it came to more than $40,000 he owed in taxes yet have nary a hiccup in becoming Secretary of Treasury?  Regardless of outcome, the rank hypocrisy revealed by the health care debate will leave a bad taste in the mouth of Americans for a very long time and Washington's credibility gap will be almost impossible to bridge.

Those intent on passing what is quickly becoming the most hated piece of legislation in recent history risk two things:  the quality of health care provided in this country and, consequently, their own political future.  Americans are vehemently rejecting what these politicians are selling.  A recent Gallup poll revealed that 61% of Americans overall  and 64% of Independents believe Americans themselves - rather than the government - have the responsibility for ensuring that they have health insurance.  Despite high favorability numbers in the first quarter of this year, President Obama is now upside down in his ratings of how he has handled this issue. 

On Monday, Rasmussen released a poll showing a new low for the president - only 41% of those surveyed think he's doing a good job on this issue.  Most Americans believe they will be worse off if government effectively takes over our health care system and that they will pay more for lower quality care.  No wonder that by August 64% of individuals said that how their representative votes on this legislation will be a "major factor" in how they vote in the next election.

Women also have reason for serious concerns.  Not only are we the undisputed health care decision-makers for our families, we care a lot about privacy.  After all, under the auspices of "health information technology" our personal medical histories will be available to health providers, insurers, the government and "other interested parties" who are obliquely described as being part of the health care system.

Privacy concerns yesterday prompted Rep. Kennedy to stress that certain procedures or conditions could be kept out of your medical record.  White House spokesman Robert Gibbs could not confirm that Kennedy was correct.  In this day and age when Joe-the-Plumber can't raise a concern without bureaucrats digging through his records and releasing them to the press, who could feel safe?  Are employers going to know your undergoing fertility treatment?  Will your children's future employers know they were on A.D.D. medicine for years?  The privacy ramifications of this provision -- shoe-horned into the stimulus package -- were never properly vetted.

This is what happens when politicians engage in press-release policy and Americans do not have the chance to know how their lives may be affected by such changes.  Of course, if Democrat Leaders make good on their threat to use reconciliation (with strict limits on debate and a simple majority vote) it will be the mother-of-all-legislative-muggings.  In order to hit a political deadline established by President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sen. Baucus are doing everything they can to keep Americans from knowing the details of what is about to be done to them.  People with concerns are dismissed as racist, radical and reactionary.  Senior citizens, small businesses and parents have been called "confused."  The condescension can be cut with a knife.

Our doctors, nurses and health care providers also find themselves subject to criminal penalties with one provision specifically removing any requirement to prove intent.  No wonder some 45% of doctors surveyed by Investors Business Daily said they will consider leaving their profession if a government take-over of health care occurs.  Doctors know that science is driving us more and more toward a personalized approach to medicine rather than the cookie-cutter approach being force-fed to the American people.  What quality of care will Americans receive if politicians remove the ability for a doctor to treat patients effectively and then hold prison sentences over their heads if they inadvertently trespass on one of myriad, sometimes conflicting regulations?

There are changes that need to be made in health insurance and health care in this country.  Those changes should be thoroughly discussed with the American people and debated by those elected to represent us.  The thoughtful members of both political parties should come together and demand a completely open process with consequences of actions clearly weighed.  Only then will our elected leaders have a chance to close their ever-widening credibility gap with those they purport to serve.

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