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Public opinion is dropping, but health care reform still essential

Health care in this country is seriously ill.

Facts about the proposed health care bill, recently passed by the House and currently being examined by the Senate, can be difficult to come by, with details only recently coming to light. Though the text is available online at various sites, including the House’s own, mainstream American news sources are focused on a series of specific, mostly inconsequential issues.

The bill’s sheer size has been much discussed, with the claim that more text equals more bureaucracy and wasteful government spending. Whether or not the bill is socialistic is another matter, one which is completely meaningless – it speaks in no way to the bill’s actual legitimacy or moral worth, only to base fears left over from the Cold War – fears which weren’t any more meaningful then than they are now.

Americans’ chief fear over the health care bill is its cost. Indeed, the current incarnation is $900 billion, an amount which appears staggering to Americans earning $6.50 an hour. But, is really quite reasonable compared with our current $2.2 trillion annual health care expenditures.

The most recent poll, conducted by Stanford University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found 43 percent of Americans against the bill in Congress, 41 percent in favor and 15 either neutral or undecided. It is one of the first polls to demonstrate the shifting tide of American public opinion against health care. However, the reliability of the results is dubious.

For one thing, there are plenty of Americans who might oppose the bill for not going far enough in its coverage for all Americans. By the government’s own admission, a good chunk of Americans would remain uncovered – a summary of the bill says it would cover 96 percent of Americans, leaving 4 percent, or about 12 million, without coverage.

Another issue is the methodology of the survey. According to the Associated Press description of how the survey was conducted, about 1,500 people were contacted via landline or cell phone (1,052 landline, 450 cell phone). According to the report, it was a ‘nationally representative random sample.’ This is plainly false. Though the telephone numbers were probably generated as randomly as possible, they can only reach people with telephones. Areas racked by true destitution and poverty where people have need for health care more than any other place may not even have telephones. Factor in their opinions and the numbers would be very likely to shift.

What is clear, beyond all the talking head propaganda and volume of the bill’s pages, is that the most popular option all along – a single-payer system, or something that resembles Medicare for all – would never happen. Obama himself supported the option as an Illinois state senator, apparently being forced into abandoning it in order to wiggle through corporate pressure and occupy the White House.

It’s difficult to ascertain exactly why public support for the single-payer system has been waning. On programs like Glenn Beck’s show and talk radio, the health care bill is routinely torn to shreds. Conservatives argue the bill simply costs too much to pass right now (although the Congressional Budget Office actually reports the bill would reduce our deficit) and Americans tend to agree. However, when Americans are told the bill would actually reduce cost to the average taxpayer, the same AP poll cited earlier finds increased support for the bill: 52 percent.

Another reason to oppose the bill include the removal of the abortion provision. Though it passed in the House, restrictions will likely be added to abortion coverage in order to move the bill through the Senate. Compromise is always necessary, but it isn’t clear what might happen if Americans dependent on the government program need an abortion which isn’t covered.

Whether hosts like Beck are actually influencing public opinion has yet to be explored, but the shift does coincide with he and others’ ramping up of their anti-health care propaganda campaign. Their arguments, of course, are frequently flimsy. For example, they tell people we would have a system like Cuba or Canada as though such a feature is intrinsically bad.

With a more open mind, Americans could come to their own conclusions about health care. The public option is back in the bill, but still leaves many Americans uncovered. Many of the bill’s features are explored on Page 1, including comparisons of our system with others around the world.

Even opponents of the current bill acknowledge the need for reform. With so many Americans suffering, losing jobs and benefits at alarming rates, there is no better time for a complete overhaul and universal health care than right now. The cost should make no difference to anybody where human life is concerned.

Respond to Kyle by commenting below or emailing to [email protected]

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