Friday, August 28, 2009

Grassley Does Rationing

Less than fifteen months after surgery to remove a brain tumor, Senator Edward Moore Kennedy has died, and liberals, conservatives, and corporatist Democrats have rushed to claim his legacy as their own. He would have insisted on a public option; he would have opposed it; or he would have thought it nice, but cheerfully would have bargained it away to get something called "health care reform."

But once the memorials and the funeral have taken place, at least one powerful politician, one who eagerly exploited Kennedy's illness before his death, ought to be asked to explain what he meant when he told an Iowa radio station:

I’ve been told that the brain tumor that Sen. Kennedy has — because he’s 77 years old — would not be treated the way it’s treated in the United States. In other words, he would not get the care he gets here because of his age. In other words, they’d say ‘well he doesn’t have long to live even if he lived another four to five years.’ They’d say ‘well, we gotta spend money on people who can contribute more to economy.’ It’s a little like people saying when somebody gets to be 85 their life is worth less than when they were 35 and you pull the tubes on them.

Sure, this was in bad taste, but that's not illegal. Nevertheless, Senator Charles Grassley (R.- Iowa) needs to answer several questions. Among them:

- Who is this who "told" you about the care Senator Kennedy would have gotten if he were residing in another country?

- Which countries with "government running things," as you put it, ration care on the basis of age or the patient's contribution to the economy?

- Cheryl Tidwell, the director of commercial sales training at the nation's fourth largest health insurer, has acknowledged that her industry rations care and has criticized a public option. What evidence do you have that such a health plan would result in more rationing when that is an indispensable component of the private system we now have no choice but to depend on?

- Given that Senator Kennedy tragically failed to survive "another four to five years," can we conclude that our privately-based health care system failed him in the same manner you suggest the nations with more government involvement fail their victims of cancer?

It's not only Senator Grassley, of course, but it's one of the GOP's favorite talking points. Sarah Palin, fresh off quitting her job and giving up on the Alaskan people she always claimed to be devoted to, wrote on her Facebook page, "nationalized health care inevitably leads to rationing. There is simply no way to cover everyone and hold down the costs at the same time." (For those of you too young to remember, there once was a time Repub policians preached the virtue of competition and the mainstream media eagerly believed they were serious.) Republican Party leader Rush Limbaugh said "It would be an insult to the memory of Ted Kennedy to put his name on a bill that has rationed health care according to someone's age and the extent of their illness." (Which it probably would be if there were such a bill; Rush realizes there isn't, but figures individuals who listen to him aren't exposed to facts, so they'll believe almost anything he says.) RNC Chairman Michael Steele is more creative, suggesting that Democrats want to ration health care based on political affiliation.

And on and on and on. Most of these Republicans have a clear motive for demagoguing health care policy; Palin wants to secure her base for a possible run for the presidency; Limbaugh wants to tear down a President whom he brags he wants to fail; Steele needs to attack a Democratic initiative and have it fail so that he proves he is not inadequate as a party chairman. And we know they are enemies of President Obama. Chuck Grassley, though, is one of the three Republican members of the "Gang of Six" on the Senate Finance Committee negotiating (pretending to negotiate) its health care bill. And if the mainstream media had the slightest interest in clarifying the issues involved, it should stop pandering to the Iowa Senator and sit him down with a few good questions.

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