America ‘muddles along,’ even with health reform

The health care reform bill of 2010, the subject of seemingly endless debate and hyperbole of the highest order, is law. To date there have been no reports of federal gendarmes rounding up a single grandma and sending her to have tea with St. Peter.

Passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it is officially known, came 45 years after Republicans in Congress claimed that the federal government was about to take over the health care system. Socialism, that is.

Americans would no longer be able to choose their own health care providers, said the naysayers. Health care reform would bankrupt the country.

The same arguments were made last week, and have been for the last seemingly unending year that we’ve been debating the issue.

The latter claim might still turn out to be true. That Medicare has become an entitlement that becomes more and more difficult to fund every year and, in fact, at some point may implode on itself is a fact of life that one way or another we’ve learned to live with.  But most of those outrageous claims made back in 1965 when Medicare was enacted and again during the latest debate (I use that term very loosely) were then and are now Chicken Little arguments. The political class in the United States has elevated visions of falling skies to high art. But it just isn’t so.

That’s not to say that the United States’ first stab at government-run health care hasn’t ballooned beyond anyone’s expectations. In 1965, it cost about $8 billion. By the end of the last century that had swollen to $224 billion and this year it’s expected to top $480 billion. That’s just Medicare. Add to that all the other federal health care programs and total federal expenditures rise to more than $600 billion. Those numbers should tell us that something must be done.

At that rate the government could one day spend as much on health care as it does bailing out private businesses.

So our elected leaders acted. You may like or dislike what the legislation did. If you lack insurance you probably will be pleased. It will make insurance easier to get and more affordable. If you want meaningful health care cost control you probably won’t like it.

It seems to me that no reasonable American should be pleased with the conduct of many people we sent to Washington. The debate, such as it was, wasn’t debate at all. It was simply shouting. That the Democrats wouldn’t budge on such no-brainers as tort reform tells us how much the eventual winners in this contest cared about compromise. Not much at all. That the GOP wouldn’t fully repudiate random acts of violence that were, if not encouraged, then at least not discouraged, says much about the depths to which the party of Lincoln has fallen.

Many years ago I attended a summer-long seminar at Georgia Tech. The high-falutin’ title was “Democracy and the Democratic Ideal.” Back then technology didn’t amount to much. It was in the days before PacMan, even, and the Internet wasn’t a word. Technology had not progressed enough to give us 24-hour cable news. (Yes, those truly were the good ol’ days.)

At the end of the seminar the professor asked us all to envision how our country would be governed at some point in the future, considering all the advances in technology we could expect. It was a navel-gazing exercise.

I’ve always remembered one answer. It was from a young reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News who said she wasn’t at all sure. But the one thing she was certain about was that regardless of where technology took us, or who we sent to Washington, or whether Democrats or Republicans were in control, the country would continue to “muddle along.” Nobody would ever be totally happy with anything, but as history progressed, she said, so would the United States. Things might lurch to the right or to the left, and we might occasionally take a step backward and not every moment would be bright and shining. But forward we would go.

I’ve always thought that was an astute observation.

We’ve certainly done some lurching of late, and maybe even taken a step or two backward. But I’m sure we’ll continue to muddle along.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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