Beware of health reform scare tactics
Republican candidates Rebecca Kleefisch and Ron Johnson have joined the Tea Party’s anti-health reform chorus by describing their Democratic opponents as champions of a “government takeover of the finest health care system in the world.”
Johnson, the millionaire Oshkosh businessman running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, goes so far as to say the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the “greatest assault ever” on his American freedoms and the reason for his Senate campaign.
Both Johnson and Kleefisch, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin lieutenant governor, have used personal stories to explain how they believe that health reform law will destroy America’s health system.
In her latest television ad, Kleefisch praises the medical care she received in her recent and successful fight against cancer. In debates with Feingold and on the campaign trail, Johnson tells the story of life-saving surgery his daughter received years ago at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Kleefisch and Johnson use their positive encounters with Wisconsin medical providers as reasons for opposing federal health reform. The big hand of federal government, the candidates’ argument goes, will destroy the world’s finest health system and keep Wisconsinites from getting the medical care they deserve.
No one should dispute Kleefisch and Johnson’s sincerity — both candidates have faced very serious medical issues in their families, and a positive outcome is the best anyone would hope for. There’s also no disputing that Wisconsin ranks among the highest in the nation when it comes to quality medical care.
However, these candidates’ descriptions of what health reform means for the rest of us have been misleading and, at times, just plain false. Kleefisch’s slam against a government role in health care is hypocritical because the cancer care she praises so highly was covered by the state-supported health plan that her husband, state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, gets as a government lawmaker
Johnson and Kleefisch’s scary warnings against “socialized medicine” are examples of the provocative rhetoric so common in Tea Party politics. While the candidates’ intentions may be to win elections, their distortion of what the reform law will do does nothing to improve the lives of millions of Americans who can’t afford access to medical care.
America may be tops in the world for health care spending, but for all that money we aren’t No. 1 in life expectancy. Researchers at Columbia University reported just last week that, because the U.S. health care system is riddled with problems, Americans live shorter, less healthy lives than people from other wealthy industrialized nations.
The study compares U.S. health care spending and life expectancy rates with those in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. All 12 other countries have universal insurance coverage, but the design of their health care systems varies.
“Even as health care spending per capita has increased in the U.S. over the last three decades, the nation has fallen behind 12 other wealthy nations in 15-year survival for men and women ages 45 and 65,” wrote the Commonwealth Fund, which paid for the study.
The researchers speculated that the United States’ deteriorating life expectancy has more to do with the health care system itself. The system’s emphasis on fee-for-service care, its preference for highly specialized medicine over primary and preventive care, and a lack of coordination among health care services and providers all add up to higher spending without better health.
“The findings undercut critics who might argue that the U.S. health care system is not in need of major changes,” the study’s authors wrote in the national magazine Health Affairs.
They conclude that the new reform law begins to address these problems by expanding insurance to everyone (all Americans must have insurance by 2014), improving access to primary care, and ensuring that primary and specialty medical services are coordinated to reduce medical errors and wasteful spending.
It’s clear that the U.S. health system isn’t perfect. Although the new health reform law also lacks perfection, the political rhetoric of Tea Partiers Kleefisch and Johnson only confuses and scares voters.
Such tactics might win votes, but they fail to generate the kind of serious, bipartisan ideas that are necessary to mend America’s not-so-fine health system.(photo credit: lead image photo by Urban Spaceman via flickr, CC Licensed.)