Health Care and Ghosts of War

Speaking in a time of war, Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Somehow this madness must cease.”

Forty-one years later, young soldiers are returning to the United States from terrifying zones of carnage. The old claims of a justified war have melted away. So have the promises of a humane society back home.

Statistics about the war dead tell us very little about human realities. And familiar downbeat numbers about health care — 47 million Americans with no health insurance, perhaps an equal number woefully under-insured — tell us very little about the actual consequences or other options.

“The shocking facts about health care in the United States are well known,” Yes! Magazine noted in the autumn of 2006. “There’s little argument that the system is broken. What’s not well known is that the dialogue about fixing the health care system is just as broken.”

That’s an apt description. For all the media focus and political rhetoric on health care, the mainline discourse is stuck in a corporate-friendly rut. But there are signs that a movement for a rational, humanistic health care system in this country is now gaining strength.

A few hours after writing these words, I was at a large demonstration in San Francisco. The lightning rod for this historic June 19 protest was a national meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an outfit that cheerily pitches itself as “a national trade association representing nearly 1,300 member companies providing health benefits to more than 200 million Americans.”

As it happens, this meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans got underway just as news broke that the congressional “leadership” has devised a formula to fully fund more war. “Democratic and GOP leaders in the House announced agreement Wednesday on a long-overdue war funding bill they said President Bush would be willing to sign,” the Associated Press reported. The bill would “provide about $165 billion to the Pentagon to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for about a year.”

There’s a lot of profit in death. Under the guise of national security. And under the guise of health care.

Today, across the United States, people are dying because they don’t have access to health care. But policy solutions are available. In Congress, about 90 co-sponsors are backing H.R. 676, a bill to provide “comprehensive health insurance coverage for all United States residents.” Call it whatever you like — “single payer” or “improved Medicare for all” or “universal health care with choice of providers and no financial barriers.” What it adds up to is the policy option of treating health care as the human right that it is.

In the latest edition of Health Care Meltdown, author C. Rocky White identifies himself as “a conservative Republican who has always held an entrepreneurial ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ free-market philosophy.” A longtime physician, White describes “the frustration I began to experience while trying to provide compassionate, quality health care in the context of a market in which the accustomed rules of business economics don’t apply.”

Dr. White immersed himself in research on health care policy and finance. Then he pored through reams of the latest data on the tradeoffs of reform options. “No matter how I turned the cube,” he writes, “the answer never changed. That answer was nearly impossible for me, a free-market Republican, to accept.”

Here are Dr. White’s two key conclusions in his own words:

* “Until we remove the motive of profit from the financing of health care, we cannot and we will not resolve our current health care crisis.”

* “Any group that proposes reform policy that maintains the use of for-profit insurance companies in a so-called free market is being driven by one single motive — to protect the golden coffers of their share of the $2 trillion cash cow!”

Dr. White adds: “To continue down this road is paramount to suggesting that we privatize our fire and police services and turn them into for-profit organizations. You do that and people will die — just like they are dying now under our current health care system!”

Grotesquely, the insurance and hospital industries at the center of health care in the United States are, in effect, profiting from priorities that condemn many people to death and many more to avoidable suffering.

Meanwhile, corporate enterprises continue to make a killing from U.S. military expenditures now in the vicinity of $2 billion per day.

During a wartime speech in 1969, the Nobel Prize-winning biologist George Wald said: “Our government has become preoccupied with death, with the business of killing and being killed.”

The preoccupation continues.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people,” Martin Luther King observed, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Still, somehow, this madness must cease.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. Read other articles by Norman, or visit Norman's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Edwin Pell said on June 24th, 2008 at 3:28pm #

    The culture of death is the business of the federal government. The federal government and the global corporations are the problem. They will not be the source of the solution even if Obama is elected. He and all pols are just the smiley face of corporatism.

    We must provide our own medical care, grow our own food, provide our own energy, build our own housing, provide our own schools, arm and staff our own militia, care for our own elderly. When we do this in our own local communities on our own land we will be free.

  2. evie said on June 24th, 2008 at 8:23pm #

    Yes, yes, yes, Edwin Pell.

    Be as independent of government as possible.

  3. Neil Benson said on June 24th, 2008 at 8:52pm #

    At the risk of sounding idealistic, the people of this country must take back the government from the lobbyists, big corporations, political interest groups etc. who control it. These people combined with their minions in Congress have brought about a health-care crisis, housing crisis, financial crisis, energy crisis, and several other crises that don’t come to mind at the present time. I don’t know if Obama will really make a difference, but surely no one can think that electing McCain will make one iota of change in this country. The doctors must as a group speak up forcibly for the need to change the health-care system. Even at the cost of their multi-six-figure incomes.

  4. Brian Koontz said on June 24th, 2008 at 10:03pm #

    “We must provide our own medical care, grow our own food, provide our own energy, build our own housing, provide our own schools, arm and staff our own militia, care for our own elderly. When we do this in our own local communities on our own land we will be free.”

    The state will never allow that. The state will implement a martial lockdown way way before that ever comes to pass. What you’re talking about threatens state taxation and control of the population.

    The only way to get around this state dominance is to take control of the political institutions along with the civil ones, so that the state is no longer in control of the military.

  5. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 27th, 2008 at 5:14am #

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008
    Cuba approves, makes available lung cancer
    Cuban scientists said on Tuesday the first vaccine to extend lives of lung cancer patients has been approved by Cuban authorities for use and is available in the island’s hospitals. The drug, CimaVax EGF, has been shown to increase survival rates on average four to five months and much longer in some patients, they said in a news conference at Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology. In contrast to chemotherapy, the traditional treatment for lung cancer, they said CimaVax EGF has few side effects because it is a modified protein that attacks only cancer cells.

  6. Lloyd Rowsey said on June 27th, 2008 at 5:18am #

    That’s from WhiteLightBlackLight. I think Alice meant to post it under the heading “Cuba approves, makes available lung cancer TREATMENT”. Funny how weirdly reports from Cuba get put up on the internet.