I celebrated the passage of the health care reform bill by going to see a movie about the Republican vision for health care. Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, portrays a dystopian future (is there any other kind these days?) in which private enterprise’s control over the medical system has reached its logical conclusion. Patients can purchase, for the price of a Manhattan condo, a high-tech artificial replacement for virtually any body part or organ. The only catch is that they’re then in hock, at credit card interest rates, to the corporation that has gained a monopoly over the trade, a corporation which bears a striking, albeit slightly hyperbolic resemblance to today’s giant health insurance corporations (insurance itself seems to have vanished in this future world).
Oh, there’s one other catch as well: those who can’t keep up the payments for their new body part are hunted down by the film’s eponymous repo men and knocked out by a tranquilizer dart, after which the organ or joint in question is reclaimed. ”I’m required by law to ask you if you would like an ambulance to be called or to wait on standby,” Jude Law tells an unconscious patient before slicing open his chest and repossessing his artificial heart.
I wouldn’t say I’m over the moon about Obama’s “government takeover of health care.” I’d be considerably happier if it actually were a government takeover, because while I’m not fully convinced a single payer system is the best way to go, it’s got to be a vast improvement over letting the private insurance cartel run things. But at the same time I’m inclined to think a public-private hybrid like the one that exists in Australia and a number of European countries might do the best job of providing universal care and keeping costs down.
Be that as it may, while I wasn’t enthusiastic about the watered down, attenuated version of health care that finally emerged from the House of Representatives, many if not most of my doubts were assuaged by the spectacle of Republicans railing against it like so many Kang and Kodos doppelgängers. To suggest that John Boehner’s body had been inhabited by a malevolent space alien would be generous, since any terrestrial explanation for the dazzling array of illogic and untruth he and his colleagues have unleashed on the public these past weeks would reflect far less favorably on him.
Although I vote for Democrats most of the time, I wouldn’t consider myself an especially partisan person. I never cared much for Nancy Pelosi, and my affection for Barack Obama has more to do with his ideals (at least as expressed by him) and his rhetoric than his political affiliation. But Pelosi has certainly grown in my estimation as a result of her ability to steer this bill through Congress, and just when I was starting to lose faith in Obama’s willingness or even ability to stand up for principles and knock a few heads together if necessary, he’s come through just as I always hoped he could.
Yes, of course I’d like a robust (as they say) public option, and I’d like even more a federal rate commission empowered to put the kibosh on extortionate insurance prices (I just got hit with a 20 percent increase this year, which apparently is “moderate” compared to what some have been asked to pay), but let’s be realistic: the bill that got through the House yesterday is the most that we can expect at this time. My guess is that Congress will have to revisit it when problems start cropping up and insurance rates keep rising, but at least we have (finally!) established that the government has a legitimate role in guaranteeing what private industry has manifestly failed to do: provide all Americans with reasonably priced and effective health care.
“Health care is a privilege, not a right” seems to be the latest talking point of Republican legislators and talk show hosts, which seems to fly in the face of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it reads, “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note: it says “rights,” not privileges, and how could you argue that life itself, not to mention liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are not threatened — if not made downright impossible — by the lack of access to medical care?
The Declaration goes on to say: “…that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Hello, teabaggers! Organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. All this blather about government having “no business” getting involved in health care flies right out the window when looked at in this light. Sick people are not safe and happy; sick people are not at liberty to live their lives to the best of their abilities; in many cases, sick people lose even the right to life itself. Organizing governmental powers so as to address this very real problem is as American as it gets; letting private corporations maintain a stranglehold over who does and does not receive medical care and allowing people to be bankrupted by illness is, on the other hand, downright unpatriotic. It’s the sort of thing you would expect in a feudal or caste-ridden system, not the shining city on a hill that confused teabaggers make America out to be, all the while contradicting and undermining everything that was ever admirable about this land.
Larry Livermore is a writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. He penned a column for Maximum Rock ‘n Roll for seven years, followed by a 14-year stint at the now-defunct Punk Planet. Check out his blog at www.larrylivermore.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published on larrylivermore.com.