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Harry and Louise's Deadly Embrace

Flying home from the Democratic convention last August, I sat next to a Sarah Palin-loving, Obama-bashing dittohead who gave me an earful on the various issues of the day. Chief among them: the superiority of the U.S. health care system.

My fellow passenger had travelled to Canada for work, he said, and had the misfortune to encounter the Canadian health care system when he came down with strep. He visited a Canadian doctor, who diagnosed his problem, but who, my fellow passenger complained, spent only a few minutes with him. Later, when he went to a pharmacy to fill his prescription for antibiotics, he found that he didn't have as many pills as he thought he needed. The reason, he explained, was that Canadian doctors try to game the system by getting patients to come back for extra office visits to refill their prescriptions.

This nonsensical tirade against a country that offered a noncitizen free health care only makes sense in the context of the rightwing rhetorical battle against the commies who want to destroy America by providing more citizens with health care.

The anti-universal-healthcare lobby is still out there. And much of the debate is unchanged since 1993.

Conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are railing about "socialized medicine." Republicans are crowing that President Obama's efforts at reform could be his "Waterloo."

But with 10 million more uninsured, fewer Americans are buying the conspiracy theories. People know there is a health care crisis. Few would object to getting free medical care in Canada. In fact, so many U.S. citizens are sneaking across the border to get cheap drugs, stories about the problem have become a local news staple.

So maybe the worst sign for the future of health care is the "conversion" of Harry & Louise to heath care reform advocates.

"A little more cooperation, a little less politics, and we can get the job done this time," says Louise of the infamous PHARMA-funded Harry & Louise ads, in the latest industry-financed national health care ad campaign.

After helping to torpedo the Clinton health care plan and launching a new era in issue advertising, Harry & Louise made a comeback just in time for the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions. The writing was already on the wall. So, instead of railing about choice and government-run health care, as they did in 1993, they decried the plight of the uninsured and asked that the next President, whoever he may be, put health care at the top of his agenda.

That was the first red flag.

But now, as the sausage machine in Washington cranks out a lobbyist-pleasing health care bill that, as it works its way through the Senate Finance Committee, no longer includes low-cost drugs or, possibly, even a public option, it looks like reform is turning into something Harry and Louise will love--no politics, no conflict, and largely written by the business and pharmaceutical lobbies behind the popular ads.

Actual U.S. citizens who are not paid by big Pharma still want an end to the health care crisis. That's why nine people were arrested in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday for protesting in the lobby of Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, demanding an end to the insurance company's profit-maximizing, health-care-denying practices and calling for a single-payer, national health care system.

And it is why people are pouring into Washington, DC, on Thursday, July 30, for a massive rally and lobbying day in celebration of Medicare's 44th birthday.

A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans support a government-run, universal health care system. A survey of U.S. doctors reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that 59 percent favor a Medicare for All system of national health insurance.

Grassroots efforts to get this majority view across to the Obama Administration and members of Congress are the best answer to the wingnuts on rightwing radio and, more insidiously, the populist-sounding proponents of faux health care reform, Harry & Louise.

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