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The Waco Tribune-Herald (Texas)

SiCKO: A Rx For Middlemen

John Young

In the cartoon, the woman outside a theater showing Sicko says, "It's a movie that says we should have free health care."

To which her husband, pulling her along, says, "Good. Then it's a movie that should have free tickets."

Spoken like someone who has health insurance.

It has seasonable predictability, like honeysuckle blooming in April. When a Michael Moore film addresses an issue of great import - say gun violence or a war based on falsehoods, hype and hysteria, - the spin-daddies seek to make the issue into: Michael Moore.

Sorry, folks. Pick at Moore and his films all you want. In each instance, the nuisance of truth hangs in the air like dust in projector lights.

Sicko is nothing more than a rhetorical exercise: If fighting fires or policing streets is a communal responsibility. If educating children is a communal function. If invading, pacifying, occupying and reconstructing countries - you know, "freedom on the march" - is a function of "us." Why not health care?

Why, for the 50 million Americans without health insurance, is it no one else's problem?

Of course, it's everyone's problem. Those who treat it like it isn't don't want to acknowledge the extent that it is. Ask the apologists for the system as it is, and realize that they have one interest in mind and one alone: the middle man. Another word for free enterprise.

In this country, medicine is business. Understand? Big business. We're not talking about the doctors, here, and neither is Moore.

We're talking about corporations - insurance companies and the stockholders they serve. Throw in American pharmaceutical companies. GNP-wise, it's a whole other super power, except these soldiers carry briefcases and samples.

Whether the issue is health coverage for all or affordable prescriptions, we are wedged into an untenable political corner by corporate behemoths and a mind-set that puts business (profit) above all, even the public interest.

This week, facing the prospect of a Senate bill that would increase by $35 billion what the federal government spends on the Children's Health Insurance Program, President Bush threatens to use his rarely utilized veto pen.

Why? Principally, because he says expanding CHIP could cause it to compete with private insurers and undermine private enterprise. Considering that we're talking about insurance for those who don't have it, this is like saying support for mass transit undermines General Motors.

CHIP is nothing more than an up-front investment that keeps some children out of the emergency room and in school, staying healthy and being less of a fiscal and social burden for us all.

Every uninsured American represents catastrophe waiting to happen, and it's all for want of preventive health care. Those emergency room costs and hospital bills are borne by you and me through higher health-care costs.

Free health care in Britain and Canada? No. Taxpayers pay for it, as with schools, police and fire protection. In health care American-style, we pay corporate middle men, and then pay again for those Americans whose interests aren't met by the middle-man system.

The most devastating point made by Sicko is how deeply the insurance and pharmaceutical industries have sunk their claws into our lawmaking process through campaign largess and back-scratching patronage.

Consider former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, Republican point man for the pharmaceutical-friendly Medicare reform bill in 2003.

He received $218,000 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical manufacturers over 15 years. Now he is making $2 million a year as CEO of the top drug-lobbying group.

As you see, the influence bartered by today's "stay-the-course" chanticleers in Washington makes them middle-men, too.

John Young's column appears Thursday and Sunday. E-mail:

© 2007 The Waco Tribune-Herald

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