To Your Health: This May Hurt a Little

The executive and legislative branches have failed to provide the country with a healthcare system the equal of most of our global competitors. But luckily, the third branch’s Supreme Court has ridden to the rescue.

Last week it heard complaints by an evangelical, arts and crafts billionaire and Mennonite carpenters who say their freedom of religion is threatened if they have to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control methods they regard as tantamount to abortion. I mean who gets to decide these things, you and your doctor or your employer, the faith healer?

Is this a great country or what? Here is a country where forty million people have no insurance and many more face bankruptcy if they have a major illness. Meanwhile insurance companies and hospitals are richer than ever and Medicare fraud practitioners have Swiss bank accounts. Yet the highest court is deciding if corporations are to be regarded as having religious scruples.

The explanation for this absurd situation can be found in a book called “An Introduction to Legal Reasoning” from which I learned that legal reasoning bears little resemblance to reasoning, if by that we mean logic or rationality. Legal reasoning is figuring out what a law (cobbled together by bickering partisans and interpreted by one court after another of bickering legal zealots) means to the latest court of biased, fallible, political appointees. Good luck.

In deciding this case the 5-4 Republican, 6-3 Catholic Roberts Court will no doubt take a dim view of a) abortion b) government infringing the rights of corporations to pretend they are human beings c) the health care needs of actual human beings if they interfere with the right of employers to do whatever they please, particularly if cloaked in their Freedom of Religion.

One could discuss the baroque legal craziness that has encrusted the First Amendment right to attend the house of worship of your choice, but why bother? Dylan Thomas’s reaction when he first visited America perfectly sums up two centuries of Freedom of Religion jurisprudence; “It’s all a mistake, but it’s too late for you and I to do anything about it.”

The real point ought to be figuring out how to devise a system that assures all Americans access to affordable care, takes the costly onus off employers, and gets profiteering insurance companies out of the middle, one that spends less on healthcare without impairing quality and covers the uninsured so they don’t end up free riders on everyone else’s health care dime. Most developed countries manage the trick and Medicare seems to have coped with the elderly successfully.

Virtually none of our economic competitors tie health care to employment which is a weird dodge invented during World War II to attract good workers by offering a perk that got around wage controls. Today employers would love not to have to waste time and money dealing with ever rising health care costs. Most workers would love to be freed from the lousy benefits that come with lousy jobs and the job lock that comes from fear of leaving a lousy job that has good benefits.

The current system is bad for workers and bad for business and inflates the cost of health care due to the insurance industry middleman. But if corporations don’t supply health care, who will?

The billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby can pay for any medical needs out of pocket, but their employees are dependent on them for insurance. We are becoming a bifurcated country when it comes to health care. Sloan Kettering, Cleveland Clinic and Mayo for the monied, Podunk medicine or none at all for the poor and working classes.

Opponents of Obamacare love to say they don’t want government getting between you and your doctor or running death panels or inflating the cost of care. How cozy and old-fashioned that sounds, the family Doc straight out of Norman Rockwell making house calls.

But the reality is that the insurers already stand between me and my doctor and were inflating premiums annually long before Obama came along to blame. They tell my doctor which drugs are covered and which procedures will be paid for. They decide which doctor or hospital I can use. If they aren’t in my plan, they won’t pay.

The present system is a mess with middle men siphoning off gigantic piles of cash. They are not in the business of meeting my medical needs but increasing their own bottom line. Obamacare is a Rube Goldberg device created to split the difference between rapacious free enterprise and Medicare-for-All in order to win Republican votes.

It won none. Better to have single-payer, but that’s creeping socialism and infringes the religious freedom of ruling class Republicans who worship Mammon. So if, as seems likely, they win House and Senate in November and are in a position to kill Obamacare, what will they put in its place?

Laws that favor their constituents, of course. Not you and I, but our old friends — insurance companies, hospital conglomerates, big pharma and Hobby Lobby billionaire anti-abortion activists. Meet the new mess, same as the old mess. Feeling better?

Postscript: I am gratified to learn this blog has readers at the executive level of NBC. A week ago I complained that David Gregory was the worst host in the history of “Meet the Press.” This week Chuck Todd was in the chair. A great improvement. Keep up the good work, NBC. And you’re welcome.

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