‘Socialized Medicine’ in America: Old Habits Die Hard

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Health care reform, a painful issue / Photo: Z Peckler/flickr
Health care reform, a painful issue / Photo: Z Peckler/flickr

The health care debate in the US continues to become more heated by the day, revealing new characters with dramatic twists and turns. From the outside it almost plays like a movie (well, maybe not a great movie) where I nearly reach for a soda and a bag of popcorn while watching constituents yelling at their local representative during town halls or US politicians debate about whether the health care reform will create so-called “death panels.”

However, as an American with family stretched across the country I am soon reminded of the sobering reality that this debate cuts much closer to home.

Family members on Medicare or Medicaid? Check. Family members uninsured? Check. Family members with insurance but poor, expensive coverage? Check. Family members struggling or unable to pay health care bills? Check. Family members discriminated by insurance companies due to pre-existing conditions? Check.

In fact such woes are a common thread in modern-day American families and proliferate each day that health care reform is not achieved.

So what gives? A recent poll reveals that a majority of Americans are not satisfied with the current system and support reform at some level. With such overwhelming support it would seem that reform would be easier rather than more difficult. But it’s not so easy as seen in the Obama administration’s fledgling attempts to control the public debate over a signature issue in President Obama’s first term. In the US, health care is a for-profit big business that accounts for over 15 percent, and growing, of the GDP (it was 8.8 percent in 1980) and links the interest of those on Wall Street to Main Street.

To galvanize public discord, opponents of reform have jumped on one key aspect of the Obama administration’s health care proposal: the creation of a “public option” to compete with private plans. By referring to this component as “socialized medicine,” opponents have intentionally touched upon an American emotional fault-line that dates back to the 1940s when the crusade against Communism was cultivated.

In 1945 President Harry Truman took office and brought national health care insurance to the center of domestic politics in the hopes of expanding compulsory coverage to all citizens. Capitalizing on anti-Communist sentiment, opponents quickly labeled it “socialized medicine” and launched a huge campaign whereby the American Medical Association (AMA), American Hospital Association (AHA), and others fought to resist national health care. The AMA alone spent over $1 million on lobbying and media efforts, releasing one pamphlet that said: “Would socialized medicine lead to socialization of other phases of life? Lenin thought so. He declared socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state.”

Sound familiar?

Fast-forward to 2009, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, and the attempt to link socialism with national health insurance is stronger than ever. Opponents to health care reform have spearheaded a broad (mis)communication strategy that is guided by the 1940s playbook. Thus, the Obama administration is in an enormous, up-hill battle to be the leading and guiding voice in the health care debate. To win, the president must stop playing defense and clearly distinguish the “public option” as not “socialized medicine” or “rationed care” but rather an opportunity to create more health care options for families.

In short, he needs to increase his efforts to reach out to citizens and assuage misplaced concerns about the administration’s efforts to reform health care. Hosting town halls and creating a website, aptly named “Reality Check,” to provide information and dispel myths are good first steps but more needs to be done to rally public support or else I fear that this plan will be met with the same fate as those that have come before it. It will not be successful and American families will ultimately lose.

By Jennifer Giroux

Jennifer Giroux is a Researcher for the Crisis Risk Network at the Center for Security Studies. Her current research project focuses on the targeting of energy infrastructure.

3 replies on “‘Socialized Medicine’ in America: Old Habits Die Hard”

Well, its interesting – I recognize the shouting matches as incidents that are happening across the country as something that is unfortunately dominating the headlines – I know that there are civil debates happening, they’re just not given attention. Furthermore, as citizens around the country see the continual loops of such town halls they may get inspired to bring such activity to their own local gathering.

It is distracting and ultimately gets us nowhere. I also think that in a tough economy and coming out of such a volatile 8 year period that spawned three wars (GWOT, Iraq and Afghanistan), that people are channeling other frustrations through this health care issue. And then there is the fact that our country elected Obama who is a multi-cultural, multi-racial individual with a physical appearance that is so strickingly different then all president’s who have come before him. In this respect, his African-American heritage has brought racial tensions to the fore… so I see some of the individuals who come to the town halls not so much looking to debate actual health care but rather to vent and cause disruptions that are fueled by racial, economic, etc. discord.

These town halls and the health care debate at the grassroots level thus seem to be channeling a variety of emotions and frustrations. I think that this is evident when you have a room filled with people receiving medicare who are saying that they don’t want government hands on their health care… its amazing that they don’t recognize that they are receiving generous benefits from a government managed program.

@Jennifer: Way back when, I was one of the many Americans living without health insurance. I completely understand the emotion and the fear that comes with discussing this issue…even the tossing around of the word ‘socialism’ (a practice I don’t agree with, by the way).

What I don’t understand is how an issue that deserves intelligent, thoughtful, critical thinking has degraded into a shouting match. No, not even a shouting match…that would be giving shouting matches too much credit.

You’re right though: Obama needs to do a better job in explaining his plan to people. Drop the cerebral act and break it down. I’d love it if he could get his wife to help, but that would be regarded at Hillary circa 1994 2.0.

But something’s nagging at me though. I wonder if the physical violence that’s coming from this debate is more related to Obama being *elected* than with the actual plan. Some of the explanations I’m hearing of folks being so upset have nothing to do with the matter at hand.

The criticism that somehow a public option would put private insurance out of business is
We live in a country where public and private options have coexisted side by side for years…giving Americans more options.
Has the Post office put Fed Ex and UPS out of business? OF COURSE NOT
Do you see anyone out there picketing their local post office with placards reading “Down with this Socialist Institution”. OF COURSE NOT
All of us…conservatives and liberals have used the public post office…and Fed Ex.
It just gives all Americans another choice of how we want to send our packages.
That’s good for everyone.
Also remember We have:
public education and private schools
public universities and private universities
public roads and toll roads
public transportation and private transportation
public property and private property
public libraries and private book stores.
pubic hospitals and private hospitals
medicare and private insurance
In every case the public option exists right alongside the private option
Rather than drive private options out of business, the public option
gives all Americans another choice

Time for a public option in health care insurance to give us ONE MORE CHOICE.

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