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(Opinions, Observations, and Commentary)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Death Panels" meets "Death Sentence"?

Michael Moore Visits Capitol Hill To Discuss Health Care

How is Moore's claim of a "Death Sentence" any more constructive than rightwing shouts of "Death Panels"?

There's a reason why I've stopped watching cable news as of late. Hyperbole has long been a habit of the networks and last night was no different. The problem is when such hyperbole leads to misinformation or, even worse, disinformation. And though the hyperbole from the Right has been increasingly destructive and, at times, violent, there is also a good amount of hyperbole from the Left as well.

I give you Mr. Michael Moore and his introduction of two talking-points: "4 years" and "Death Sentence."

Now, the "4 years" talking point actually isn't all that new. It's been around since people learned that some of the major benefits of health care reform won't kick in until 2014 under the Senate bill. Fair enough, I'd like to see the benefits kick in sooner as well. However, what this talking point fails to mention is the fact that there's a list of benefits that begin within the first year of the bill's enactment. Among them:

  • Outlawing discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions.
  • Coverage of preventative health services.
  • Prohibition on rescissions
  • and allowing young adults to remain on their parent's insurance plan until the age of 26

So the whole "This bill is useless argument" is unpersuasive when considering some of the immediate benefits. Talk to a parent with kids in college to see if they'd like to cover their son or daughter on their plan until the age of 26. Listen to a parent who's worried that her child will be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. I'd think they'd like what's in this bill. They wouldn't dismiss it as better than nothing.

Would I like to see the entire bill kick in immediately? Of course. Am I willing to scrap the entire bill because it doesn't? Absolutely not.

But as is customary with some of the bill's harshest critics, Michael Moore decided to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. . .

I know. We've heard that phrase mentioned so many times that eyes begin to glaze over whenever people hear it. Sorry, but it's worth repeating because it's true. Just so people don't miss the point, let me put it another way. Making the perfect the enemy of the good means . . .

Using a valid concern or criticism of the bill in an attempt to render an inordinate response. Killing the bill is an unreasonable response to concerns that the bill does not kick in soon enough. Especially when one considers two possibilities:

1. We might not have an opportunity to address this issue for years (a historic look at the lack of political will to do so supports this concern); and
2. Failing to pass this bill might very well ensure the collapse of the Democratic party in 2010.

And for those who say "good, let the party fall it serves them right" - it's not like a more progressive Congress is waiting to take the reigns this year. So that means those empty seats in the House and Senate go to the Republicans. Mind you, this is a Republican party that has gone even further to the right because they've had to deal with purity tests from fringe elements of their base. Those empty seats might go to Conservatives who are led by and beholden to the most extreme elements of their base.

And unlike some in the "progressive" blogosphere, I have no desire to associate myself with elements of the Tea Party. I have no desire to mask their vitriol as nothing more than the alleged bipartisan anger of Main Steet vs. Wall Street. Their use of violent, sensationalized rhetoric is disgraceful and the media's apparent willingness to engage such fringe elements as credible is even more unsettling.

The Left has used its share of hyperbole in the health care debate as well, but not much (Rep. Grayson excluded) has compared to Conservative cries of "Death Panels" that started back in the Summer of 2009. Well, that is until last night . . .

I was surprised to hear Michael Moore use such hyperbolic rhetoric last night on MSNBC's Countdown. Here's the clip:

I was struck by the first part of this clip - a "Death Sentence"? First off, why would anyone support a death sentence if they truly believed that's what this Congress and Administration was trying to do? But, for the sake of argument, let's give Mr. Moore the benefit of the doubt. Let's just say he was passionate about the suffering of those who fear they will be denied coverage by insurance companies because of a pre-existing condition.

But keep in mind that Moore's comments stem from the following claim regarding Natoma Canfield, a recently diagnosed Leukemia patient who has lost her health insurance:

". . . she [Natoma Canfield] still wouldn't be able to get coverage because the insurance companies are still going to be able to deny coverage for the next four years."

His comment comes off as a little misleading. Why?

Because Michael Moore completely ignores the fact that this bill establishes a high risk pool for those who will be unable to get coverage prior to 2014.

The language is in the pending legislation. It is in Section 1101 of the Senate Bill:


IN GENERAL.—Not later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall establish a temporary high risk health insurance pool program to provide health insurance coverage for eligible individuals during the period beginning on the date on which such program is established and ending on January 1, 2014.

With regards to Moore's comment, Ms. Canfield might still qualify for the high risk pool. And while I'd like to see this "pool" be as strong and effective as possible, its existence surely does not invoke thoughts of a "death sentence" for people without insurance.

Words carry weight. I can appreciate Mr. Moore's passion and, at times, leadership on this issue of health care. I accept that there are areas where Congress can and should make improvements in the future.

But here's a question that I have:

Why is Moore's use of a "Death Sentence" any different than Sarah Palin's use of "Death Panels"?

I don't question Moore's sincerity or passion about this subject. However, I do question his approach and willingness (at least last night) to engage in sensationalized rhetoric. Let's just quote what he said regarding the 2014 enactment date . . .

Moore - "It's a death sentence for literally tens of thousands of people who are going to get sick or have been sick . . ."

Mr. Moore is right to point out that parts of the bill do not take full effect until 2014. I applaud his passion and concern for people who might be left uncovered. I understand the distinction between prohibition against discrimination toward adults with pre-existing conditions versus kids with pre-existing conditions (although I also see a valuable distinction and net positive when discussing the prohibition against rescissions).

But "Death Sentence"? Death Sentence? To me, that's too close to "Death Panels." It invites the viewer to conclude that tens of thousands of people will die as a result of passing this bill. It carries a certain "Their blood is on your hands" quality when a better criticism might simply be that this bill fails to address the real concern regarding denial (not rescission) of coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions fast enough.

Furthermore, to argue that people will die because of this bill invites the misguided and untrue corollary that people with pre-existing conditions will not die (or perhaps fewer will die) if we do absolutely nothing.

It's ironic that Michael Moore chose to praise Dennis Kucinich as "1 out of 435" who, because of his potential "No" vote on health reform, is seen by him and others as a champion of the people. Well, it would be helpful to remember a couple of things about Representative Kucinich. . .

As has been noted throughout this debate on blogs and comment sections, Mr. Kucinich voted against the House bill because he felt that their version of the public option wasn't strong enough. Therefore, it's unlikely that any addition of a public option similar to what we've seen at this stage would satisfy the Congressman as he's already voted against it. Even the House version of the public option has been criticized for being too limited in the scope of people who would qualify should it pass.

That's fine. Mr. Kucinich can vote against the bill on principle. And he'll be cheered by some for it. But, just remember that there are constituents who are currently cheering on Congressman Stupak for his self-proclaimed principled stance as well.

Mr. Kucinich's preference for a single-payer plan ultimately failed to get enough support in the House (back in November, the NY Times reported that Rep. Weiner D-NY dropped the option of a floor vote in an effort to facilitate more support for the overall House bill). What was left was the House public option, which was not strong enough for Rep. Kucinich. In other words, Mr. Kucinich wants what the Congress cannot give him. And because of that, he might vote against this bill. Principled? Sure. But that doesn't necessarily make him a champion of the people.

Mr. Moore, if Democrats vote against this bill we will be left with nothing. And your concern for the lives of those who might not be covered will continue to go unanswered. People will still die even if Mr. Kucinich and enough congressmen (from both parties) vote against this bill to kill it. Fewer will die if it passes.

Michael Moore said he might vote for the bill if President Obama told the American people that, among other criticisms, the bill will not cover pre-existing conditions for the next four years. . .

Well, first of all, as I've mentioned earlier, Mr. Moore's claims regarding pre-existing conditions and this bill are inacurate. And as for Moore's claim of a $100 per day penalty for companies that do deny coverage, I have not yet found that language in the bill (note: I'm not saying it does not exist . . . if anyone can cite that portion of the bill it would be appreciated).

But, I'll tell you what, Mr. Moore. I'll watch the President continue to "face the cameras" if you, Representative Kucinich and any others who are against this bill could also face those same cameras and engage in the same amount of "truth-telling."

Tell the truth about the process of enacting legislation (for all of its ugliness). But, don't promise the world if you can't provide a realistic legislative path to making it happen.

Face those same cameras and tell the American people exactly how you are going to give them single-payer coverage. Give them the vote-count. Tell us where you have the required votes in both the House and the Senate to pass single payer. Show me the signatures . . . yes, signatures, of 50 Senators stating that they will vote for a public option (And, no, conditional statements, equivocations and off-the-cuff, if not disingenuous, interview comments by legislators are not the same as a signature). Then face those same cameras and tell the American people how the Senate parliamentarian is going to decide on passing a public option through reconciliation. And, if you get that far, face the cameras and list the 60 votes you'll need to overcome the Byrd rule to even get to an up-or-down - 50+1 - vote on a Kucinich-approved public option that is so robust it couldn't even pass the admittedly more progressive House of Representatives.

But if you can't . . .if we're going to play this game . . .

Well, then face those same cameras you've challenged the President on and tell those same American people why you agreed to kill a bill that, among a host of other benefits, expanded Medicaid, ended discrimination against pre-existing conditions, expanded (with subsidies) coverage to 30+ million people, mandated coverage by insurance companies for preventative care, and provides $10 billion in funding for nationwide health centers (thank you Senator Bernie Sanders). And let us know if your actions constitute a "Death Sentence" for the millions of people who will go without because the bill didn't meet your standards.

If the President and supporters of this bill are to be held accountable for the "tens of thousands" Mr. Moore is rightly concerned about, then they'd better also get credit for the people and families whom this bill will help, and for the lives it will save. If opponents (regardless of party) are to receive credit for killing this bill, then they should also face criticism for failing to provide a viable . . . yes, viable . . . alternatives. Kucinich, Stupak and others should be held accountable for demanding that which they cannot receive from Washington as it is currently constructed.

We could continue to go back and forth like this. But what would this accomplish for people like Ms. Canfield:

We could continue a fight that has denied health care to millions for generations. Or. . .

We could act right now. We could work to improve the bill in the future. And, in doing so, we would ensure that health care remains a front-and-center issue for years to come. . . years where we'll have a base to build on . . . years where we'll have a public that can grow to fully appreciate the benefits of health reform as they've come to love the benefits of Medicare.

Because above all else . . .above our partisan divides . . .above our dislike for the insurance companies, or concern for cost savings. . . this is about people. Lives. Access to health coverage.

We've been grappling with this subject for decades. We've been talking back and forth for decades. But we have the opportunity to act NOW. Do not dismiss this opportunity as better than nothing. This is a start. This is a meaningful start that I'm proud has happened on our watch. And if we are truly sincere in our passions for health care, then this start is more important than any talking point left, right or center.

People are tired of the constant back and forth in Washington and the media. They want action. This is our chance to act.

It's easier to build on a foundation than to start from scratch. And those who feel this bill does not go far enough will at least have an opportunity to make improvements in the future. And that's a lot better than trying to start over from scratch. It's a lot better than trying to be heard on this subject if it dies in Congress and full, unmitigated cynicism and despair sets in as a standard judgment of our ability to make things better.

We could do all of this together.


We could kill the bill, and with it any political will or public tolerance to discuss this issue for another 15 years.

Either way Mr. Moore, "Death Panels" and "Death Sentences" are rhetorical non-starters.

I respectfully disagree with Michael Moore on this subject. Dennis Kucinich is not "1 of 435" who is willing to stand up for the American people. I'm sure that there are other congressmen and congresswomen who support this bill and feel just as passionately about the subject.

But they've just taken the position . . . It's time to act.




Video: Perspective Piece