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Health Care Reform and Caribou

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By Doug Thompson

doug_thompsonThe health care reform package reminds me of what a very good friend of mine once said about the Alaskan oil pipeline.

When that pipeline opened and every caribou in Alaska didn’t fall down dead, the environmental movement took years to recover from the lack of a disaster.

Health care reform passed (barring some unexpected development after this column was written Monday.) Hundreds of millions of people will not lose their health insurance. The problem with the theory they would is that the insurance industry largely wrote the health care bill once its minions concluded they couldn’t stop it.

Guess what? People who are rich, have good insurance, or both will still get to see the doctor they want, too. I’m anxious to see if there’s a run on prescription medicine as great as the run on 9mm ammunition after President Obama’s election. Obama’s presidency did more for the civilian gun industry than any single development since Samuel Colt’s perfection of the revolver.

The nation’s already drowning in public debt. Taxpayers won’t suffer any practical difference, at least in the short term, of having some more water in the lake. Our head may be farther from the surface but we’re already underwater.

Oh, there will be a backlash. I expect the Republicans will make gains in the elections. There will not be revolution, however. To be blunt about it, I think most people are already glad this awful debate is over. After you’ve dreaded something long enough, you just want it over with. That’s human nature.

By the same logic, I don’t expect any great outpouring of relief and gratitude either. Democrats are saying that the Republicans went too far and the backlash will fall on them for trying to scare people.

I think both sides better get their surfboards out and start paddling. I haven’t seen so much bipartisan lying about any one issue since the early years of the Iraq War. Neither side covered itself with credit in the health care debate.

I’m no fan of the Democrats’ bill, but health care insurance costs in this country are a severe, rapidly-growing problem. Blanket license to commit malpractice without costly lawsuits was never going to cure it. Look at your tax returns from the last five years. Now look at your health insurance rates. Which is devouring your paycheck faster? Something had to be done. In the end, many Americans know this.

The bill itself may stink, but it gets the U.S. government deeper into the health care business. Like it or not, health care for every American is something your government is now involved in.

My e-mail folder is not the best place to gauge public opinion in Arkansas. However, I am the editorial page editor for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, and Arkansas in general and Northwest Arkansas in particular is no friendly spot for the Obama-Pelosi crowd.

My “in” box was not filled with letters proclaiming that the “sky is falling” on Monday morning, the day after the vote. For the record, it wasn’t filled with “a new era is dawning” either.

Google News is about as scientific in its story selection as my e-mail, but it is based on the news most web-browsing Americans are clicking upon, if you don’t set up any preferences, highlight anything or personalize your search in any way. I don’t. Google News’ lead story was something about Obama planning to sign this bill on Tuesday, followed by the Middle East, the Greek debt crisis, some new type of phone coming out and a “Dancing with the Stars” update.

Note the lack of dominance in the news once the blasted thing actually passed. Health care hadn’t lacked for headlines to this degree for weeks.

There isn’t a dead caribou in sight.

Health care costs were ruining this country before health care reform. I’m not confident this bill will get a grip on costs. The biggest effect, I expect, is now everyone will have to pay into the system. The costs that was borne by the paying customers will now, I hope, be accounted for. If health care reform will just help us get a clearer picture, that will be worth something.

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