COMMUNITY COMMENTARY:

On the health-care debate, whom can you believe, Sarah Palin or Barack Obama? This is no minor issue. The question touches on the dismal state of critical thinking, a condition that tells us that more than health care is in need of significant reform.

Listening to Palin’s pitch on the health debate reminds me of the health claims of an elixir salesman in a Western film. The pitchman depicted in those movies sells a liquid that could cure just about anything from gout to intestinal worms. Today’s pitchmen sell their products through infomercials on local television where the higher and loudest pitch seems to carry the aura of authority.

Today’s health insurance reform debate has deteriorated into fear and outrage from those who profit in the millions of dollars each year by pushing your hot buttons (“Airing our emotions before the facts,” Aug. 12). Can you really believe Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity with their energetic flair for the most outrageous interpretation of current events?

Yet, there are valid concerns from the political right that merit discussion. Opinion makers such as David Brooks give a more grounded analysis on the issues the country should discuss. The Cato Institute provides a more nuanced approach to this debate. Conservatives have valid concerns on the waste and abuse that come from government-run entities.

The reason is simple. The greater the distance between those who earn the money and those who make the decision to spend it, the greater the inefficiencies. Add to this problem political clout by special interests and you have a recipe for waste and abuse.

There are plenty of problems with the profit motive aligned with national health care. Just listen to the ads promising Grandma a free electric runabout chair courtesy of Uncle Sam. Before dying of advance age, my son’s great-grandmother received two unrequested power wheelchairs at her home even though she insisted on walking with the aid of a walker.

Today’s hucksters sell health solutions like the miracle juice and colon cleansers that energize and detoxify you into longevity. Liberals have valid concerns of their own. The profit motive does not work so well on services that the consumer doesn’t quite understand or under conditions where there is insufficient choice.

Health-care insurance fits those conditions perfectly. Add to this situation the legal fine print where the insurance company can drop your coverage, find causes to deny payment on claims of preexisting medical conditions, and you find a business that has the potential for major abuse of the consumer.

Liberals tout Medicare as major health safety net for those older than 65. It is also presented as more cost effective because their overhead is significantly lower than that of private insurance. But that lower overhead also shows up in less oversight of medical reimbursement claims that cause billions in fraud and abuse by hospitals, doctors, medical device vendors and patients themselves.

On the other hand, private health insurance is presented by conservatives as giving greater choice, providing more technically advanced diagnosis and treatments, and supportive of the efficiencies engendered by the profit motive.

But this system also puts a great distance between those who pay for the insurance and those who must render the service. This system is rife with abuses of their own, and cost containment is far from one of its salient attributes.

What has been missing from the public debate are the opinions of philosophers to help us clear the clutter of misstatements, semantics and illogical interpretations of the issues. It seems as if in this debate we are stuck between two choices. One offers empathy but with it taxpayer abuse and budget deficits. The other sustains the profit motive but results in needless suffering and death to the under-insured and uninsured.

We need to reform our educational system first to raise the level of discussion of the health-care debate. But how much suffering must we endure while we wait for that day when a reasonable discussion can prevail?


 HERBERT MOLANO is a Tujunga resident.

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