Despite all the hubbub—all the protests, tea parties, and lies about death panels—it seems that the media, the government, and practically the whole damn populace continues to miss, well, everything about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and what it means for health care in the United States.

They miss what it does, what it doesn’t do, what it’s called (Obamacare? Really?), how it came into being, what the truly good parts are, what the truly bad parts are, and how this legislation walks the fine line between two more extreme options: the current system, which condones an unchecked health insurance industry that can discriminate against anyone at any time by denying coverage, leaves 50 million people uninsured, and sticks the rest of us with the bill, or Universal Health Coverage for all (also known as single-payer, government health coverage, or socialized health insurance).

Let me first disclose that I am not a fan of PPACA as a whole. And while it puts an end to some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry, which is good, it also rewards that same industry with a slew of new customers. That’s bad.

Before I dive into this quagmire, I want to clarify a little language first. The media, and therefore the public, consistently make a grave and pervasive error that equates Health Care and Health Coverage. As if this debate weren’t murky and confusing enough, the misinformative public mind has compounded the problem using a classic bait and switch.

Health CARE is just that, receiving care for your health. Whether it is from a doctor, a hospital, a drug, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a therapist, and so on.

Health COVERAGE refers to any system that shelters consumers from some or all of the costs incurred when receiving health care. Health coverage typically comes in the form of private health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and various state-level insurance programs as well.

Please, do NOT confuse these two terms. More importantly, do not use them interchangeably. I shall endeavor to do the same.

Now that we’ve got the basic definitions cleared up, let’s start pulling this pig apart.

Believe it or not, we’ve got a health crisis in this country. No amount of denial will make it go away. No amount of ignorance will change the fact that it affects every single health care consumer in the country. The crisis is enormous, far-reaching, and involves much more than just patients, doctors, and insurance companies. It involves obesity, smoking, alcohol, and lack of exercise. It reaches deep into our economy, our food supply, our farming practices, our land, our water, our schools, and our media. But despite the magnitude of this crisis, and the implied intelligence of our species, in the end we are a reactive society rather than a proactive one, and rather than focus on root causes of our health crisis, our recent “health care debate” (which was actually a “health coverage debate”) centered on the reactive aspects only: health care and health coverage. Here’s how it played out.

Generally speaking, health insurance companies haven’t been behaving very well. Imagine that, a for-profit corporation misbehaving. Who would have thought?

Yes, over the last 40 years, health insurers have grown from small, not-for-profit entities intended to expand affordable access to health care and curtail the rising cost of it, into enormously powerful for-profit machines that view human life, death, and suffering through the lens of an annual balance sheet. Think I’m joking? Think I’m being prejudiced? Just do an Internet search for “health insurance investigation,” or similar terms, and read. You’ll find articles like this, and this, and this. You can read the Senate’s investigation of the health insurance industry here. You’ll find stories from all over the country, detailing all sorts of unethical infractions and repugnant practices. And remember, these are only the ones we’ve caught.

In search of higher profits, health insurers have been consistently raising rates much faster than the rate of inflation, they’ve been underpaying claims, denying coverage for people who get sick, holding firm on lifetime maximums, and hiding behind the ominous and obfuscating “pre-existing condition.” This is all on top of the accepted practices of negotiating ridiculously low-prices with health care providers, questioning diagnoses, and refusing to cover alternative remedies or “experimental” procedures. In general, the health insurance industry has become less about providing health coverage and more about denying it. But who can blame them? After all, they’re for-profit. That means profits come first and foremost, sick and dying be damned!

So when President Obama and congressional democrats were elected on a platform of “health care reform,” (actually meaning health coverage reform) they put all of those industry transgressions front and center and vowed to extinguish them with whatever legislation came forward. That is truly the crown jewel of PPACA, and the aspect of the legislation that I wholeheartedly support. More importantly it is, generally speaking, a point of universal agreement. When posed outside of the frame of Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, President Obama, or Congress, I find all people I speak to are in agreement that those practices are abhorrent, unethical, and in desperate need of termination.

But of course, policy can’t be crafted these days without corporate counsel, and just as the Bush Administration summoned oil and gas corporations to craft our energy policy, so did congressional Democrats and the Obama administration call for envoys from health insurers to “help” make the legislation viable. They told these envoys that their companies hadn’t been playing nicely with patients and that some new rules were in order, namely: no lifetime maximums, no denying coverage after illness sets in, price controls, and no more denials based on “pre-existing conditions.”

Their response? Well, I wasn’t in the room, but I imagine after much whining, crying, and hand-wringing, these poor, defenseless, multi-billion dollar corporations pulled out some complex equations demonstrating that if they couldn’t use those economically-viable practices anymore, they wouldn’t be able to make as much money. I also imagine some veiled threats were made regarding re-election, and emphasis that less money would mean they’d have to fire people—lots of them—in the middle of the country’s largest recession in 80 years. Besides, protecting the profits of health insurance companies is just as, if not more, important than making affordable health coverage available to everyone. Yes, that was sarcasm.

So after illustrating an economy in shambles after these rules would take effect, the insurance industry proposed a compromise. If those practices were going to be made illegal, the only way health insurers could continue to be profitable was if everybody got into the system. “Require everyone to buy health insurance, help the ones who can’t afford it, and we’ll figure out how to not be so mean without giving up our profits.” This was how the health insurance mandate was born.

It is here that I get really disgusted.

After three decades of increasingly heartless and selfish practices, and the profits that followed them, the legislation that came out of the meetings with “industry experts” carried with it a change in policy and a reward of obscenely gargantuan proportions, guaranteed by the full force of the federal government. In other words, the punishment for the industry behaving so terribly for so long, leaving a plethora of untreated illness and unnecessary death in their wake, was…an assload more customers, subsidized by federal dollars no less!

Personally, the thought of rewarding the industry at all, let alone to this degree, when human lives were surely lost as a direct result of their practices, is nauseating. That it came from this progressively-elected president is insulting.

I would have preferred just ending the practices and leaving free market capitalism to force insurers to adapt. Corporations may be profit seeking, but they are also self-serving. Hand wringing aside, if we had changed the laws, they wouldn’t have just lain down and died. They would have complied, competed, and the good ones would have survived. After all, despite cataclysmic predictions by the auto industry, seatbelts were required by law in the 1960s. The companies adapted and remained profitable. Such is the joy of the free-market.

Universal Health Coverage, with all its faults, would have provided an even more suitable punishment for this industry that deserved no less than being drawn and quartered. Why it was not at least discussed openly, in the public view, I’ll never know. And had we not been in the midst of the Great Recession, it may even have come into being. But whatever transpired behind Washington’s closed-doors killed single-payer, at least for now.

It is here that the resulting hatred and ire from the Right over PPACA, inaccurately claiming it is a huge government takeover, claiming it’s socialism, claiming it’s at the cutting edge of the liberal agenda, demonstrates both their ignorance and their prejudice. PPACA avoided a government takeover of health insurance, not created one. And the idea that socialism would result in a government handout to private, for-profit industry is absolutely laughable. In this instance (and many others), the Obama administration acted on behalf of private corporations rather than taking The People’s Republic route. But of course, Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck never bothered to mention that. Instead, they issued a call-to-arms on behalf of the protectors of freedom everywhere to protest this law, in its entirety, come hell or high water. Because in the end, insurers can be more profitable if they retain all of the practices they’ve been using for so long. And again, that’s what really matters, profits.

At the same time, as the Supreme Court questions the constitutionality of this corporate-boon mandate, an overly-defensive Left has sprung forth to wildly support health coverage reform that was authored by Republicans nearly 20 years ago! Is this the best the Left can hope for? Is this really the pinnacle of their charge? Backing a flawed bill that rewards corporate malfeasance with a sweeping government mandate and oodles of taxpayer dollars, all because a weak and ineffective President has little else to stand with an election looming. So many lefties are distracted by the prospect of the President not being re-elected; they’re lining up en masse to defend a law that actually places them further under the yokes of their corporate oppressors!

Here’s the truth, liberals—ruling the health care mandate unconstitutional would be an astonishing victory for progressivism. With such a decision, we could still put an end to the worst practices in health insurance but without being forced to purchase it. No reward for this industry with so much blood on their hands, just swift retribution for their unethical deeds.

Of course, attorney Paul Clement, our corporate media, and even the corporate-backed President have already declared that should the insurance mandate be struck down then inevitably other aspects of the bill should be overturned as well. Namely, the provision that insurers provide coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, and the limits to premiums based on age and health. That such a public declaration was made by the President, in advance of any ruling from the court, demonstrates just how deep the influence of the health insurance industry runs. After all, we have to reassure them that our government will protect their profits. Note that no similar protective guarantee was made for the nearly 30 million people who will remain without health coverage, should the high court’s ruling overturn.

It seems both major sides on this issue can’t seem to come to terms with the implications of any aspect of the situation. The Left seems incapable of acknowledging the irony in their rush to defend a public-funded reward for poor corporate practices. Meanwhile the Right can’t acknowledge that, like it or not, 5o million uninsured is a really bad thing. It results in suffering, death, and most-significantly, rapidly-increasing health care costs for the rest of us…all of us: rich or poor, black or white, insured or not. And if the Supreme Court overturns the mandate, and with it many other provisions, their victory party will be cut short by the cold sobering fact that we’ve still got an enormous problem on our hands and one less option with which to deal with it.

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