As the World Turns, My Head Spins and My Heart Sinks

I get it. At least I think I get it. The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that provides “affordable” health insurance to 31 million people who are not now insured. After the lawmakers have gone home and done their Christmas (or Hanukkah) thing, a committee will meld the Senate Bill with the House bill and present it for approval to both chambers of Congress. To me it seems logically impossible to craft legislation that represents key elements in both bills and still get the combination past a Senate filibuster, but what do I know? Political leaders will probably come up with whatever bribes, compromises and other inducements are needed to get something passed.

insuranceI challenge you to figure out what that “something” will be. I don’t think I am dumber than the average codger but my poor old brain reeled when I tried to find answers in the 2,400-page Senate bill this morning. The language is so legalistic and convoluted that I could not read more than a few pages before my eyes crossed and little question marks buzzed around my head.

What bothers me is the often repeated report that the bill extends health coverage to 31 million Americans. The latest available number for uninsured Americans is about 51 million. So why, I wondered, does the bill cover 31 million? Why not 51 million? I must confess I have been unable to find out. Nowhere can I find the criteria for coverage and who will be ineligible.

Furthermore, media reports tell us that “nearly everyone” will be required by law to buy health insurance, just as drivers are now required to buy licenses. But what does “nearly everyone” mean? Just who will be excluded? Illegal immigrants perhaps? My understanding is that illegal immigrants are supposed to be banned from any of the new law’s provisions.

They will continue to get free health care via hospital emergency rooms, though. And conservative bloggers are pointing out that illegal immigrants often use false IDs to get jobs and many of them are covered under their employers’ insurance programs. Since the bill includes tax credits to help small businesses provide insurance for their employees, I suppose you could say the legislation will benefit illegals – if you were a Republican. (Republicans apparently posssess logical processes unavailable to the rest of us.)

Another very gray area is the anticipated $500 billion savings from Medicare. Nowhere can I find out what this involves. (I confess I lack the patience to try and translate 2,400 pages of gobbledygook.) I thought it meant taking back the goodies some codgers receive under Medicare Advantage, but now I am not sure. I read in the local newspaper that Florida Senator Bill Nelson (no relation to Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, whose name shall live in infamy) managed to sneak in an amendment that grandfathers in Floridians with Medicare Advantage so I’m not sure how that would work now.

If I can’t make head or tail of the health care bills, I very much doubt those jabberwockies in Congress can figure them out. They certainly don’t seem that smart. But looks are deceptive. Maybe they – or the sharp young staff members propping them up – know something I don’t. Maybe they know what they’re doing. Maybe.

But there’s no “maybe” about the Republican position. In a word, it’s “No.” It took three filibuster-blocking votes just to get the Senate bill to a vote, and you can expect more obstructionism in the new year. Look for court challenges to various provisions in the bill, for example. For one thing, I expect a constitutional challenge to the federal mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance. And you know the Supreme Court is tilted to the right, so there could be some shockers ahead.

Whatever else the health care reform nightmare has achieved, it has spotlighted the aberration that the American political system has become. It’s time for some brave soul to advocate the abolition – or at least drastic reform – of the Senate. The way it works now, it’s an impediment to democracy, progress, justice and common decency.