Parnell's analogy on health reform far-fetched

Posted: Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Imagine Congress passing a law that requires everyone "to purchase a federally-approved gym membership in order to lower obesity and blood pressure rates." As bizarre as it sounds, that's what our Attorney General Dan Sullivan would have us worry about.

That statement is included in his legal analysis of the new health care reform legislation signed into law in March. And as Gov. Sean Parnell explained to legal analyst Greta Van Susteren on Fox television, it's an example of why he decided to join 19 states challenging the constitutionality of the bill.

Their argument is that Congress shouldn't be allowed to require citizens to engage in commerce. It would expand Congressional power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and poses a serious threat to "states' rights, federalism, and the individual liberty interests of the American people."

Parnell went so far as to tell Van Susteren that the lawsuit "is about liberty, not about health care." If that were really true, then Sullivan should have been able to cite real concerns about government intrusion. Instead he offered the far-fetched analogy about mandated gym memberships and coughed up socialist hysteria by suggesting Congress could even require all Americans to purchase their cars from General Motors because "the federal government now owns a substantial stake" in the company.

The argument that a national health care program is socialism creeping into the bloodlines of our constitution dates back 75 years. It was the mantra of the American Medical Association (AMA) during debates of President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. But the truth is that back then, the AMA opposed even privately managed health insurance. In 1934 they passed a 10 point resolution that included the position that "no third party must be permitted to come between the patient and his physician in any medical relation."

It's this basic battle that has immobilized reforms of our health care system. And whenever societal problems fester for long periods of time, solutions always appear to be more extreme, which in turn builds even more public resistance to change. Similar patterns of Congressional stalemates are visible regarding our national debt, dependence on foreign oil to meet our energy needs, and the broken immigration system.

If we go back to the AMA's original objections to health insurance, it's worth analyzing not just big government's role, but the big private insurance companies as well. The question we should be asking is: Are we any better off with big business writing the small print of our insurance policies?

Individual hospitals and local labor unions were the first in the country to offer group insurance plans that spread both the risks and wealth by forming pools and co-opts. Large commercial companies like Blue Cross and Aetna essentially own the marketplace now. They may employ local people in local offices, but they aren't any less intrusive than big government, and they have the same capacity to produce worthless red tape.

Furthermore, as we've just witnessed during the Senate hearings on the Goldman Sachs' investment failures, the national giants are focused on their bottom line regardless of the harm that might be caused to others. That's why concentration of power in the hands of a few is a threat, whether it's the government or private entities. But those running private corporations have no accountability to the public welfare unless Congress firmly regulates them.

Is the federal government up to that task of overseeing the health insurance industry? Not likely as long as the Democrats and Republicans on Capital Hill are beholden to the corporate interests that fund their campaigns. Their first objectives will remain fighting over whose best to lead our nation. And their debates over policies that affect our lives will continue to be about nothing more than superficial talking points.

Parnell's rhetoric about liberty is just that. It's election year politics intended to energize the Libertarian side of the GOP and the new tea party activists. His lawsuit won't produce solutions for the citizens of Alaska. Even if he prevails, we'll still be subject to the rules and whims of an insurance industry that doesn't reside here. To get control of our health care system, our elected officials should begin working with Alaskan people and businesses.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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