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Ready for health care to get worse?

It could happen if the Baucus bill passes.

The health care reform debate in our country is getting more and more heated as the days go by. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s important to remember why we’re having this conversation to begin with: Our health care system is broken.

An independent U.N. committee has ranked the United States 37th in the world in terms of the quality of health care, behind Morocco and barely ahead of Castro’s Cuba. We certainly have the least efficient system in the developed world. France, the nation with the highest-ranked system, spends about half the amount that we spend per person — and they actually insure everybody.

Given all of this, it is imperative that we reform the system and make it work better for everyone.

And yet, despite widespread acceptance of the need for reform, the government is currently in the process of selling out to the insurance companies and putting out a bill that would actually make our health care system worse off. It would be laughable if it was a joke, but unfortunately it’s the truth.

A little background for those unaware: Max Baucus, a Democratic senator from Montana and the head of the Senate Finance Committee, was in charge of putting out the health care bill most likely to get through the Senate. He has also accepted almost $4 million in campaign contributions from health insurance firms during his Senate career. The Baucus bill was released last week and is currently undergoing inspection and revision on the Senate floor.

The entire insurance debate has basically centered on one thing: the public option. By offering a government-run public insurance option at a lower price, private companies will be forced to lower rates or lose business. Without a public option, there would be no incentive for insurance companies to lower rates. Any bill signed by Obama that does not contain a public option would be a huge victory for the insurance companies.

The Baucus bill includes some vitally-needed reforms. It would make it illegal for companies to drop coverage when people get sick or deny insurance to those with pre-existing conditions. But what about a public option? You won’t find one in the Baucus bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who will have to endorse whatever bill the Senate eventually sends to President Obama’s desk, has also shown no desire to introduce a public option into the conversation at this point.

Essentially, the Baucus bill would allow insurance companies to continue charging whatever they want, but it would force more Americans to buy into these sub-par policies. President Obama has stated that in America, “Nobody should go broke because they get sick.” The Baucus bill would actually make this situation worse; it would practically guarantee more health-related bankruptcies.

It gets even worse. In a time of continued economic recession, the bill proposed by Baucus hands billions of dollars to the insurance company executives. It was for this reason that Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, recently said, “This is a bill that George Bush would love … It’s a massive redistribution of taxpayer money to the insurance industry.”

This is why the conservatives look ridiculous when they criticize Democratic attempts at health care reform. The Rush Limbaugh camp is calling Obama a socialist, while the actual plan Obama proposes does nothing to reform our health care; on the contrary, the Democrats are doing whatever they can to preserve the current failed system in any way possible.

In summary, the bill most likely to reach President Obama’s desk does not actually fix the health care problem. It makes it worse.

Clearly, Max Baucus is not the ideal man for this job. His bill was supposed to be the bill that contained enough compromises to pass, but what he is proposing goes too far, especially in the context of a Senate body controlled by the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, even Obama has flinched on his support for the public option. Even though many Americans elected Obama precisely to reform health care, he seems so anxious to pass a bill that content becomes a secondary goal, which makes the whole endeavor worthless.

But the problem goes beyond Baucus and Obama. Our entire political system is as broken as our health care system. Our government is polarized to the point that heckling the President of the United States during a nationally televised speech is considered acceptable.

Do you want to know the real reason for the lack of a public option? Look no further than the political representatives we elected. Why won’t more Democrats in the Senate come out in support of the public option? They have reelection campaigns to worry about, and favoring a government-run health plan means bidding farewell to a large bloc of conservative voters. This is what our political system has been reduced to in recent years.

As UC Irvine students, we are all insured at the moment, either through private plans or through a health plan provided by the university. Without a public insurance option, however, let’s hope we can all find good jobs with health benefits after graduation. Otherwise, we may find ourselves being forced by the government to buy an expensive health plan dictated by profit-hungry insurance executives. This is the worst part about our inactive government and its failed policies that affect our lives.

Charles Hicks is third-year religious studies major. He can be reached at cbhicks@uci.edu.

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