Living in Italy, I don’t get the opportunity to watch American television much. I don’t even have Sky, which would enable me to watch hundreds of channels. Until a week or two ago, I lived a quiet life with four–count ‘em!–channels: one in black & white, three in color and MTV (which doesn’t count because it’s all reality shows), and most of them owned by Berlusconi. So one might say I was living in the woods.
Now, after a week in the US watching faith channels and Fox News, I’ve finally seen something interesting.Today I watched the entirety of President Obama’s townhall speech on the healthcare (or health insurance) reform bill. I had seen the Obama-with-greasepaint-mustache posters, the swastikas, and I’ve even written about Obama-bashing here. I hadn’t been following this healthcare business closely because, well, I live in Europe. That happens. Anyway, it’s unavoidable now, so when I actually listened to Obama field questions from the public I was surprised at the elegance of his vision.
I know such praise will draw hellfire from the usual quarters, but this was my gut instinct. Here’s how it appears to me, an American who has set foot in this country for the first time since Barack Obama took oath in January, and whose approval rating is supposedly falling like hail fire over Egypt.
Let me briefly preface these observations by stating that I have never taken much of an interest in such debates; nevertheless, I’ve held numerous jobs in the United States, and never have I had a healthcare plan (except for a brief period when I was a member of the auto workers’ union, but don’t ask me how that happened). In Italy I am for the first time a beneficiary of “universal health care.” It is not a dream plan, but I can see a doctor when I need to. What Obama proposed sounds better than what I have in Italy, which is better than what many Americans have in America. Something is wrong in that equation.
Of course, I understand that there is a lot of fine-tuning to be done. Nothing is exactly as it appears, and there may be huge difficulties in funding such a program. And people will probably always fall through the cracks. But let me write what I heard Obama say, and not the pundits:
1. All Americans are entitled to healthcare. No exceptions.
2. If you like your existing healthcare program, you may keep it. The government will not force you to switch to theirs.
3. Wasted money–billions and billions of dollars–will be rerouted in order to finance such a program. These are dollars presently being squandered subsidizing insurance companies, not enriching care for their patients.
4. Everyone will be able to choose the healthcare plan they feel is best. Prices will most likely go down due to a public option.
5. The elderly will not be murdered wholesale by a shadow euthanasia plan.
None of this is highbrow stuff. I did not go and look anything up afterward. Let’s make believe I was an average Joey Bag-o’-Doughnuts in attendance. This is what I would’ve taken away from the encounter.
So the question remains: what is so explosive about all this? Why shouldn’t all Americans have health insurance? It sounds like a dumb question, but I can’t seem to get a straight answer so far.