One of the most egregious practices of modern journalism is the constant creation of false equivalencies, that is, equating one demand or argument proffered by one side of an issue with an unrelated demand or argument proffered by the other side in order to make the coverage seem "balanced." This New York Times article on lobbyists' efforts to sway the health care debate uncorks a doozy:
And now the last two initiatives with real bite that are still in contention — a scaled-back “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans and a nonpartisan Medicare budget-cutting commission — are under furious assault.
Most economists’ favorite idea for slowing the growth of health care spending was ending the income tax exemption for employer-paid health insurance to make lower-cost plans more attractive. But that would hurt workers with big benefit plans, and a labor-union lobbying blitz helped kill that idea by the Fourth of July.
Did you catch that? Labor unions' efforts to protect the employer tax exemption get lumped in with the "Cadillac tax" on high-end health plans purchased by the very wealthy. I suppose because labor unions can be classified as a "special interest," but look more closely at what they actually fought for: a tax-exemption for employers. They defended management! That doesn't sound like typical labor union behavior, does it?
Here's why they did it - and why killing the employer-paid health insurance tax exemption was a crappy idea in the first place. Most of us get our health insurance from our employers, and for years labor has passed up wage increases in favor of better health benefits, primarily because premiums are rising much faster than the rate of inflation and way faster than any increase in real wages. (I've had to do this myself.) By putting employers in a situation where they have to shunt employees into cheaper plans they would undo even those modest gains. And this would not have affected a small group of people: remember, the vast majority of Americans get their health insurance from their employers. This proposal would have had an impact on society as a whole. Sounds less and less like the "Cadillac tax" on high-end plans, doesn't it?
It's irritating to see elected officials and the journalists who cover them lumping anyone who lobbies for anything together as "special interests." Sometimes, just sometimes, people lobby for good reasons - and there is such a thing as a the "public interest." There is such as thing as the "general welfare." And sometimes you have to spend money to promote it, money that is not necessarily pork, although any money spent by Congress that isn't dedicated to warfare tends to be regarded as such.
This confusion may be a result of the vague, muddy terms being used to define the health care debate. A frequently stated purpose of reform is to control health care "costs," and therefore many proposals are aimed at controlling what doctors and hospitals can charge for certain procedures. But, again, for the vast majority of the population health care "costs" are our insurance premiums. Payment for various procedures is an argument between the doctor and the insurance company and nine times out of ten the patient isn't even involved in that discussion beyond the co-pay and deductible. Controlling poorly defined health care "costs" by targeting health care providers only benefits the insurance companies, whose skyrocketing premiums are the reason many Americans don't have insurance or are struggling financially to keep the policies they have.
The insurance companies, it seems, are the gorilla/elephant/Limbaugh/large mammal in the room when it comes to the health care debate, or at the very least that's what certain parties want us to think. That Times article I link to above doesn't even mention the insurance companies when it discusses the special interests lobbying for or against various proposals for reform, which is odd, really: who do you think is lobbying against the "Cadillac tax" on high-end plans? We're never told. But we are told that labor and doctors are gumming up the works. Isn't that special?