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In My Opinion
Lynn Paris

Rose-colored Glasses

I really don’t like my new glasses. It’s not that they’re unattractive: quite the contrary. In fact, I’ve received several compliments on them. And it’s certainly not that I can’t see better with them, because I can. I can see the computer screen, the pages in my book, the TV and the signs on the highway better than I could with my old pair. Nothing wrong with that. But seeing better is not always a great thing. I can also see that I can no longer postpone having our carpet steam cleaned. The stains left from muddy paws, discoloration from too much stain remover, and black hair from Buddy are far more obvious now that I can see more clearly. So are the crumbs on the kitchen counter I thought I’d wiped thoroughly and the spots on the silverware I assumed had been washed clean.

None of that is irreparable, however. It just requires a little more effort. In the end, I’ll be glad to know that things are as clean as I think they are. No--what really bothers me is looking in the mirror. Before I got my new glasses (three grades stronger than my previous pair, according to my optometrist) my reflection told me that I was doing quite well for a woman my age. I thought the lines and wrinkles had been held at bay . . . pretty much the same as they’d been ten years ago, and with that I was satisfied. I felt the same way about the circles under my eyes. Not that bad, considering. Nothing a little makeup couldn’t handle.

When I put on the new glasses for the first time and looked in the mirror I was upset. At first I tried to figure out if there was something different about the shape of the frames; maybe the old ones hit at a better place for covering under-eye problem areas. I even tried an experiment. I asked my husband to look at me as I tried on each pair of glasses to see if he noticed anything different about my face. I asked a couple of friends, too. The answer was no, I looked exactly the same. It took me a few tries before I realized that the only person who thought I looked different was me!  My vision had improved . . . I could SEE myself better . . . which left me craving immediate injections of botox.

It’s been more than a week now, and I’ve gotten used to the new (or should I say older) me. I’d still like the botox but I’m hoping that will pass. What I now know is that I was looking at the world through decidedly rose-colored glasses. The slight distortion, the blurring of the lines, was comforting; it felt good to be slightly fuzzy on the truth.

The opposite, I’m afraid, is true of the health care debate. I’ve spent the last few months staring at the issue and being positive I saw the truth. I even went so far as to say that I believed it was a moral imperative that the United States insure that all of its citizens had affordable access to health care. But recently, despite my new glasses, my vision has become fuzzier.

Part of that has to do with the inability of either the Republicans or Democrats to present the unvarnished truth. For months all I was able to see were the awful scare tactics coming from the right wing extremists. When a reasonable person hears that the government wants to institute death panels to pull the plug on grandma, or sees signs with Obama made to look like Hitler or Stalin, it’s difficult to believe anything they might say. Insisting on calling it a government takeover or universal health care made it seem like they were all too ignorant to understand the meaning of the word “option.” I turned a deaf ear to them all; they were obviously engaged in a frantic attempt to defeat not only health care but Obama himself. Mixed in, as they so often were, with the haters and the “birthers,” I had no reason to believe anything they said.

But lately I’ve discovered two things. The first is that there are some legitimate concerns with the house and senate bills that have been articulated by either the few remaining intelligent conservatives or relatively unbiased observers like the BBC for example. And the second is that the democrats, some in an attempt to bring at least a little reform to a terrible system, and some just because they’re politicians, have been less than forthcoming about the potential pitfalls of the proposed legislation.

So in the interest of fairness, I thought I’d present what Jeffrey Flier, dean of the Harvard Medical School, recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Before I do, I need to preface it by writing that I’ve tried, desperately, to come to my own conclusions. I read the original house bill, although I haven’t continued reading the actual legislation. I’ve tried to bone up by reading from just about every source—from liberal to conservative blogs and commentaries—and watching televised discussions/debates between the opposing sides. Ultimately, it’s turned my brain to mush.

The problem is that each side contradicts the other with such equanimity that sorting out the truth becomes a reflection of your politics rather than your ability to discern the truth. One side tells me that the deficit will escalate drastically while the other side assures me it will decline—both quoting from the Congressional Budget Office. One side promises that 34 percent of the uninsured will be covered while the other says it’s more like 1 percent.

My conservative friend Joseph tells me that it’s about something far more significant than health care; it’s about two different worldviews. “On the left,” he tells me, “you have one that says (among other things) that government can solve the major problems of society.  The other says that citizens with the freedom to make contracts between each other is a better route to solving these issues.”  He, of course, is a staunch proponent of the latter worldview, and I have a great deal of sympathy for that. After all, it’s at the very root of our greatness as a nation. We have always thrived under free market capitalism; it’s what has made us dominant among the nations of the world. I know that to conservatives it all goes back to the founding fathers and the Constitution and to deviate from that is to start the slide down a very slippery slope. I don’t want to mess with what distinguishes us from other countries; I LOVE this country.

On the other hand, I’ve witnessed what can result when certain citizens have the unbridled freedom to make contracts between each other, however deceitful or fraudulent they may be. Isn’t that why we experienced our current economic meltdown? I’m not sure, but I think it’s because some citizens didn’t have the moral compass Joseph would have liked them to have, nor did they care about most other citizens. And didn’t that require the intervention of government in order to prevent a worldwide depression? I know the republicans have a penchant for blaming our economic problems on Obama, but their memories are conveniently short, clouded by their desire to defeat his agenda.

And I may be wrong, but isn’t that also why premiums for employer-provided health insurance have risen four times faster than wages, and why, as a nation, the United States spends 16.2 percent of the GDP on healthcare, nearly twice the average of other industrialized nations? Isn’t that because certain greedy citizens have gauged prices when they’ve entered into these contracts? So, in theory I guess I agree with Joseph, but I’ve seen those theories in practice and I’m just not sure they always work out so well.

But I said I would try to be fair, so back to the aforementioned Dean Flier. He wrote that “our healthcare system suffers from problems of cost, access and quality, and needs major reform.” I think both sides would agree to that in principle. However, he also writes that, despite what Obama and the democrats proclaim about the pending legislation, “there are no provisions to substantively control the growth of costs or raise the quality of care . . . so the overall effort will fail to qualify as reform.” Furthermore, he asserts that nearly all economists and health care professionals agree that nothing will be done to improve quality or change healthcare’s dysfunctional delivery system, and that by passing this legislation we’ll be inhibiting the potential for “real innovation in insurance and the provision of care by over-regulating the healthcare system in the service of special interests”. . . . at the expense of patients. Wow. That sucks.

The only positive outcome, according to Flier, is that access would be improved; more people currently uninsured could obtain insurance. I KNOW that’s a good thing; the amount of uninsured citizens in this country is obscene. But in order to do that, he warns, we’ll be perpetuating our current dysfunctional system and sacrificing our capacity to be innovative and develop new therapies.

I told you; my brain is mush. I don’t know what’s true any more. I’m trying to examine every side, give each its due. The problem is that when I do, it’s like putting my old glasses back on. My vision gets blurry.

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