Senator Charles Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, was nice enough to sit down with C-SPAN's Washington Journal show yesterday morning [9/8/09]. Sen. Grassley answered phone calls and questions pertaining to the health care debate. The full length video is presented below, and I would encourage you to watch it in its entirety. I have however excerpted crucial exchanges which I believe to be representative of Sen. Grassley's position as the main antagonist to health care reform.
There are five main points that I would like to highlight from the roughly thirty three minute video. Each point is bolded within the excerpt; I'll respond to these bolded portions following each excerpt. You can also listen to the excerpt by advancing the slider bar in the video above to the corresponding time listed at the beginning of each excerpt. The first excerpt is below:
HOST: Let's go to Jonathan on the Republican's line, and he's calling from Wilmington, North Carolina. Go ahead Jonathan.
CALLER: Thank you and good morning, and thank God for C-SPAN. Senator Grassley, the first question I would like to ask you is how long you have been a member of Congress?
GRASSLEY (R, IA): This is my fifth term....
CALLER: This is your fifth term; so we're going on 30 years. Is that correct?
GRASSLEY: This is my fifth term....Yes.
CALLER: And six year terms, thats coming up on 30 years. When was the last time you had to decide whether you were going to buy food or health care for your children? Your salary in the Senate is about eight times what the average American makes. And to be honest, you live in a bubble and do not realize what the average American goes through.
GRASSLEY: You asked me when the last time was. It would be from 1961 to 1971 when I was a member of the International Association of Machinists. I was an assembly line worker making furnace registers at Waterloo Register Company, Cedar Falls Iowa; and I spent ten years putting screw holes in furnace registers. During that period of time I had to worry about whether I was going to buy food or other things. And that was two jobs I had at that particular time.
HOST: And did you struggle with health care at that time, with insurance?
GRASSLEY: Well, I suppose I was like 20 year old people and early 30 year old people right now. I was never going to get sick, I never had any need for [health care]. So I think that I was probably, during that period of time, even though my company had a plan for us to join, I think I was seven or eight years of the ten years I spent there before I signed up for the health insurance plan.1 If you're working where they have health insurance and you're 20 to 30 years old and you think you're never going to get sick, maybe that's true, but if you have a chance to have health insurance, you outta take it.2 About four to five million people, of the 50 million people that don't have health insurance, are people that fall into that category of 20 to 30 years old.
Source: CSPAN: Senator Grassley on Congressional Agenda
1. I would argue that Sen. Grassley's health care situation in the 1960s and '70s is financially incomparable. He stated that he earned $15,000 at some juncture between 1961-1971 later in the segment, so I'll use that amount for comparison purposes and assume that it was 1971. Several different metrics reveal that $15,000 in 1971 is worth about 60k in 2003 terms. Health care in 1971 cost $342 per capita and increased to $5,711 in 2003 according to the non profit Kaiser Family Foundation; a respected authority on health care research.
Using the aforementioned data for 1971 and 2003 respectively we can show that the cost of health care as a percentage of Sen. Grassley's income quadrupled between 1971 and 2003. If 2009 data were available, the difference would likely be larger. It is, using 2003 dollars, currently four times more difficult to afford insurance than it was in 1971, using Sen. Grassley's situation.
To illustrate this point graphically, I've plotted national health care expenditures as a function of national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over time. You'll notice that the GDP cost of health care has roughly doubled in the past 40 years:
Source: US Department of Health and Human Services [*.zip 4KB]
No matter what metric is used, health care is more expensive today than in years past. The increase in health care costs have outpaced the increase in wages during the same time period, thus leaving segments of the population with no alternative. Health care has simply become too expensive for some Americans and I think the general public has acknowledged this issue; Grassley appears to be an exception.
2. This is by far Sen. Grassley's most interesting statement of the entire interview/show. He presents a redundant set of logical tests governing the process of acquiring health care. He concludes that if somebody has access to health care, they should get health care. His initial logic can further be reduced to: if you have the capacity to afford health care, you will have health care; if you can't afford health care, you don't have health care.
I know the situation is more complex than a binary choice scenario, but the fact that Sen. Grassley used if to proceed his statement highlights the need for reform. The ability to obtain health care within one's means should be a fundamental right, there should be no if. An individual's desire for health care treatment should not depend upon their, or anybody else's, financial situation. The right to affordable health care supports our declared right to life.
The second excerpt follows and piggy-backs upon the first:
HOST: Let's go to Dee on the Democrats line calling from New Jersey. Go ahead Dee.
CALLER Good morning.
GRASSLEY: Good morning.
CALLER: I just have a couple of things and a couple of questions. One is, a minute ago you said that it was 1971 the last time you had to worry about providing food for your family and for paying for health care.
GRASSLEY: Yeah, let me explain why that was that way. Because prior to that time I was making about 15,000 dollars and then being elected to Congress and then making 42,000 at the time; that doubled my income.3
CALLER: Well sir, since that time, health insurance premiums have gone up about 400% for one thing, and the manufacturing base has been decimated since that time. There are fewer manufacturing - I mean the world has changed since then. So, that time, while relevant to you, is not relevant to most Americans who are struggling with those choices today.
Secondly, you continue, and I've seen this in your town hall meetings, you continue to castigate Canada and other countries with single payer health care; well Canada is number six in life expectancy in the world. Japan where I lived for seven years, has single payer health care and is number two in the world. Singapore is number three and they have a system where they have private insurance competing with a public option and it has driven down costs in both directions.
GRASSLEY: Well go to England, where people don't live as long as they do in the United States if they have cancer or go to Canada where you gotta wait three months to have an MRI. So if you have a headache, do you want to wait three months to find out if you have a brain tumor. Or why do so many people come across the lines to have MRIs when they can afford to get it right now. Why do you have to wait in line for a long time to have hip and knee replacement compared to what you have in the United States.4
Government run plan has x number of dollars they're going to spend on health care and when those x number of dollars don't go far enough then they erase you. So when you have a political decision and you only have one choice, the government's choice, and what we're trying to do here for the 50 million people that don't have health insurance is to give them choice by putting them into private insurance plans and that's why we don't want a public option.
Because every expert on the subject says says that tens of millions of people, the lowest figure I've seen is 83 million, the highest figure I've seen is 120, are going to be pushed out of their health care plan into a government run plan. And when you do that, you soon have, everybody else's premiums go up, and pretty soon other people opt out and then pretty soon you have what the Congresswoman from Illinois said to a group that she was talking to who wanted a Canadian style single payer. We have to have a public option first because the American people won't go from what they have now to what they have in Canada so we have to have this interim stop over. But you know what their goal is? Their goal is to have the government run everything. And I don't think the government does a very good job of running the postal service for instance. So should they be running health care?5
Source: CSPAN: Senator Grassley on Congressional Agenda
3. Sen. Grassley has already falsely compared his plight to that of others, now he's providing his excuse; money. Sen. Grassley fails to comprehend the intricacies of his own health care situation. He has been a member of Congress since 1974, at which point he qualified for the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) of 1959; the plan does not provide government run healthcare it simply provides "the widest selection of [private] health plans in the country." Sen. Grassley hasn't had to worry about health care, in the same since as most American's, for the last 35 years because of this program. It also doesn't hurt to make more than 95% of the general population. Either one of these circumstances explains Sen. Grassley's inability to relate to the imperativeness of health care reform.
4. I think the caller makes a good point, although his factual assertions are slightly off base; for example Japan is third in average life expectancy, not second. The caller's main point was that these other countries with nationalized health care actually produce a higher standard of living, at least in terms of life expectancy, than does the US. Sen. Grassley was very dismissive of this argument and eagerly presented counter examples to the caller's claims. Sen. Grassley instantly focused on areas where these systems are inferior to the USA, rather than focusing on their advantages.
I don't want you to tell me what doesn't work, or won't work, I want you to support what does work or could work. Japan, Singapore and Canada are obviously doing something right, as designated by their average life expectancies, it is your job as a Senator to determine what it is in order to better our country.
5. Grassley apparently doesn't know shit about the post office. If the health care plan passes and is as successful as the post office, 82% of American's will support its implementation.
Sen. Grassley on Healthcare
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