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Diagnosis: Paranoia

What are critics of single-payer health care so afraid of?

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If the terrorist threat keeps you from shopping, everyone from President Bush on down agrees, then the terrorists have won. So if fear of terrorism prevents us from fixing our health-care system, isn't that a victory for al-Qaeda too?

Apparently not, judging from local conservative Jerry Bowyer's July 6 appearance on Fox News. Some of the alleged plotters in a recent British terror attack were physicians, Bowyer argued -- which proves government-provided health care is dangerous.

At first blush, perhaps, that doesn't make much sense. Osama bin Laden paid his bills with family money -- does that mean conservatives support the inheritance tax? But Bowyer makes a potentially interesting point. Despite the promise of universal health care provided by Britain's "single payer" system, our real enemy is ... bureaucracy.

In Britain, Bowyer contended, being a doctor is a government job, and is thus not a hot career track. So the British rely on "higher rates of imported physicians" from the Muslim world. ("Islam holds physicians in very great esteem, Bowyer claimed, somewhat bizarrely. Hamas gunmen and Jewish mothers have something in common after all, it seems.) 

If the United States adopts a British-style health-care system, he warned, we too will "turn to the Arab and Muslim world for doctors." Our doctors too will work for government bureaucracy. And that, Bowyer warned, "is a real vulnerability. The terrorists have show over and over again [that] they're very good at figuring out how to get around bureaucracies." In a big bureaucracy, after all, "There's a lot of anonymity," whereas in private medical practices, "If one of you is a jihadist ... someone is going to notice."

From this we can conclude the following: Health giants like UPMC and Highmark must be dismantled, for the sake of national security.

The bureaucrats who process your insurance claims are plenty faceless already, after all, and UPMC is the region's largest employer. It's also practically part of the government already.

When Mayor Luke Ravenstahl isn't attending charity golf outings on UPMC's dime, he's hiring David White, who formerly worked for UPMC's health plan, to do public affairs. But the revolving door is bigger than Ravenstahl: A former city public-safety official, Robert Kennedy, works for the hospital giant, and local Congressman Jason Altmire is a former UPMC lobbyist.  

Plus, some UPMC doctors are imported from other countries. With different beliefs and everything.  

I don't think the attacks in Britain should make us wary of Muslim doctors, of course ... any more than I distrust Gulf War vets because of Timothy McVeigh. Besides, if the terrorists want to spread fear, they don't need to take jobs in our health-care system: Americans are already afraid of it. 

I spent the Fourth of July watching Michael Moore's expose of the health-care industry, Sicko, and before the movie ended, people in the audience were crying. No wonder, then, that the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare has been handing out flyers explaining the single-payer concept at local showings of the film.

"When people go into the movie, they aren't so interested" in the flyers, says Sandra Fox, the group's co-chair. "But when they come out, they're hungry for them. (Information about the group can be found at www.wpasinglepayer.org.)

Moore is a one-sided ideologue, and in that he has a lot in common with Fox News. As his detractors content, anyone could find a handful of sob stories to make a movie out of, even if we had the greatest health-care system in the world.

The problem, and the reason Moore's film works, is that we don't have the greatest health-care system in the world. Statistics on life expectancy and infant mortality prove it, and everyone knows it.

How many of us stay in our jobs simply because we're afraid to lose our insurance? And how different is that, really, from letting our fear of hijackings keep us away from the airport?

Moore's diagnosis is that the cure for what ails us is solidarity: people sticking up for each other, and demanding government do the same. People who realize, as Fox puts it, that "As powerful as the monied interests are, we ultimately hold the vote." People who refuse to be divided, or ruled by fear.

People, in other words, who scare terrorists and conservatives alike. 

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