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Chomsky: Health bill sustains the system’s core ills

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Despite its flaws, ‘I’d hold my nose and vote for’ reform, scholar tells Raw Story

He’s a hero of many progressives, but his enthusiasm for the passage of health care reform legislation this weekend was fairly muted.

In an interview with Raw Story, world-renowned scholar and political critic Noam Chomsky reluctantly called the bill a mildly positive step, but cautioned that it wouldn’t fix the fundamental problems with the nation’s troubled system.

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“The United States’ health care system is so dysfunctional it has about twice the costs of comparable countries and some of the worst outcomes,” Chomsky told Raw Story. “This bill continues with that.”

The decades-long critic of corporate power alleged that premiums won’t stop rising as the package is designed in no small part to funnel money into the pockets of the health care industry. “The bill gives away a lot to insurance companies and big pharmaceutical corporations,” he said.

The legislation forbids government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies or permitting the importation of drugs. Nor does it provide competition to private insurers, an oligopolistic industry that will maintain its impunity from antitrust laws. But despite this, Chomsky, an advocate for a single-payer system, said killing the bill wasn’t a better solution.

“If I were in Congress,” he said, “I’d probably hold my nose and vote for it, because the alternative of not passing it is worse, bad as this bill is. Unfortunately, that’s the reality.”

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“If it fails, it wouldn’t put even limited constraints on insurance companies,” he explained, noting that the bill “at least has some steps towards barring the withholding of policies from people with prior disabilities.” The consumer protections from dodgy insurance practices are among the bill’s most popular components.

The mandate to purchase insurance has been a central qualm of progressives and conservatives opposed to the effort. Chomsky, while admitting it’s a boon to insurance companies, called it a “step toward universality,” asserting that “without some kind of mandatory coverage, nothing is going to work at all.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor added that it’s a damning referendum on American democracy that one of the most highly supported components of the effort nationally, the public insurance option, was jettisoned. He partly blamed the media for refusing to stress how favorably it’s viewed by the populace.

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“It didn’t have ‘political support,’ just the support of the majority of the population,” Chomsky quipped, “which apparently is not political support in our dysfunctional democracy.”

The provision has consistently polled well, garnering the support of sixty percent of Americans across the nation in a CBS/New York Times poll released in December, days after it was eliminated from the reform package. Democratic leaders deemed it politically untenable.

“There should be headlines explaining why, for decades, what’s been called politically impossible is what most of the public has wanted,” Chomsky said. “There should be headlines explaining what that means about the political system and the media.”

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(Read Parts II and III of Chomsky’s interview with Raw Story’s Sahil Kapur, on US-Israel relations and the government’s allegiance to financial institutions, respectively.)

Chomsky: I would have ‘held my nose’ to pass health care

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