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You’re Not Homeless If You Sleep Under a Bridge

August 29th, 2008

Wouldn’t that be a cool way of seeing poverty? If you sleep under a bridge, then count that bridge as a home. Same with cardboard boxes, doorways, etc. They are all shelters, therefore homes. Voila! No more homeless people!

We could do the same with joblessness. So what if you got fired and can’t get re-employed? You’re always doing some work, right? You gotta find food–that’s gotta be hard work without a job. And hey, panhandling ain’t easy. So in reality, nobody is really unemployed. So just count it that way. Voila! No more unemployment!

Now, no one has suggested either of the above in earnestness (that I know of). But an advisor to John McCain and author of a health care provision McCain subscribes to has just made an equivalent claim: anyone without insurance can still go to an emergency room, which is in itself insurance. So just count it that way, and Voila! No more uninsured! Think I’m exaggerating? Then read the original:

But the numbers are misleading, said John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-leaning Dallas-based think tank. Mr. Goodman, who helped craft Sen. John McCain’s health care policy, said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, albeit the government acts as the payer of last resort. (Hospital emergency rooms by law cannot turn away a patient in need of immediate care.)

“So I have a solution. And it will cost not one thin dime,” Mr. Goodman said. “The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American – even illegal aliens – as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care.

”So, there you have it. Voila! Problem solved.“

By the way, that’s not John Goodman the actor, just in case you were in doubt. Though you might at first wonder if it was and that this was from an SNL skit on an episode he was hosting.

Even if you don’t find the emergency care part of it asinine for many reasons, it of course completely ignores every variety of non-emergency care. Plainly put, it’s not just asinine, it’s stunningly stupid. Aside from being incredibly unkind, and blind to the realities of being poor or even middle-class, it’s an expensive, wasteful, and harmful idea. This is the quality we see from the authors of McCain’s policy.

Naturally, the McCain campaign is scrambling to disavow any connection with this guy. But he was an advisor, and though they can make whatever retroactive claims of disassociation they want to, the most important fact is that the McCain campaign’s health care plan does contain policies authored by this guy. So whatever they claim now, their health care policies bear Goodman’s imprint, and just as significant–perhaps more–is that this shows the quality of advisor that John McCain seeks out, listens to, and follows the advice of.

While John McCain might not be overtly suggesting that millions of Americans should be happy with the emergency room serving as their primary health insurance coverage, the facts remain that (a) the policy advisor he sought out does think so, (b) that will be the effective result of McCain’s health care plan, and (c) the philosophy meshes nicely with other McCain health care proposals:

Remember, the McCain campaign would offer tax incentives that favor bare-bones coverage; it would also gut state regulations that mandate all insurers cover certain benefits. Most important, perhaps, it’s likely that the McCain health plan would lead many people with employer-sponsored insurance to give up or lose that coverage. While many people would also get new coverage on their own, through the individual market, the benefits would be skimpier–and they would be available only to relatively healthy people, since insurers screen for pre-existing medical conditions when they sell policies individually.

So, is the media covering this?

No. The LA Times has an article, and a few CBS blogs have covered it, but that’s just about it.

Would the media be covering it if it were an Obama advisor?

Hell, yes.

Someone remind me: when was the last time a political figure actually suggested we solve a problem by failing to count it? I know it has been done in practice a lot–the Bush administration avoids heat for killing Iraqi civilians by having there be no official body counts, for example, and in a longer trend, we stop counting the chronically unemployed. But politicians only do these things, they don’t talk about them. I do seem to recall someone making a stir by suggesting something similar to Goodman, but I may be confusing this with fictional situations, like a ”Ministry of Truth“ official on Babylon 5 announcing that homelessness was solved by simply not recognizing the homeless. Someone help out–is Goodman a ground-breaker, or a tradition-follower?

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