Inconvenient truths

Jeff vonKaenel

Inconvenient Truth was the name of former Vice President Al Gore’s 2006 documentary that so graphically illustrated the dangers of global warming. But inconvenient truths are also a political phenomenon when the truth about a problem points to a solution that is not politically viable.

The scientific evidence about global warming is an inconvenient truth for Republicans because the evidence overwhelmingly points to the need for action. But unfortunately, it is not as overwhelming as the political donations coming from the Koch brothers and others. Republicans who want to be elected rightly believe they are committing political suicide if they support efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions.

But inconvenient truths are nonpartisan. This was painfully apparent in the Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina, when highly capable candidates struggled to balance the truth with their desire to get elected.

Here are two examples of inconvenient truths that came to light during the debate:

The first: While it is true that Florida has 29 electoral votes, and while it is true that many of those voters hate the current communist regime in Cuba, nevertheless Cuba has made major advances in health care and education.

Life expectancy in Cuba is about the same as the United States, and Cuba has three times as many physicians per person, according to data from World Health Organization, the World Bank and the United Nations. The Cuban government also devotes twice as much of its gross domestic product to education as the United States.

Compared to its Central America neighbors—El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras—Cuba ranks much higher on education, standard of living, life expectancy and many other measures. So while you may hate Castro, or Cuba's communist regime, it is ridiculous to criticize Bernie Sanders for speaking the truth about it.

The second inconvenient truth: Our health care system is an expensive mess. According to 2017 data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States spends $10,224 per year per person on health care, compared to similar countries that spend $5,280, while also providing universal health care.

There are 331 million people in America who could be paying 48% less for health care. That adds up to $1.63 trillion we could be saving. Any discussion on health care needs to start with this understanding.

To evaluate the costs of “Medicare for All” or any health care expansion plan, we must consider both taxes and private insurance costs. If I am seeing the same physician at the same clinic, I do not care if I am paying the federal government or Blue Cross. But I'm telling you, I would sit up and pay attention if my health care spending was cut by 48%.

While “Medicare for All” would generate some savings by reducing insurance company profits and CEO salaries, as Sanders mentions in his stump speech, the real savings come from the elimination of about two million administrative jobs in the private insurance market and health care industry. These jobs create massive amounts of paperwork to justify, approve and deny claims would largely be eliminated in a single-payer system.

However, no politician wants to mention cutting jobs in an election year. While it may be difficult to speak the truth and get elected, unless we demand that politicians tell us the truth, our most difficult political problems will never be solved.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.