The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Doctor, Doctor

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So, word is that Obama is eyeing CNN’s Sanjay Gupta for Surgeon General. Well, on the one hand, I can understand “eyeing” Gupta for … well … just about anything. After all, I did include the good doctor on my list of “Hot Talking Heads” a few years back.

And, ya gotta admit, the man is easy on the eyes.

I admit it. I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Initially, at least. A memorable mug will get my attention, sure. But once I get past that, I’ll be paying attention to what you’re actually saying. And that’s why I’m not so sure about Gupta.

Paul Krugman reminded me of Gupta’s sparring with Michael Moore over the statistics in Sicko.

Prior to the Larry King exchange, Gupta admitted that he made an error in a early report on Moore’s movie. The problem is he went on to get even more wrong.

To be sure, plenty of progressive bloggers are concerned that Gupta is — as PZ Meyers put it — “an apologist for US health care”. And Tim Foley at Change.Org has his own worries stemming from the Gupta/Moore exchange.

Honestly, neither Dr. Gupta nor Michael Moore acquit themselves well here. They spend a lot of time playing, “Whose numbers are right?” rather than making a coherent argument.

But for many progressives — myself included — this is an indelible image. Dr. Gupta may have thought he was asking the tough questions or doing his job as a reporter, but his antagonistic logic on the issue is wrong-headed, bordering on mean. There’s the focus on minute mistakes, as though if one detail was wrong, your whole argument fails. There’s the smug rejoinder, “We’ve got Michael Moore speechless.” There’s the put-down of government’s ability to care for its citizens. Even eighteen months later, it’s hard to watch this and not see Dr. Gupta in the guise of a supporter of our broken status quo.

Then, Tom Talks himself down from that ledge.

1.) I’m a jerk when it comes to numbers, too.

As frustrated as I am by the nit-picky “You can’t mix and match numbers from different sources” back and forth that takes up the entire first ten minutes of the Larry King clip – I have to admit, that sure sounds like something I would do. When it comes to nerdy numbers about health care policy, there’s a little Dr. Gupta in all of us.

2.) The surgeon general doesn’t have much to do with health care reform – really!

It seems counter-intuitive that the chief public health officer has given comprehensive reform a skip for the past 40 years, but that’s the history. Jesse L. Steinfeld played no significant role when Nixon was pushing for universal health care. Jocelyn Elders made an unfortunate big splash during her tenure, but had no hand in the Clinton reform plan. Richard Carmona didn’t have a hand in Medicare Part D. It’s not their bag, baby.

But let’s say Dr. Gupta demands to be part of the health care reform team as a condition of his appointment. Imagine the meeting in the Roosevelt Room when the White House Office of Health Care Reform meets with the relevant Democratic legislators in the Senate and House. You’ve got Barack Obama, Tom Daschle, Jeanne Lambrew, Pete Orszag, Zeke and Rahm Emmanuel, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy, Max Baucus, Nancy Pelosi, John Dingell, Pete Stark, Henry Waxman, Charlie Rangel… and Dr. Sanjay Gupta around the table.

Which one of these folks is least likely to get a word in edgewise, would you say?

I don’t know if it’s the start of a trend among progressive bloggers, but even über health care blogger Ezra Klein (and there I go, being persuaded by a pretty face again) seems to be talking himself into accepting Gupta as the nation’s physician, and even convincing himself that Gupta will be out front advocating for Obama’s universal health care plan.

I hope Tom and Ezra are right, but Howard Kurtz says that Gupta’s negotiating for a seat at the health policy table.

Gupta has told administration officials that he wants the job, and the final vetting process is under way. He has asked for a few days to figure out the financial and logistical details of moving his family from Atlanta to Washington but is expected to accept the offer.

When reached for comment today, Gupta did not deny the account but declined to comment.

The offer followed a two-hour Chicago meeting in November with Obama, who said that Gupta could be the highest-profile surgeon general in history and would have an expanded role in providing health policy advice, the sources said. Gupta later spoke with Tom Daschle, Obama’s White House health czar and nominee for Health and Human Services secretary, and other advisers to the president-elect.

A cursory Google search didn’t yield much to enlighten me on what Gupta’s said about universal health care since the clash with Michael Moore. So, I don’t know if he’s on board wit Obama’s plan or not.

But if he’s going to be at that table, I hope he gets it by now. Because, though it doesn’t get talked about much in that context, universal health care is a gay issue.

Is health care a gay issue? I don’t know that it’s a priority for any of our political organizations, but I’m starting to believe that it should be.

The reason is because as I read the plan, something jumped out at me.

At a stroke, then, no one with a direct or family tie to the workforce would remain uninsured.

…For the small share of people without direct or family ties to the workforce and ineligible for Medicaid, S-CHIP, or Medicare, the Health Care for America Plan would be available as an attractive new coverage option. Premiums would again be based on income, ranging from no premium in the case of those with incomes below the poverty line to the average actuarial cost of coverage for all enrollees in Health Care for America in the case of those with incomes above 400% of the poverty level. In other words, Health Care for America would allow higher-income individuals without workplace ties to buy into the program for a premium that did not vary with age, region, or health status (a so-called community-rated premium).

Meanwhile, Americans without ties to the workforce would be enrolled in the Health Care for America Plan through an individual buy-in, through state antipoverty and un-employment insurance programs, or through new efforts to reach the uninsured when they sought medical care without insurance.

Not a perfect solution, but as a married-without-benefits gay man, it was significant to read the phrase “people without direct or family ties to the workforce,” because of how it would apply to same-sex couples. As in most states we cannot legally have the same family ties to one another as heterosexual couples can through marriage, and in states like Colorado legal relationships like domestic partnership are under attack, and in states like Michigan health benefits for domestic partners are under attack. In some workplaces you can get health care benefits for your pet but not your (human) same-sex partner. Sometimes, it means that our children don’t have health care.

Universal, or even near-universal health care would — at least it seems to me — take care of one of the major issues under the marriage umbrella, solving one problem that same-sex couples face, and without regard to marital status. One of the concerns that comes up regularly in the discussion about marriage and whether it should be a primary focus of the LGBT community and its organizations, rather than focusing on issues under the marriage umbrella and detaching them from the question of marital status

So, I hope that if he gets the job, Gupta gets on board with universal health care. Otherwise, however telegenic he may be, the good doctor won’t look that good to me anymore.

One Comment

  1. accepting Gupta as the nation’s physician

    The Surgeon General is NOT “my” physician, any more than the President is “my” commander-in-chief.