Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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On 'death panels,' 'socialized medicine' and other red herrings
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   08/21/2009)

Ain't it a shame our so-called liberal media is obsessed with "death panels" of fevered imaginations rather than death panels that exist in the real world, notably in our present health-care system?

Such "death panels" are comprised of CEOs, accountants and actuarial analysts at those insurance companies that--sight unseen--deny benefits to people most desperate for help. Such panels trot out an amazing array of phony reasons to deny or sandbag claims, according to patients, insurance executives, physicians and others who testified before Congress recently. Several outlined how some companies entrap insurance applicants into providing false information on confusing forms just so they can later deny benefits based on "false information." Others reported how "pre-existing conditions" and delayed treatments resulted in denial of life-saving treatments by some companies. Not all, but some.

Yet, while real people are suffering and dying, talking heads spend hours covering antics of those profiting from such misery. As an industry insider emailed, "You and I know the 'liberal media' has more to gain by showing the hot emotional shouting by ignorant peasants willing, once again, to fight the battles of the rich and powerful rather than broadcast intelligent discussions."

Here's an intelligent discussion worth having. Why is it the World Health Organization ranks the U.S. healthcare system 37th in the world, based on several standards and that 42 countries have longer life-expectancy, according to the Washington Post, most of them with "socialized medicine" or at least a "public option."

And here's one. With all the talk going down about "socialized medicine," shouldn't we acknowledge that all insurance programs are based on "socialist" or "collectivist" ideas, with their emphasis on shared risks and costs? The difference between corporate collectivism and public collectivism is that private insurance corporations, like all corporations, are in business to provide ever-increasing profits to shareholders, directors and CEOs, some of whom bring home salaries and bonuses in the hundreds of millions?

This is a built-in motivation to short-change the paying customer, to cheat, lie and steal from those who need help the most. These are the true death panels that media mostly ignore. Teddy Roosevelt knew that tyranny and serfdom exist as a result of unbridled power. That's why he sought a balance, by busting monopolies and setting aside parks (a "public option" for entertainment and preservation you could say). The practice of CEOs stacking one another's boards to create artificial wealth, fix prices, dampen true competition, vote each other exorbitant salaries and hire lobbyists to help create oligopolies is a way around trust-busting and private competition, but I digress. To get back to the subject at hand, just ponder that number... 42nd.

We rank 42nd. No amount of dogma or rhetoric should make that a comfortable number for a country that prides itself on being #1 in everything from athletics to space travel. Nor should we be comfortable with spending 15 percent or some such of our gnp on healthcare administration. That's a crime, especially when some 45 million have no healthcare coverage. You see them lineup, many laughing or crying, when free healthcare clinics come to town and set up for the weekend.

Yet still you hear, "No socialized medicine," even from Medicare recipients, as well as from those who embrace public interstates, schools, public energy options, entertainment, military, fire prevention, cops, media, utilities, social security, the G.I. Bill and much else. Why not a public health option? Viewing the world as a laboratory, experiments in dozens of nations have shown that a single-payer system is more rational and provides the truest freedom and equality in a mixed economy. We won't get there soon, but a public option should be part of the mix at least. Think of the true freedom that could emerge, the human potential unleashed in energy, ambition and talent if we freed people from enslavement to ill-suited jobs they often hate but don't dare leave--for fear of their lives and lives of loved ones--due to an irrational and antiquated employer-based system of healthcare.

Too bad we can't have civil discussions—absent guns, yelling and pushing—when it comes to an increasingly expensive and exploitative system that most of us are going to fall prey to at some point in our lives. I suspect most of us already have. How often do you find yourself filing claim after claim for, say, dental reimbursements, and following up with phone calls due to sandbagging on the company's part? How often do premiums rise? You know you're one of the lucky ones. It's a shame our so-called "liberal media" refuse to take cameras inside emergency rooms to show how the poor are receiving expensive and belated "healthcare" and just who's paying for it.

Finally, ain't it a shame that we seldom hear on Fox, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS about the millions of dollars quietly ponied up in "campaign contributions" from the medical and insurance establishments to congressmen and lobbyists feverishly drumming up opposition to meaningful reform in order to cover their bought and paid-for backsides?