7dc12be8-e215-4b67-8ae2-490ba2c95880.jpgInstead of giving John McCain a pass on the issues so they can talk rib rub recipes, how about the media gets off their collective duffs and takes some advice from Elizabeth Edwards?

My friend Tracy Russo — formerly of the DNC and the Edwards campaign — has just started blogging at "The Field," and her political insights (as always) are stellar. She points to some excellent questions that Elizabeth had for McCain about his non-health care plan that the public deserves some real answers to before November. From The Wonk Room:

1. Under your plan, Senator McCain, would any health insurer be required to sell you or me (or those like us with pre-existing conditions) a health insurance policy?

2. You say your plan is going to increase competition to the point that it actually lowers costs. Isn’t there competition today among insurance companies? Haven’t costs continued to go up despite that competition?

3. You say that under your plan everyone is going to pay less for health insurance. Nice words, I admit, but they are words we have heard before. You must know when American families calculate the actual cost of health care, they have to include those deductibles and co-pays and not just the cost of the insurance. Are you talking about cheaper overall or just a cheap policy that doesn’t kick in until after thousands of dollars of deductibles have been paid?

4. Isn’t the type of competition you are talking about really a rush to the bottom? As long as you allow insurers to underwrite and deny access, you encourage insurers to offer plans that may be cheap, but that get that way by avoiding people with cancer or other high-cost diseases or by limiting benefits and treatments, particularly if the treatment is expensive or might be needed for a long time. We all live in the real world; those of us lucky enough to have health insurance have seen how insurers cut coverage and up co-pays or deny particular treatments. The insurance company makes money when it doesn’t have to pay for our health care. (I suspect that if they could, they would write obstetrical-only policies for nuns.) Doesn’t your plan really encourage insurers plans to compete to avoid people with cancer or other high-cost diseases? Don’t you think that the kind of competition that starts with a decent level of required coverage, that doesn’t exclude the care we actually need, would be better?

McCain’s aides had tried to play the "oh, poor dear, you don’t understand health care, so go back to doing whatever it is your pretty little head ought to be doing" card with Elizabeth, and she let them have it with grace and charm…and a passle of facts. Good for her.

Because, frankly, after reviewing the "straight talk" about McCain’s health care plan, here’s what I come up with as an understanding of his views on health care: social Darwinism and a lot of luck. And it seems that Elizabeth reached the same conclusion:

…despite fuzzy language and feel-good lines in the Senator’s proposal, I do understand exactly how devastating it will be to people who have the health conditions with which the Senator and I are confronted (melanoma for him, breast cancer for me) but do not have the financial resources we have. In very unconfusing language: they are left outside the clinic doors.

As someone else with a pre-existing condition, I’d like some honest, straight talk instead of more campaign obfuscation on this as well. And that means that reporters need to stop repeating blast-fax McCain PR talking points and instead independently confirm or disprove the facts and the issues surrounding what the campaigns are saying to determine if their assertions actually hold up to scrutiny. And if they don’t? That needs to be reported straight out as well. Research and skepticism, and basic calling of bullshit when the campaigns lie or try to snow you — remember that?

Try using this reporting from the Boston Globe on the fact that McCain has no real plan other than mouthing the words "free enterprise" and hoping no one asks any more questions as a template for a good start — real questions for a change, who’d a thunk it? Isn’t it time the rest of the national press started asking the important questions instead of just asking for seconds on the ribs?