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The Health Insurance Industry’s Vendetta Against Michael Moore November 25, 2010

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Published on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 by TruthDig.comby Amy Goodman

Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, makes great movies but they are not generally considered “cliff-hangers.” All that might change since a whistle-blower on the “Democracy Now!” news hour revealed that health insurance executives thought they may have to implement a plan “to push Moore off a cliff.” The whistle-blower: Wendell Potter, the former chief spokesman for health insurance giant Cigna. He was quoting from an industry strategy session on how to respond to Moore’s 2007 documentary “Sicko,” a film critical of the U.S. health insurance industry. Potter told me that he is not sure how serious the threat was but he added, ominously, “These companies play to win.”

Moore won an Oscar in 2002 for his film about gun violence, “Bowling for Columbine.” He followed that with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a documentary on the presidency of George W. Bush that became the top-grossing documentary film in U.S. history. So when Moore told a reporter that his next film would be about the U.S. health care system, the insurance industry took notice.

AHIP (America’s Health Insurance Plans), the major lobbying group of the for-profit health insurance corporations, secretly sent someone to the world premiere of “Sicko” at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Its agent rushed from the screening to a conference call with industry executives, including Potter. “We were very scared,” Potter said, “and we knew that we would have to develop a very sophisticated and expensive campaign to turn people away from the idea of universal care. … We were told by our pollsters [that] a majority of people were in favor of much greater government involvement in our health care system.”

AHIP hired a public-relations firm, APCO Worldwide, founded by the powerful law firm Arnold & Porter, to coordinate the response. APCO formed the fake grass-roots consumer group “Health Care America” to counter the expected popularity of Moore’s “Sicko” and to promote fear of “government run health care.”

Potter writes in his new book, “Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans,” that he “found the film very moving and very effective in its condemnation of the practices of private health insurance companies. There were many times when I had to fight to hold back tears. Moore had gotten it right.”

The insurance industry declared its campaign against “Sicko” a resounding success. Potter wrote, “AHIP and APCO Worldwide had succeeded in getting their talking points into most of the stories about the movie, and not a single reporter had done enough investigative work to find out that insurers had provided the lion’s share of funding to set up Health Care America.” Indeed, everyone from CNN to USA Today cited Health Care America as if it were a legitimate group.

Moore concedes, “Their smear campaign was effective and did create the dent they were hoping for-single payer and the public option never even made it into the real discussion on the floor of Congress.”

Moore has called Potter the “Daniel Ellsberg of corporate America,” invoking the famous Pentagon whistle-blower whose revelations helped end the Vietnam War. Potter’s courageous stand made an impact on the debate, but the insurance industry, the hospitals and the American Medical Association prevailed in blunting the elements of the plan that threatened their profits.

A recent Harvard Medical School study found that nearly 45,000 Americans die each year-one every 12 minutes-largely because they lack health insurance. But for the insurance lobby, the only tragedy is the prospect of true health care reform. In 2009, the nation’s largest health insurance corporations funneled more than $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to oppose health care reform. This year, the nation’s five largest insurers contributed three times as much money to Republican candidates as to Democrats, in an effort to further roll back insurance industry reform. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., an advocate of single payer health care, declared in Congress that “the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.” Potter agrees, saying the Republican Party has “been almost bought and paid for.”

The health insurance industry is getting its money’s worth. Moore said that the industry was willing to attack his film because it was afraid it “could trigger a populist uprising against a sick system that will allow companies to profit off of us when we fall ill.” Now that is truly sick.  


Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Yet More “Plus ça change …” You Can Believe In December 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
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Published on Wednesday, December 16, 2009 by Salon.com

White House as Helpless Victim on Health Care

by Glenn Greenwald

Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferious email backlash — easily — was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama’s occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it.  From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House — hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama’s campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN).  Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn’t pass it.  The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party — rather than the GOP — will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.

As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage.  Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this — the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional “centrists.”  Right.  The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives.  The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start — the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry.   And kudos to Russ Feingold for saying so:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.

This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth,” said Feingold. “I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect.”

Let’s repeat that:  “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place.”  Indeed it does.  There are rational, practical reasons why that might be so.  If you’re interested in preserving and expanding political power, then, all other things being equal, it’s better to have the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry on your side than opposed to you.  Or perhaps they calculated from the start that this was the best bill they could get.  The wisdom of that rationale can be debated, but depicting Obama as the impotent progressive victim here of recalcitrant, corrupt centrists is really too much to bear.

Yet numerous Obama defenders — such as Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Steve Benen — have been insisting that there is just nothing the White House could have done and all of this shows that our political system is tragically “ungovernable.”  After all, Congress is a separate branch of government, Obama doesn’t have a vote, and 60 votes are needed to do anything.  How is it his fault if centrist Senators won’t support what he wants to do?  Apparently, this is the type of conversation we’re to believe takes place in the Oval Office:

The President:  I really want a public option and Medicare buy-in.  What can we do to get it?

Rahm Emanuel:  Unfortunately, nothing.  We can just sit by and hope, but you’re not in Congress any more and you don’t have a vote.  They’re a separate branch of government and we have to respect that.

The President:  So we have no role to play in what the Democratic Congress does?

Emanuel:  No.  Members of Congress make up their own minds and there’s just nothing we can do to influence or pressure them.

The President:  Gosh, that’s too bad.  Let’s just keep our fingers crossed and see what happens then.

In an ideal world, Congress would be — and should be — an autonomous branch of government, exercising judgment independent of the White House’s influence, but that’s not the world we live in.  Does anyone actually believe that Rahm Emanuel (who built his career on industry support for the Party and jamming “centrist” bills through Congress with the support of Blue Dogs) and Barack Obama (who attached himself to Joe Lieberman when arriving in the Senate, repeatedly proved himself receptive to “centrist” compromises, had a campaign funded by corporate interests, and is now the leader of a vast funding and political infrastructure) were the helpless victims of those same forces?  Engineering these sorts of “centrist,” industry-serving compromises has been the modus operandi of both Obama and, especially, Emanuel.

Indeed, we’ve seen before what the White House can do — and does do — when they actually care about pressuring members of Congress to support something they genuinely want passed.  When FDL and other liberal blogs led an effort to defeat Obama’s war funding bill back in June, the White House became desperate for votes, and here is what they apparently did (though they deny it):

The White House is playing hardball with Democrats who intend to vote against the supplemental war spending bill, threatening freshmen who oppose it that they won’t get help with reelection and will be cut off from the White House, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said Friday.  “We’re not going to help you. You’ll never hear from us again,” Woolsey said the White House is telling freshmen.

That’s what the White House can do when they actually care about pressuring someone to vote the way they want.  Why didn’t they do any of that to the “centrists” who were supposedly obstructing what they wanted on health care?  Why didn’t they tell Blanche Lincoln — in a desperate fight for her political life — that she would “never hear from them again,” and would lose DNC and other Democratic institutional support, if she filibustered the public option?  Why haven’t they threatened to remove Joe Lieberman’s cherished Homeland Security Chairmanship if he’s been sabotaging the President’s agenda?  Why hasn’t the President been rhetorically pressuring Senators to support the public option and Medicare buy-in, or taking any of the other steps outlined here by Adam Green?  There’s no guarantee that it would have worked — Obama is not omnipotent and he can’t always control Congressional outcomes — but the lack of any such efforts is extremely telling about what the White House really wanted here.

Independent of the reasonable debate over whether this bill is a marginal improvement over the status quo, there are truly horrible elements to it.  Two of the most popular provisions (both of which, not coincidentally, were highly adverse to industry interests) — the public option and Medicare expansion — are stripped out (a new Washington Post/ABC poll out today shows that the public favors expansion of Medicare to age 55 by a 30-point margin).  What remains is a politically distastrous and highly coercive “mandate” gift to the health insurance industry, described perfectly by Digby:

Obama can say that you’re getting a lot, but also saying that it “covers everyone,” as if there’s a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don’t get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn’t make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn’t even conservative, free market or otherwise. It’s some kind of weird corporatism that’s very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.

Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good — and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don’t miss the money as much when they never see it.

In essence, this re-inforces all of the worst dynamics of Washington.  The insurance industry gets the biggest bonanza imaginable in the form of tens of millions of coerced new customers without any competition or other price controls.  Progressive opinion-makers, as always, signaled that they can and should be ignored (don’t worry about us — we’re announcing in advance that we’ll support whatever you feed us no matter how little it contains of what we want and will never exercise raw political power to get what we want; make sure those other people are happy but ignore us).  Most of this was negotiated and effectuated in complete secrecy, in the sleazy sewers populated by lobbyists, industry insiders, and their wholly-owned pawns in the Congress.  And highly unpopular, industry-serving legislation is passed off as “centrist,” the noblest Beltway value.

Looked at from the narrow lens of health care policy, there is a reasonable debate to be had among reform advocates over whether this bill is a net benefit or a net harm.  But the idea that the White House did what it could to ensure the inclusion of progressive provisions — or that they were powerless to do anything about it — is absurd on its face.  Whatever else is true, the overwhelming evidence points to exactly what Sen. Feingold said yesterday:  “This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place.”

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

Is the Obama Health Care Plan Really Better Than Nothing? July 27, 2009

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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by Black Agenda Report

The health care debate inside and outside the matrix

by Bruce Dixon

Like just about everything else, your take on the national health care debate depends on whether you’re inside or outside the matrix.

Within the bubble of fake reality blown by corporate media and bipartisan political establishment, the health care news is that theObama Plan is at last making its way through Congress. It’s being fought by greedy private insurance companies, by chambers of commerce, by Republican and some Democratic lawmakers.

Under the Obama plan, we’re told, employers will have to insure their employees or pay into a fund that does it for them. Individuals will be required under penalty of law to buy private insurance policies and for those that can’t afford it or prefer not to use a private insurer there will be something called a “public option.” This “public option, the story goes, is bitterly fought by the bad guys because it will make private insurers accountable by competing with them, forcing them to lower their costs. Both the president’s backers and opponents agree that the whole thing will be fantastically expensive, and the president proposes to fund it with cuts in existing programs like Medicaid which pay for the care of the poorest Americans and a tax on those making more than $300,000, later raised to $1 million a year.

The “public option” has that magic word “public” in it, and that’s reassuring to progressives and to most of the American people. Taxing the rich is a popular idea too. So if you rely on corporate media, the administration, or some of the so-called progressive blogs to identify the players and keep the score, it seems a pretty clear case of President Obama on the side of the angels, battling the greedy insurance companies, Republicans and blue dog Democrats to bring us universal, affordable health care.

That whole picture has about as much reality as the ones the same corporate media and most of the same politicians drew for us about Iraq, 9-11, weapons of mass destruction and some people over there who wanted us to free them. Iraq and the White House were and remain actual places, and there really is a problem called health care. But the places, problems and solutions are very different from the bubble of fake reality blown around them.

What sustains this fake reality is the diligent suppression from public space of any viewpoints, observations or proposals to Obama’s left. As long as the illusion that nobody has a better idea, that the only choice we have is Obama’s way or the Republicans’ way can be maintained, the crooked game can go on.

But bubbles are delicate things. Keeping this one intact requires so many vital topics to be avoided, so many inquiring eyes to be averted, so many fruitful conversations to be squelched that it’s hard to see how the president, the bipartisan establishment and the corporate media can pull it all off.

The real Obama Plan: doesn’t cover the uninsured till 2013, if then.

The first clue that something is deeply wrong with the Obama health care proposal is its timeline. According to a copyrighted July 21 AP story by Ricardo Alfonso-Zaldivar,

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare law on July 30, 1965, and 11 months later seniors were receiving coverage. But if President Barack Obama gets to sign a health care overhaul this fall, the uninsured won’t be covered until 2013 – after the next presidential election.

In fact, a timeline of the 1,000-page health care bill crafted by House Democrats shows it would take the better part of a decade – from 2010-2018 – to get all the components of the far-reaching proposal up and running.”

According to a peer reviewed 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine, 62% of the nation’s 727,167 non-business bankruptcies were triggered by unpayable medical bills in 2007. Most of these had health insurance when they fell ill or were injured, but with loopholes, exclusions, high deductibles and co-payments, or were simply dropped when they got sick. In 2008 that figure was 66% of 934,000 personal bankruptcies and in 2009 it could approach 70% of 1.1 million bankruptcies. And 18,000 Americans die each year because medical care is unaffordable or unavailable. Waiting till 2013 means millions of families will be financially ruined and tens of thousands will die unnecessarily.

If the Johnson administration with no computers back in the sixties could implement Medicare for 45 million seniors in under a year, why does it take three and a half years in the 21st century to cover some, but not all, of America’s fifty million uninsured? And why does the Obama Plan make us wait till after the next presidential election? Politicians usually do popular things and run for election on the resulting wave of approval. Delaying what ought to be the good news of universal and affordable health care for all Americans till two elections down the road is a strong indication that they know the good news really ain’t all that good. And it’s not.

Inside the matrix of TV, the corporate media and on much of the internet, discussion of the Obama plan’s timeline, the human cost of another three years delay, and the comparison with Medicare’s 11 month rollout back in the days before computers are almost impossible to find. We can only wonder why.

The Obama plan is about health insurance, not health care.

As BAR has been reporting since January 2007, the Obama plan is not a health care plan at all, it is a health insurance plan. Based largely upon the failed model in place in Massachusetts since 2006, the Obama plan will require employers to provide coverage or pay a special tax. Everybody not covered by an employer will be required to purchase insurance under penalty of law, in much the same manner as you’re currently required to buy car insurance.

“In my state,” testified Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of the Harvard Medical School last month before Congress, “beating your wife, communicating a terrorist threat and being uninsured all carry $1,000 fines.”

As in Massachusetts, the health insurance plans people are forced to buy will cost a lot and won’t cover much. In a July 20 National Journal article Dr. David Himmelstein says,

Nearly every day that he is in the clinic, Himmelstein says, he sees a patient who has problems paying for care “despite this reform.’ Some of them had free care before the 2006 law took effect but are now expected to handle co-payments. If you’re not poor enough to get a subsidy, say you’re making $30,000 a year, you’re required to buy a policy that costs about $5,000 a year for the premium and has a $2,000 deductible before it pays for anything. For substantial numbers of people, it’s effectively not coverage,’ Himmelstein said. The policy he described is about the cheapest Massachusetts plan available, according to the Physicians for a National Health Program report, which Himmelstein co-wrote.”

A family of four making under $24,000 a year in Massachusetts gets its insurance premium free, but is still expected to cough up deductibles and co-payments and live with loopholes and exclusions that often deny care to those who need it. And in both the Massachusetts and Obama plans, funds to pay those premiums come out of the budgets of programs like Medicaid that already pay for care for the poorest Ameicans.

The Obama plan’s “public option” is a bait-and-switch scam

A July 21 pnhp.org article titled “Bait and Switch: How the Public Option Was Sold” outlines how the public option is neither public, nor an option.

Public option” refers to a proposal… that Congress create an enormous “Medicare-like” program that would sell health insurance to the non-elderly in competition with the 1,000 to 1,500 health insurance companies that sell insurance today…

Hacker (its author) claimed the program, which he called “Medicare Plus” in 2001 and “Health Care for America Plan” in 2007, would enjoy the advantages that make Medicare so efficient – large size, low provider payment rates and low overhead…

Hacker predicted that his proposed public program would so closely resemble Medicare that it would be able to set its premiums far below those of other insurance companies and enroll at least half the non-elderly population.”

The White House is committed to twisting arms in the both houses of Congress and reconciling the two versions of Democratic bills to emerge from the House and Senate. What emerges will be the Obama plan. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate version of the Democrats’ pending health care legislation leaves 33 million uninsured and omits the public option altogether. The House version includes a “public option” estimated to cover only 10-12 million people, a number far too small for it to create price pressure on private insurance companies, while leaving 16 or 17 million uninsured. Instead of setting prices for health care, it will be forced to pay whatever tthe private insurers already pay, and perhaps more.

As private insurers use their marketing muscle to recruit younger, healthier people who’ll pay for but not use their benefits, the public option will be a dumping ground for the customers they don’t want… the middle-aged, the poor, those with pre-existing conditions. And of course the Obama plan’s “public option’ will be managed by contractors from the private insurance industry.

Private insurers spend a third of every health care dollar on non-health related things like bonuses, denial machinery, advertising, lobbying and bad investments. Medicare spends 2 or 3% on administrative overhead. Bush’s “enhanced Medicare” administered by private insurance contractors, spends about 11% on overhead. That’s about what we should expect from the Obama public option. So much for change.

So far, discipline is holding. Nobody in corporate media, the administration, or among Democrats in Washington has gotten round to telling us that the public option has been eviscerated. But its powerful appeal and the awesome power of the word “public” are offered by Obama supporters as the central reasons to shut up, clap harder, and get behind the president on this.

Taxing the rich, paying for health care. How the Obama Plan stacks up against single payer.

Along with being funded by cuts in Medicaid, the Obama plan is supposed to be funded by taxing those who make $300,000 or more per year. That’s not a bad thing. The wealthy don’t pay nearly enough taxes. But the US already spends more on health care than anyplace else on the planet while leaving a greater portion of its population uninsured than anybody.

The Obama plan will not contain costs. It will subsidize the insurance vampires well into the next decade. On the other hand, single payer would eliminate the private insurance industry altogether. In many advanced industrial countries, most of the practices private insurers follow here, such as cherry picking healthy patients while dumping and denying sick ones, are illegal. Why can we do that?

Single payer, according to a study by the California Nurses Association would eliminate 550,000 jobs in private insurance while creating 3.2 million new ones in actual health care. It would be responsible for $100 billion in wages annually and a source of immense tax revenues for local governments.

So is the Obama plan really better than nothing?

The Obama plan seems calculated to buy time for private insurers, to end the health care discussion for a decade or more without solving the health care problem, do so in a way that discredits the very idea of everybody in- nobody out health care. It will leave tens of millions uninsured, a hundred million or more underinsured, and the same parasitic private interests in charge of the American health care system that run it now.

The Obama plan as it now stands requires us to let another 18,000 die for each of the next three years and allow more than a million additional families to be bankrupted by medical expenses before we can judge whether or not the plan is working. It’s easy to imagine Obama partisans telling us in mid 2013 that it’s still too early to be sure.

The Kucinich amendment, which allows the few states wealthy enough to try it the liberty to fashion their own single payer regimes is intended to attract progressives and single payer votes in Congress without breaking the bubble. By itself, it should not be a reason to support this bill.. The wealthiest state in the union is probably California, and it’s handing out IOUs instead of salaries this month. It’s hard to see what would be lost if this health care bill went down in flames, and we started over again next year.

Can he get away with it?

Maybe. Maybe not. If the corporate media and the president can keep discussion of the devilish details to a minimum, if they can silence, co-opt and intimidate the forces to Obama’s left — if they can keep most of the public inside their bubble of fake reality, Barack Obama may achieve his goal of thwarting the reform that most of the American people want — an everybody in, nobody out single payer health care system on the model of Canada or Australia, or Medicare for All. It won’t be close, it won’t be easy, and with nothing to be gained, progressives shouldn’t make it any easier.

Since the president’s success depends mostly on keeping people silent and in the dark, he will probably be unable to mobilize the 13 million phone numbers and email addresses collected during the recent presidential campaign, and now held by OFA, his campaign arm. If an organizing call went out to them, too many would try to read the bill and discuss the options, and such a discussion could easily get out of hand. When OFA called house meetings on health care last December, the most frequently advanced question was why we couldn’t or shouldn’t get a single payer health care system.

Single payer isn’t dead yet. It’s very much alive among Barack Obama’s own supporters. To succeed, he has to bury it alive, to keep them in the bubble, in the dark and quiet, or clapping so loudly they cannot hear themselves or each other think. It’s not over.

© 2009 Black Agenda Report

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor of the Black Agenda Report

Obama’s Failure as a Leader July 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, War.
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Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.com, July 22, 2009

To quote John Lennon, “Imagine!”  Imagine Barack Obama giving a nationally televised speech on health care reform.  In it he outlines the advantages of a single-payer plan.  He gives the statistical evidence to demonstrate the enormous savings by eliminating private health insurance.  He discusses the German, French, British and Canadian systems.  He acknowledges some drawbacks, but shows clearly how they achieve the fundamental objectives of universal accessibility, choice, and cost savings.  He directly challenges the medical, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and exposes their high priced media propaganda for what it is: distortion and lies.  With most American already having a predisposition towards universal coverage, and with the myths dispelled and replaced with hard undeniable facts, the pressure from the public on Congress to achieve a single-payer option would be irresistible.

 

 

Barack Obama wouldn’t be President of the United States today if he hadn’t been the pragmatic, hard-ball, Chicago-bred politician that he is.  His failure, or his inability, or his lack of will – call it what you like – to withdraw from the country’s imperialist (criminal and destructive) war adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan or to hold the Bush administration accountable for its high crimes and misdemeanors is eminently predictable and in entirely in character.  That many expected more, a hell of a lot more, is due entirely to his campaign rhetoric, which was calculated and for the most part fraudulent.

 

But this is no reason to not render critical judgments about the Obama presidency despite the fact that we are still quite early into his tenure.  There is no doubt that we can expect more of the same.  There is a principle to the effect that the practical should be judged by the ideal, and not vice versa.  Following this principle is the keystone of leadership.  President Obama violates this principle on a daily basis.

 

Obama knows what leadership is.  Candidate Obama demonstrated the epitome of leadership as he led the nation to an electoral victory over a McCain/Palin ticket that had the potential to give the country a government even more disastrous than that of Bush/Cheney – virtually inconceivable but true. 

 

He gave the country its first Afro-American president.  However, once elected, he cast off the leadership role as a snake sheds its skin.

 

President Obama is fond of saying something to the effect of not letting the perfect get in the way of achieving the possible.  Politics is the art of the possible, as common wisdom has it.  In other words, judge the ideal by the practical, which is to my mind a cynical and nihilistic form of non-leadership.

 

In a sense, a leader’s role is to remain to a large degree above the fray.  A leader reflects the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people.  A genuine leader is not a power broker.

 

In the U.S. system of government, the Congress makes laws which, once agreed upon by both houses, are presented to the President to sign into law or veto.  Apart from skewing factors such as massive corporate lobbying and the infamous Bush “signing statements” that allowed the President to ignore laws passed by Congress, the system as it has evolved does generate legislation, for better or worse.

 

A president’s role can vary between staying out of the process until a piece of legislation reaches his or her desk, and active participation in creating legislation and stick-handling it through Congress.  In modern times presidents have leaned more towards the latter role, thereby sacrificing their capacity to lead rather than to broker.

 

I would suggest that the proper role for Obama or any other president is to communicate to the general public and to the members of Congress his vision on any given issue that is in the best interests of the nation.  In the case of health care reform, for example, that would be for a single-payer option, which is what Canada and European industrial democracies have had in place for decades or longer (and which, despite being virtually ignored by the mainstream media and subjected to massive campaigns based upon outright falsehoods, most Americans believe in).  But since that is the “perfect” solution in Obama’s frame of thinking, it is “off the table” presumably so as not to hinder a less than perfect but “realizable” option.  This is the way of the defeatism, it is not leadership.

 

In other words, if Obama were a leader rather than a manipulator, he would go over the heads of Congress and speak directly to the people, and let Congress take the consequences for its action or failure to act.  This might entail short term risk (that a flawed reform or no reform at all would result), but surely is the only road to genuine reform in the long term.  Leadership is about taking risks; but what is ironic, not to mention tragic, is that by taking the path of power brokering a deal, the only possible results are either a much less than adequate reform or total failure.  It is also ironic that the entirely self-interested neo-con (Republican) opposition will go for the jugular on the compromised, brokered solution as if it were the ideal solution (so, why not go for broke if you are going to be viciously attacked in any case?).  The pragmatist will argue that the less than adequate reform is an incremental step to genuine reform.  This indeed might be the case were it not for the fact that bastardized reforms are the result of catering to special interests (in the case of health care reform the AMA, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries), who having been victorious in fending off genuine reform will only remain further entrenched and less likely to be defeated in the future.

 

In feudal times there was in some senses a positive relationship between kings and subjects vis-à-vis confrontation with the ruling nobility.  At times a serf could go over the head of his Lord and appeal to the king for justice.  I am no lover of monarchy and only offer this as an analogy.  A president who was a genuine friend of the masses and an ally in their struggles with enormous economic interests and compromised legislatures would be a sight to behold.

 

The problem, of course, is that the President is just as compromised as the legislatures with respect to the funding required to gain a nomination and to launch a successful presidential campaign.  What I find so insidious about the Obama (full disclosure: I voted for him, the alternative was too scary, but I can understand those who bit the bullet and voted for Nader) is that he promoted himself and catapulted himself to the presidency by pretending to be a leader.  I have to confess that in spite of my better judgment, there was a part of me that wanted to believe him.  This may have been naïve on my part, but at least I kept it to myself.

Health Insurance Whistle-Blower Knows Where the Bodies Are Buried July 15, 2009

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Published on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 by TruthDig.com by Amy Goodman

Wendell Potter is the health insurance industry’s worst nightmare. He’s a whistle-blower. Potter, the former chief spokesperson for insurance giant CIGNA, recently testified before Congress, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick—all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.”

Potter was deeply involved in CIGNA and industrywide strategies for maintaining their profitable grip on U.S. health care. He told me: “The thing they fear most is a single-payer plan. They fear even the public insurance option being proposed; they’ll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead down the slippery slope toward socialism … putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. They’ve used those talking points for years, and they’ve always worked.”

In 2007, CIGNA denied a California teenager, Nataline Sarkisyan, coverage for a liver transplant. Her family went to the media. The California Nurses Association joined in. Under mounting pressure, CIGNA finally granted coverage for the procedure. But it was too late. Two hours later, Nataline died.

While visiting family in Tennessee, Potter stopped at a “medical expedition” in Wise, Va. People drove hours for free care from temporary clinics set up in animal stalls at the local fairground. Potter told me that weeks later, flying on a CIGNA corporate jet with the CEO: “I realized that someone’s premiums were helping me to travel that way … paying for my lunch on gold-trimmed china. I thought about those men and women I had seen in Wise County … not having any idea [how] insurance executives lived.” He decided he couldn’t be an industry PR hack anymore.

Insurance executives and their Wall Street investors are addicted to massive profits and double-digit annual rate increases. To squeeze more profit, Potter says, if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person’s original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company’s employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, “very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance.”

This week, as the House and Senate introduce their health care bills, Potter warns, “One thing to remember is that the health insurance industry has been anticipating this debate on health care for many years … they’ve been positioning themselves to get very close to influential members of Congress in both parties.” Montana Sen. Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, key for health care reform. Potter went on, “[T]he insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others in health care have donated … millions of dollars to his campaigns over the past few years. But aside from money, it’s relationships that count … the insurance industry has hired scores and scores of lobbyists, many of whom have worked for members of Congress, and some who are former members of Congress.”

The insurance industry and other health care interests are lobbying hard against a government-sponsored, nonprofit, public health insurance option, and are spending, according to The Washington Post, up to $1.4 million per day to sway Congress and public opinion.

Don’t be fooled. Profit-driven insurance claim denials actually kill people, and Wendell Potter knows where the bodies are buried. His whistle-blowing may be just what’s needed to dump what’s sick in our health care system.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” recently released in paperback.

Spreading the Wealth Around to the Insurance Industry and Friends June 22, 2009

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2 June 2009by: Dean Baker, Truthout | Perspective, www.truthout.org

This is the time when the excrement starts hitting the fan. The lobbyists are in overdrive, rounding up members of Congress just like the cowboys of the Old West would bring in the herd.

    The industry groups will also have their friends in the news media working overtime hyping any possible obstacle to health care reform. And they are filling the airwaves with scary ads, warning that people will never be able to see a doctor again if meaningful health care reform passes.

    Since there are trillions of dollars at stake, the effort is understandable. The basic story is simple. The insurance, pharmaceutical and medical supply industries, along with the hospitals and the American Medical Association, have rigged the deck so that they get rich at the public’s expense. They have structured our health care system so that we pay more than twice as much per person as people in other wealthy countries, even though we get worse care by many measures.

    The bloat in the health care sector is projected to grow rapidly over the next decade as health care consumes an ever larger share of the economy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that just the increase in health care spending share of the economy over the next decade will cost us $4.3 trillion. That is equal to a health care tax of $57,000 for an average family of four.

    Who benefits from the taxpayers generosity? CMS projects that $1.4 trillion, or $18,500 per family will go to the hospitals. Doctors and the pharmaceutical companies are each expected to score about $550 billion, costing families $7,300. And the insurance industry’s share of GDP is projected to rise by $360 billion, or $4,800 for an average family.

    These massive transfers are not the result of the wonders of the free market. These folks are getting money out of our pockets because their friends in Congress have rigged the deck so the money flows from us to them. For example, the government grants the pharmaceutical industry patent monopolies that prevent normal competition in the prescription drug market.

    Unlike every other country in the world, the United States lets the drug companies use their government-granted monopolies to charge whatever they want. As a result, we pay nearly twice as much for our prescription drugs as people in countries like Canada and Germany.

    Similarly, doctors are able to tightly control the supply of both US trained physicians and the number of doctors that can enter the country from abroad. If custodians had the same control over the labor market for janitors, they would all be making $80,000 a year. We pay close to twice as much for our doctors as people in other wealthy countries. The gap is especially wide for highly paid specialists like neurosurgeons and cardiologists.

    Of course, the insurance industry is a total mess. They pocket more than 15 cents for every dollar they pay out to providers. By comparison, the administrative costs of Medicare are less than 2 percent of its revenue. If the insurers ever had to compete with a publicly run insurance plan on a level playing field, they would be blown out of the water.

    We know that private insurers can’t compete because we already had this experiment with the Medicare program. When private insurers had to compete on a level playing field with the traditional government-run plan they were almost driven from the market. That is why they got their friends in Congress to pass Medicare Advantage. This program spreads the wealth around by giving the private insurers a subsidy of more than 11 percent per patient.
As Congress debates health care reform, we should be very clear what is going on. It is easy to devise reforms that will reduce costs without jeopardizing the quality of care.

    That is not the fight. The fight is over whether Congress will leave in place structures that will siphon an ever-larger amount of money out of taxpayers’ pockets and put this money in the hands of the insurance industry, the hospitals, the drug companies and the doctors.

    Getting a robust public plan, that both individuals and employers can buy into, will be the key indicator of whether Congress is still determined to redistribute income into the hands of the insurers, the drug companies and the rest. A robust Medicare-type plan will not only reduce the insurance industry’s tax on our health care, it will also be able to bargain for lower prices from the drug companies, the medical supply companies, and other health care providers.

    For this reason, most of the industry is united against any sort of serious public plan. Their latest compromise is a system of small cooperative insurers that will have no bargaining power. That’s a cute joke, but it has nothing to do with health care reform.

    So, keep hold of your scorecard. Unless Congress creates a serious public plan, you can expect to be hit with the largest tax increase in the history of the world – all of it going into the pockets of the health care industry.


Dean Baker is the Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. CEPR’s Jobs Byte is published each month upon release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment report.

Obama’s Health Care Waterloo June 19, 2009

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Dave Lindorff

www.opednews.com, June 19, 2009

The Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats are finally hitting the inevitable wall that was bound to confront them because of the president’s congenital inability to be a bold leader, and because of the party’s toxic decades-old decision to betray its working class New Deal base in favor of wholesale corporate whoredom.

The wall is health care reform, which both Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had hoped would be the ticket for them to ride to victory in the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election.

But you cannot achieve the twin goals of reducing health care costs and providing access to health care to 50 million uninsured people, while leaving the profit centers of the current system—doctors, hospitals and the health insurance industry—in charge and in a position to continue to reap profits.

Watching President Obama address the American Medical Association was a cringe-inducing experience as he assured the assembled doctors he was not going to expand Medicare payments “broadly” to cover all patients, or end the current “piece-work reimbursement” system that has so enriched physicians, or as he told them that savings would “not come off your backs.” It was particularly cringe-inducing when he told the AMA that he knew that making money was not why its members were in the profession, saying, “That is not why you became doctors. That is not why you put in all those hours in the Anatomy Suite or the O.R. That is not what brings you back to a patient’s bedside to check in or makes you call a loved one to say it’ll be fine. You did not enter this profession to be bean-counters and paper-pushers. You entered this profession to be healers – and that’s what our health care system should let you be. “

Oh please. I know there are plenty of wonderful doctors who are dedicated to their patients and to patient care. But I also know plenty of doctors who have told me how half their classmates in medical school were mainly in it for the money, and that study halls and cafeterias of American med schools echo with the conversations about what can be made working in particular specialties. Not to mention the corrupt and insidious profit-sharing arrangements doctors enter into with labs, CAT-Scan and MRI test centers, pharmaceutical companies and other businesses, to earn profits by sending patients for unnecessary tests and treatments.

One can only imagine what he would be saying to insurance industry executives about his “reform” plans.

Because Obama and Congressional Democrats are unwilling to cut themselves off from the lucrative campaign-funding bonanza that is the health care industry, they cannot address seriously either the cost or the access crisis that plagues health care in the US, and that makes health care in this country cost 20 percent of GDP—twice what it costs in any other modern nation on a per capita or GDP basis, and that still leaves one in six Americans without ready access to even routine health care.

The answer to this crisis is obvious: a single-payer “socialized” system, in which you still have private doctors, and private or publicly run hospitals, but where the government sets the payment rates for treatment, and provides all compensation to health care providers.

If Democrats in Congress were serious about health care reform, they would immediately order the Congressional Budget Office to conduct a cost study of instituting such a program—a study that would include an estimate of the savings to individuals and employers if health care costs were lifted entirely off their backs (because obviously it would require considerable new government revenue to fund a single-payer program, but that’s only half the equation—the other half, the savings, is simply ignored by critics and doomsayers on the right and in the health care industry). Instead, Obama and the Democratic Congress are studiously avoiding even allowing any mention of the single-payer option. (A New York Times report today on the various health care plans working their way through Congress, and coming out of the White House, completely blacked out any mention of a single-payer bill in the House authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which the House leadership has prevented from even getting a token hearing.)

Obama’s unwillingness to lead on this issue will doom his health care plan. There is obviously no way Congress is going to shake off its corrupt leech-like attachment to corporate sponsors and their cash-spreading lobbyists, but had the new president wanted to make a historic mark and cruise to victory in 2012, he could have, like President Lyndon Johnson before him in his campaign for Medicare in 1965, put himself solidly behind a single-payer plan and made the case that it could cut America’s collective health bill in half while opening the door to every American.

Instead, he’s likely to end up with worse than nothing—that is with even more uninsured Americans come 2012, and with health care costs moving up as a share of GDP—and could well find himself out of a job. The policy that his handlers, like White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel, had conceived of as Obama’s ticket to re-election, health care reform, could well prove instead to be his Waterloo.

That is if his adoption of a policy of expanded war in Afghanistan—another example of a failure to lead—doesn’t prove to be this president’s bigger policy disaster.

___________________

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-area journalist. He is author of “Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains” (Bantam Books, 1992), and most recently of “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Health Care is a Right, Not a Privilege June 9, 2009

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Senator Bernie Sanders

www.opednews.com, June 8, 2009

Let’s be clear. Our health care system is disintegrating. Today, 46 million people have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with high deductibles and co-payments. At a time when 60 million people, including many with insurance, do not have access to a medical home, more than 18,000 Americans die every year from preventable illnesses because they do not get to the doctor when they should. This is six times the number who died at the tragedy of 9/11 – but this occurs every year.

In the midst of this horrendous lack of coverage, the U.S. spends far more per capita on health care than any other nation – and health care costs continue to soar. At $2.4 trillion dollars, and 18 percent of our GDP, the skyrocketing cost of health care in this country is unsustainable both from a personal and macro-economic perspective.

At the individual level, the average American spends about $7,900 per year on health care. Despite that huge outlay, a recent study found that medical problems contributed to 62 percent of all bankruptcies in 2007. From a business perspective, General Motors spends more on health care per automobile than on steel while small business owners are forced to divert hard-earned profits into health coverage for their employees – rather than new business investments. And, because of rising costs, many businesses are cutting back drastically on their level of health care coverage or are doing away with it entirely.

Further, despite the fact that we spend almost twice as much per person on health care as any other country, our health care outcomes lag behind many other nations. We get poor value for what we spend. According to the World Health Organization the United States ranks 37th in terms of health system performance and we are far behind many other countries in terms of such important indices as infant mortality, life expectancy and preventable deaths.

As the health care debate heats up in Washington, we as a nation have to answer two very fundamental questions. First, should all Americans be entitled to health care as a right and not a privilege – which is the way every other major country treats health care and the way we respond to such other basic needs as education, police and fire protection? Second, if we are to provide quality health care to all, how do we accomplish that in the most cost-effective way possible?

I think the answer to the first question is pretty clear, and one of the reasons that Barack Obama was elected president. Most Americans do believe that all of us should have health care coverage, and that nobody should be left out of the system. The real debate is how we accomplish that goal in an affordable and sustainable way. In that regard, I think the evidence is overwhelming that we must end the private insurance company domination of health care in our country and move toward a publicly-funded, single-payer Medicare for All approach.

Our current private health insurance system is the most costly, wasteful, complicated and bureaucratic in the world. Its function is not to provide quality health care for all, but to make huge profits for those who own the companies. With thousands of different health benefit programs designed to maximize profits, private health insurance companies spend an incredible (30 percent) of each health care dollar on administration and billing, exorbitant CEO compensation packages, advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions. Public programs like Medicare, Medicaid and the VA are administered for far less.

In recent years, while we have experienced an acute shortage of primary health care doctors as well as nurses and dentists, we are paying for a huge increase in health care bureaucrats and bill collectors. Over the last three decades, the number of administrative personnel has grown by 25 times the numbers of physicians. Not surprisingly, while health care costs are soaring, so are the profits of private health insurance companies. From 2003 to 2007, the combined profits of the nation’s major health insurance companies increased by 170 percent. And, while more and more Americans are losing their jobs and health insurance, the top executives in the industry are receiving lavish compensation packages. It’s not just William McGuire, the former head of United Health, who several years ago accumulated stock options worth an estimated $1.6 billion or Cigna CEO Edward Hanway who made more than $120 million in the last five years. The reality is that CEO compensation for the top seven health insurance companies now averages $14.2 million.

Moving toward a national health insurance program which provides cost-effective universal, comprehensive and quality health care for all will not be easy. The powerful special interests – the insurance companies, drug companies and medical equipment suppliers – will wage an all-out fight to make sure that we maintain the current system which enables them to make billions of dollars. In recent years they have spent hundreds of millions on lobbying, campaign contributions and advertising and, with unlimited resources, they will continue spending as much as they need.

But, at the end of the day, as difficult as it may be, the fight for a national health care program will prevail. Like the civil rights movement, the struggle for women’s rights and other grass-roots efforts, justice in this country is often delayed – but it will not be denied. We shall overcome!

To keep up to date on the health care debate in the Senate, sign up for the Bernie Buzz newsletter here.

http://www.sanders.senate.gov/buzz

Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate’s Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more…)

Gutting the Health Care Plan: The Scorpion and the Congress June 9, 2009

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Published on Tuesday, June 9, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Paul Rogat Loeb

Will serious health reform meet the fate of the scorpion and the turtle? In that fable, the scorpion pleads with the turtle to carry him across a river. The turtle resists, fearing the scorpion’s sting, but the scorpion reassures him that he’d do nothing so foolish, since both would drown if he did. Finally the turtle agrees. Halfway across, the scorpion betrays his promise with a lethal sting. As the turtle begins to drown, he asks why he took both their lives. “It’s just who I am,” the scorpion replies.

I fear we’re about to get stung again. When people look back at the failure of the Clinton-era health care initiative, they point, accurately, to an opaque process that produced a baroque Rube Goldberg mess that satisfied no one. That happened even before the insurance industry went on the attack with their Harry and Louise ads. But another missing element parallels our current challenge-appeasement of the insurance companies as the plan’s centerpiece, and the inevitability that these same interests will betray us again. 

The Clintons assumed the insurance companies were too powerful to confront, so the plan had to go along with them. But once they assumed any bill had to get the companies’ approval, no plan could work, because it had to build in ways for the companies to maintain their profit margins and the immensely wasteful overhead they spend on advertising, processing claims, and turning down as many sick people as they can. Their approach also creates corollary wastes, like the third of the expenses of the average medical office that go toward dealing with insurance company paperwork.

Our health care crisis is so dire that the simple single-payer approach, as in Canada, should be at least seriously debated. Compared with us, most Canadians are satisfied with their system, in contrast with a recent US poll where 49 percent said our health system needed fundamental changes and 38 percent said it should be completely rebuilt. Canadians get a full choice of doctors (unlike in the US, where households have to switch doctors when employers change their insurance or insurance companies change their preferred provider lists). Tommy Douglas, the Canadian New Democratic Party leader who pushed through national health care in the mid-60s (replacing a system like ours), was recently voted Greatest Canadian in a recent contest, beating hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Even if single payer isn’t politically achievable yet, there’s no reason to take it off the table from the beginning. Doing so means most Americans never get to hear the contrast in cost savings, in allocation ease, in impact on ordinary citizens and their health outcomes. They never get to hear the story that might allow them to overcome current fears about losing the health care they have, being unable to see their preferred doctor, or being condemned to the Purgatory of endless waiting. Maybe we’ve been so conditioned that we can’t quite get the support for a full-fledged switch. A recent Kaiser Foundation poll still gives single-payer a narrow 49 to 47 percent majority, vs 67 percent for including a fully competitive public option, and maybe that isn’t enough.  But at least we need to tell the story, so the probably inevitable compromise works down from full public coverage, as opposed to considering options that gut even the option of serious public coverage entirely. 

Instead, because we’ve accepted the premise that the private insurance companies have to be included, we’re now starting to consider including a public option only if it includes poison pills that will doom it to fail, like requiring it be triggered by a set of exceedingly unlikely circumstances deferred to the indefinite future.  Or requiring it to play by rules so onerous that it can’t achieve its straightforward cost savings. Or turning it over to the states, so Big Pharma and Big Insurance interests can simply, as Robert Reich warns, “buy off legislators and officials as they’ve been doing for years.”

But why assume that the insurance companies are our friends? Why appease them at all?  It’s not as if they’ve played a helpful role in our current system.  Rather, they’ve gamed it in every possible way, leaving our country with the highest health care costs in the world and worst health outcomes of any advanced industrial country.  While they’ve made promises to cut costs, their promises are only that (like the scorpion’s), and they’re already lobbying with everything they have to gut any seriously competitive public option. Add in examples like former HCA/Columbia CEO Rick Scott.  after his company paid a $1.7 billion fine (the largest in US history) for defrauding Medicare, Medicaid, and the program that serves our armed forces, he is now organizing attacks on any public program (hiring the PR firm that coordinated the “Swift Boat” attacks on John Kerry). We need to challenge the insurance companies, not appease them. There’s no evidence that suggests they’re constructive players, or are likely to do anything except defend their own parochial interest.

The insurance companies and other major financial interests are talking a good line of late. They have no choice if they don’t want to be cut out of the game. But ultimately, they are who they are, and their behavior reflects this.  It makes no sense to embrace a partner who you know will ultimately betray you.

Maybe the public private mix is the best compromise we can get at the moment.  But we must raise our voices now to demand a full debate on the other alternatives, like single payer, and then if necessary settle for something that gives a public option a chance, under equitable rules, to see how it plays out in efficiency, service, and cost. Trusting the insurance companies and stacking the deck to guarantee that private options will prevail merely assures we continue our dysfunctional system until its human and financial costs drown us all.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email sympa@lists.onenw.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles.

Baucus to Meet with Single-Payer Advocates June 2, 2009

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by John S. Adams

HELENA – Sen. Max Baucus is set to meet with five single-payer health care advocates in Washington, D.C., this week.

 

[Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., talks with reporters after a closed-door committee meeting on financing an overhaul of the health care system, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)]Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., talks with reporters after a closed-door committee meeting on financing an overhaul of the health care system, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 20, 2009.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Baucus, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has made health care reform his top priority this session. However, Baucus has consistently said single-payer – a system in which the federal government acts as the nation’s sole health insurance provider – is off the table. 

“For more than a year, Senator Baucus has met with thousands of people, representing hundreds of views on how to reform our health care system,” Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf stated in an e-mail. “This meeting is no different. Max hopes to talk, and listen, to these folks totry and find the best way to make sure every Montanan has access to quality, affordable health care.”

Last week, members of Baucus’ staff held 20 listening sessions across the state on health care reform. At several of those meetings, Montanans expressed anger over Baucus’ steadfast refusal to consider a single-payer option.

Last month Baucus had 13 protesters removed from Senate Finance Committee hearings after the protesters demanded that single-payer advocates be given a seat at the table during health care reform hearings.

According to the Web site SinglePayerAction.org, Baucus will meet with Dr. David Himmelstein, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP); Dr. Marcia Angell, senior lecturer, Harvard Medical School and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine; Dr. Oliver Fein, associate dean, Cornell Weill Medical School and president of PNHP; Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association; and Geri Jenkins, president of California Nurses Association.

Angell said the group plans to urge Baucus to give serious consideration to Congress’ two primary single-payer bills, S. 703, by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and H.R. 676, by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.

“We will make a case that there should be full hearings on Sanders’ bill, and we’ll make the case that the (Congressional Budget Office) should cost-out the Sanders and Conyers bills,” Angell said in an interview Monday. “We’ll make the case that single-payer advocates should have a chance to meet with the president. We will argue for holding public hearings on health reform that include single payer witnesses.”

Matsdorf said the June 3 meeting was scheduled prior to last week’s well-attended health care listening sessions, but Angell said she believes the pressure Montanans put on Baucus in recent weeks helped open the door for Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think Sen. Baucus may be surprised at the amount of push-back he has gotten for just ruling (single-payer) off the table,” Angell said. “It may indicate that he’s starting to feel pressure, and that’s all for the good.”

 

Copyright ©2009 Great Falls Tribune

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