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The Real Health Care Debate April 9, 2012

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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 by Truthdig

  by  Chris Hedges

The debate surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act illustrates the impoverishment of our political life. Here is a law that had its origin in the right-wing Heritage Foundation, was first put into practice in 2006 in Massachusetts by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and was solidified into federal law after corporate lobbyists wrote legislation with more than 2,000 pages. It is a law that forces American citizens to buy a deeply defective product from private insurance companies. It is a law that is the equivalent of the bank bailout bill—some $447 billion in subsidies for insurance interests alone—for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. It is a law that is unconstitutional. And it is a law by which President Barack Obama, and his corporate backers, extinguished the possibilities of both the public option and Medicare for all Americans. There is no substantial difference between Obamacare and Romneycare. There is no substantial difference between Obama and Romney. They are abject servants of the corporate state. And if you vote for one you vote for the other.

 

But you would never know this by listening to the Democratic Party and the advocacy groups that purport to support universal health care but seem more intent on re-electing Obama. It is the very sad legacy of the liberal class that it proves in election cycle after election cycle that it espouses moral and political positions it will not pay a price to defend. And since we have no fight in us, since we will not punish politicians like Obama who betray our core beliefs, the corporate juggernaut rolls forward with its inexorable pace to cement into place our global neofeudalism.

Protesting outside the Supreme Court recently as it heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act were both conservatives from Americans for Prosperity who denounced the president as a socialist and demonstrators from Democratic front groups such as the SEIU and the Families USA health care consumer group who chanted “Protect the law!” Lost between these two factions were a few stalwarts who hold quite different views, including public health care advocates Dr. Margaret Flowers, Dr. Carol Paris and attorneys Oliver Hall, Kevin Zeese and Russell Mokhiber. They displayed a banner that read: “Single Payer Now! Strike Down the Obama Mandate!” They, at least, have not relinquished the demand for single payer health care for all Americans. And I throw my lot in with these renegades, dismissed, no doubt, as cranks or dreamers or impractical by those who flee into the embrace of empty political theater and junk politics. These single payer advocates, joined by 50 doctors, filed a brief to the court that challenges, in the name of universal health care, the individual mandate.

“We have the solution, we have the resources and we have the money to provide lifelong, comprehensive, high-quality health care to every person,” Dr. Flowers said when we spoke a few days ago in Washington, D.C. Many Americans have not accepted the single payer approach “because people get confused by the politics,” she said. “People accept the Democratic argument that this [Obamacare] is all we can have or this is something we can build on.”

“If you are trying to meet the goal of universal health coverage and the only way to meet that goal is to force people to purchase private insurance, then you might consider that it is constitutional,” Flowers said. “Our argument is that the individual mandate does not meet the goal of universality. When you attempt to use the individual mandate and expansion of Medicaid for coverage, only about half of the uninsured gain coverage. This is what we have seen in Massachusetts. We do, however, have systems in the United States that could meet the goal of universality. That would be either a Veterans Administration type system, which is a socialized system run by the government, or a Medicare type system, a single payer, publicly financed health care system. If the U.S. Congress had considered an evidence-based approach to health reform instead of writing a bill that funnels more wealth to insurance companies that deny and restrict care, it would have been a no-brainer to adopt a single payer health system much like our own Medicare. We are already spending enough on health care in this country to provide high-quality, universal, comprehensive, lifelong health care. All the data point to a single payer system as the only way to accomplish this and control health care costs.”

Obamacare will, according to figures compiled by Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), leave at least 23 million people without insurance, a figure that translates into an estimated 23,000 unnecessary deaths a year among people who cannot afford care. Costs will continue to climb. There are no caps on premiums, including for people with “pre-existing conditions.” The elderly can be charged three times the rates provided to the young. Companies with predominantly female workforces can be charged higher gender-based rates. Most of us will soon be paying about 10 percent of our annual incomes to buy commercial health insurance, although this coverage will pay for only about 70 percent of our medical expenses. And those of us who become seriously ill, lose our incomes and cannot pay the skyrocketing premiums are likely to be denied coverage. The dizzying array of loopholes in the law—written in by insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists—means, in essence, that the healthy will receive insurance while the sick and chronically ill will be priced out of the market.

Medical bills already lead to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent of those declaring personal bankruptcy because of medical costs had insurance. The U.S. spends twice as much per capita on health care as other industrialized nations, $8,160. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 percent of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single, nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough, the PNHP estimates, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.

But as long as corporations determine policy, as long as they can use their money to determine who gets elected and what legislation gets passed, we remain hostages. It matters little in our corporate state that nearly two-thirds of the public wants single payer and that it is backed by 59 percent of doctors. Public debates on the Obama health care reform, controlled by corporate dollars, ruthlessly silence those who support single payer. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Max Baucus, a politician who gets more than 80 percent of his campaign contributions from outside his home state of Montana, locked out of the Affordable Care Act hearing a number of public health care advocates including Dr. Flowers and Dr. Paris; the two physicians and six other activists were arrested and taken away. Baucus had invited 41 people to testify. None backed single payer. Those who testified included contributors who had given a total of more than $3 million to committee members for their political campaigns.

“It is not necessary to force Americans to buy private health insurance to achieve universal coverage,” said Russell Mokhiber of Single Payer Action. “There is a proven alternative that Congress didn’t seriously consider, and that alternative is a single payer national health insurance system. Congress could have taken seriously evidence presented by these single payer medical doctors that a single payer system is the only way to both control costs and cover everyone.”

© 2012 Truthdig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

All U.S. Constituencies Oppose Obama’s “Individual Mandate” for Health Care April 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Race.
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Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

President Obama’s mandate to buy private insurance was born in the rightwing Heritage Foundation, and has not found a home among any actual constituency of the public – white, non-white, Republican, Democrat, college-educated or not. A new poll confirms that “Obama has based his plan on a scheme that nobody likes – even his most loyal supporters.”

 

All U.S. Groups Oppose Obama’s “Individual Mandate” for Health Care

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The new poll shows that no significant constituency supports Obama’s individual mandate.”

When one takes a cursory look at where various groups in the nation stand on President Obama’s health care legislation – now under review by the U.S. Supreme Court – it appears the country is split along party and race lines. A new poll conducted by Princeton Research Associates shows 75 percent of Democrats support the Obama position, and 86 percent of Republicans oppose it, with so-called independents evenly split. The racial divide is similar. Sixty-eight percent of non-whites “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” the overall health care law, with only 18 percent opposed. Whites are far more divided, with 33 percent favoring Obama’s law, and 47 percent opposed.

These numbers are, however, heavily influenced by what people think is in the law, and what side they think they should be on, based on their larger loyalties. It is doubtful that majorities on either side of the issue actually understand most of the law’s many provisions, some of which do not go into effect for several years. Therefore, many of the respondents are using the poll to register their broader preference for or against the incumbent president and his party. It is no surprise that majorities of whites and super-majorities of Republicans oppose ObamaCare, as Republicans call it, and more than two thirds of non-whites and three-quarters of Democrats support Health Care Reform, as Obama calls it.

However, most people do understand the central element of the law, the “individual mandate” that forces nearly everyone to buy health insurance from private companies, or face a fine. The new poll shows that no significant constituency supports Obama’s individual mandate, with only 28 percent of the overall public favorable to the scheme. Even non-whites, two-thirds of whom claim to support Obama on health care in general, balk at mandatory purchase of insurance from private companies. Fifty-three percent of non-whites give thumbs down to the individual health insurance mandate, as do 71 percent of whites. More Democrats are opposed to Obama’s individual mandate than favor it: 48 to 44 percent. And Republicans are off the scale in opposition, at 15 to 1.

Fifty-three percent of non-whites give thumbs down to the individual health insurance mandate.”

So, if the core of the Obama health care plan is the individual mandate, as both the administration and the Republicans contend in their arguments before the Supreme Court, then Obama has based his plan on a scheme that nobody likes – even his most loyal supporters.

There’s another interesting aspect to the new poll. It shows that only a hard core of one in four people want to tamper with Medicare as the Republicans do, with around two-thirds of all racial groups opting to keep the program the way it is, with the government paying doctors and hospitals directly for the service they provide to seniors.” Taken together, the poll indicates strong support for the core elements of the U.S. healthcare safety net, and rejection of private schemes, including Obama’s mandatory purchase of insurance from private companies. It appears that most Americans would rather have the option of dependable, direct health care paid for by the government – which was the case at the beginning of 2009, before Obama unveiled his health care scheme, when 60 percent and more of the American people favored single-payer health care. But Obama maneuvered them into a something they hadn’t asked for, and which, three years later, nobody wants. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

To Kill (a) Medicare March 20, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Seniors.
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The House Republicans’ plan to end Medicare as we know it is coming back this week. Please take this opportunity to share information about this reckless plan with your friends and family.

The House GOP budget would fundamentally change Medicare from a single-payer plan that provides guaranteed benefits and coverage into a voucher plan designed to pay a portion of premiums to private insurance companies.

Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan would so drastically change the way America’s seniors are provided health care coverage that it becomes a completely unrecognizable, inferior and dangerous program.

The Ryan plan essentially would revoke the guarantees that provide seniors and people with disabilities a specific set of benefits and services, replacing it with vouchers covering a portion of premiums to private insurance companies. If Republicans get rid of the guarantees to benefits and services, it will destroy the Medicare program that seniors have relied on for nearly 50 years. They talk about providing a traditional Medicare option at first, but the way they designed this guarantees it will soon fail and have to be eliminated.

We have paid into the Medicare system our entire working lives. Under the GOP’s plan, guaranteed coverage would be phased out over time. When we retire, whether that’s in 10 years or 40, we would be enrolling in a Medicare system based solely on private insurance companies.

Private insurers seek to maximize profits while minimizing costs. This leads to a health care system that wasn’t designed to ensure that seniors get quality care, but instead is designed to line the pockets of insurance company executives.

Click here to share information about this dangerous plan with your friends and family.

In the coming weeks we will send you more information about this attack on Medicare.

Best Wishes,

Will O’Neill Health Care for America Now


 

Sleazy California Democratd on Health Reform February 6, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Democracy, Health.
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Roger’s note: this is an excerpt from an email I received from activist.thepen@gmail.com.  It describes the machinations of the California Democratic Party in appearing to support a single payer health insurance plan while at the same time behind the scenes doing everything it can to ensure that it DOESN’T come to pass.  In the seven years I spend on the Toronto municipal council, I saw this kind of hypocrisy in action time and time again.  What they did in California is a classical example of this tactic, and the pen activists captured it perfectly and are to be congratulated for the exposé.  And one more example of why electoral politics (as opposed to taking to the streets) is for the most part futile.

As you know, if you have been a participant of this distribution list for a while, we have been valiantly advocating for a single payer health care system for many years. Such a bill (SB 840) was passed by both chambers of the CA state legislature in 2006, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Maid Molester (Schwarzenegger).
At the time we TRIED to get the Democratic nominee Phil Angelides (who had previously claimed to support single payer) to do an action to demand that Arnold sign the bill. It would have been a great campaign issue for him, but he was too chicken hearted or corrupt himself (your choice) to do it, and he lost by 30 points or something like that.

The same bill passed in 2008 and was vetoed again.

Now fast forward the clock to last week, when single payer
(renumbered SB 810) was again in front of the CA Senate, but now with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who would be expected to sign the bill. All of a sudden four Democratic senators refused to even vote at all. That’s right, folks, they ABSTAINED, which is being in the room for the vote and refusing to cast a vote one way or another. At least three of these abstainers had voted “Yes” for single payer the last time.
So we cranked out a targeted action aimed only at these turncoat abstainers and have good information they got LOTS of phone calls for them to reconsider. But reconsideration never happened. So what’s really going on here? Here’s what the sponsor of the bill, Mark Leno, said on the Thom Hartmann show when gently challenged on why previous supporters were now abstaining.
“Arnold Schwartzeneggar was always going to veto the bill, so if one
had an interest in not ruffling the feathers of the insurance industry, the possibility is to vote for it with the wink of the eye that it’s not going anywhere anyway.”
In Greek mythology, Tantalus as his eternal punishment was cursed to stand in a pool of water underneath a fruit tree with low hanging branches always just out of reach, with the water always receding before he could take a drink. THAT is the very image of what the
Democratic party has become for the interests of the people who consider themselves constituents. It’s all a scam, folks, just one great, big, giant, honking scam.
This is essentially the same thing that happened in 2010 with that phony baloney health care bill, with a bottom line of nothing but pig grease for the medical insurance corporations. After lulling people
along for almost a year with the promise of a “public option”, itself a feeble impersonation of single payer, they refused to even allow a vote on it. In the end, having been forced to pass the bill using a reconciliation gimmick requiring only 51 votes, and 51 Democratic senators on record as supporting the so-called public option, they simply REFUSED to bring it up for a vote, even though they had the votes to do.
And the worst thing about it is that even the so-called good guys are in on it. Mark Leno, the sponsor of SB 810, KNOWS it will never pass, that the vote will always be manipulated so it falls just short in some way. The only reason for him to bring the bill up at all is to CON his own constituents into thinking he’s on their side, otherwise he would be vociferously calling out these abstainer traitors, not accidentally spilling the beans as he did. It’s nothing but a cynical PR stunt, and they are ALL in on it. No matter how many Democrats we vote for, till the end of all eternity, they will always find some way to fail to pass single payer health care.

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.

The Unbearable Lightness of Reform March 27, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Health.
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(Roger’s note: observe that the authors of this piece, having in effect dismissed “reform” a a genuine solution, conclude in their final paragraph that the answer may be to “organize people.”  This would certainly make Joe Hill happy (don’t mourn, organize); but the question is: organize toward what?  I wonder if in my lifetime we will begin seeing more common use of the  other “R” word.)

Published on Saturday, March 27, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

That wickedly satirical Ambrose Bierce described politics as “the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

Bierce vanished to Mexico nearly a hundred years ago — to the relief of the American political class of his day, one assumes — but in an eerie way he was forecasting America’s political culture today. It seems like most efforts to reform a system that’s gone awry — to clean house and make a fresh start — end up benefiting the very people who wrecked it in the first place.

Which is why Bierce, in his classic little book, The Devil’s Dictionary, defined reform as “a thing that mostly satisfies reformers opposed to reformation.”

So we got health care reform this week — but it’s a far cry from reformation. You can’t blame President Obama for celebrating what he did get — he and the Democrats needed some political points on the scoreboard. And imagine the mood in the White House if the vote had gone the other way; they would have been cutting wrists instead of cake.

Give the victors their due: the bill Obama signed expands coverage to many more people, stops some very ugly and immoral practices by the health insurance industry that should have been stopped long ago, and offers a framework for more change down the road, if there’s any heart or will left to fight for it.

But reformation? Hardly. For all their screaming and gnashing of teeth, the insurance companies still make out like bandits. Millions of new customers, under penalty of law, will be required to buy the companies’ policies, feeding the insatiable greed of their CEO’s and filling the campaign coffers of the politicians they wine and dine. Profits are secure; they don’t have to worry about competition from a public alternative to their cartel, and they can continue to scam us without fear of antitrust action.

The big drug companies bought their protection before the fight even began, when the White House agreed that if they supported Obama’s brand of health care reform — not reformation — they could hold onto their monopoly. No imports of cheaper drugs from abroad, no prescriptions filled at a lower price by our friendly Canadian neighbors to the north.

And let’s not forget another, gigantic health care winner: a new report from the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity says the battle for reform has been “a bonanza” for the lobbying industry. According to the Center’s analysis, “About 1,750 businesses and organizations hired about 4,525 lobbyists, total — eight for each member of Congress — and spent at least $1.2 billion to influence health care bills and other issues.”

But while we’re at it, a cheer for the federal student loan overhaul — Democrats managed to pass that reform with an end run around powerful lobbyists, cleverly nestling it in the health care reconciliation package.

Nonetheless, under pressure from the lending industry, it, too, was watered down from its original intent. The three Democratic senators who voted against — Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor — have all received campaign contributions from Nelnet, the student loan company based in Nelson’s home state of Nebraska, or its lobbyists.

(And would you be amazed to learn that one of the student loan industry’s lobbyists used to be Blanche Lincoln’s chief of staff? The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call described Kelly Bingel as Lincoln’s “alter ego,” and cited a former colleague saying Bingel was “first on the list of the Senator’s callbacks,” words that would sound like heaven to any Washington lobbyist’s ears.)

Another case of reform gone off track: this week, a year and a half after Wall Street brought us so close to fiscal hell we could smell the brimstone, a crippled little financial regulation bill seems to be hobbling out of the wreckage, but still faces an array of well-armed forces gunning for it.

No wonder. In the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, members of the Senate Banking Committee — which sent the bill to Congress this week — received more than $39 million from Wall Street and the banks; members of the House Financial Services Committee raked in more than $21 million — so far. Just how serious do you think they’re going to be about true reform?

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd of Connecticut has sounded like a champion of reform ever since he announced he will not run for reelection. It’s about time. Since 2005, his top ten campaign contributors have included Citigroup, AIG, Merrill Lynch and the now deceased Bear Stearns, all front-line players in bringing on the financial calamity.

Then there are the Republicans, shamelessly hawking their favors en masse to the highest bidder. The website Politico.com reports that the reelection campaign of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker — who’s one of the key negotiators on financial reform — sent an e-mail to Wall Street lobbyists and others soliciting contributions of up to $10,000 for a chance to meet or grab a meal with the senator.

Informed of the e-mail, Corker was shocked — shocked! — saying the e-mail was “grotesque and inappropriate.” But did House Republican leader John Boehner think it was inappropriate last week when he advised the American Bankers Association to fight back against the proposed rules and regulations?

This is, of course, the same John Boehner who in the summer of 1995 walked around the floor of the House of Representatives handing out checks to his fellow Republicans — checks from a tobacco company. And the same John Boehner who was the grateful recipient of campaign contributions from the four Native American tribes represented by Jack Abramoff, the corrupt lobbyist currently cooling his heels in a Federal corrections facility.

So wouldn’t it have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall earlier this year when Boehner sat down for drinks with Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase? Reportedly, he invited Dimon and the rest of the financial community to pony up the cash and see what good things follow.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Republicans already were receiving an increasing share of campaign contributions from the Street. In the game of reform, it’s the political version of loading the dice.

We can’t know for sure what Ambrose Bierce would have made of all this; what The Devil’s Dictionary author would say about the current DC scams. But he might have agreed that the only answer to organized money is organized people. That would be one hell of a reformation.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at http://www.pbs.org/moyers.

Health Reform Passes, But I Still Don’t Feel So Good March 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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by Randall Amster

Published on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Hurray! I mean, Boo! Or is it, What? Perhaps we should just go with Whatever. No matter how you slice it, something has happened that is either historically fabulous, monumentally stupid, perplexingly intricate, or ordinarily mundane. I suspect, in the end, it will wind up being all of this and more. Welcome to the brave new world of health insurance reform, with a little something for everyone and a lot for some.

Don’t get me wrong: health care is a really good thing, something that should be a universal human right and never treated like a for-profit commodity. The only options approaching this horizon were long ago deemed “fringe” in the popular debate, leaving progressives to huddle around a lukewarm “public option” that never had a prayer of making the final cut when it came time to pass the bill. Staunch legislative holdouts miraculously caved at the last minute to support a problematic law, and the only folks representing the “no” side of the argument in the end were the regressive wingnuts rattling congressional cages with thinly-veiled homophobia and racially-tinged expletives. You know things are bad when that cadre even starts to make a little bit of sense on the issues — although of course, their alternative health plan probably includes requirements that people first show their birth certificates and pass an English test before being handed a set of bootstraps and a grade school anatomy book that omits any images of private parts and excludes anti-American doctors like Seuss, Zhivago, Ruth, and Spock.

The best part of the new bill is where we all get to buy health insurance from Monopolies Unlimited, and if we can’t afford it there will be subsidies given to us that we can then give right to the same insurance companies who have of course served our interests so well up to this point. If we don’t purchase this coverage, then the IRS can levy fines on us, which in many cases will be cheaper than the required tithe; this will leave some folks in the awkward position of having to pay to remain uninsured, which would be ironic if it wasn’t so excruciatingly real. However, even those who do pay for coverage — top dollar, too, since viable price controls are a non-sequitur by now — will be receiving only insurance and not necessarily actual care, since many steps on the ladder to treatment must be traversed in between insurance provision and medical fruition. The apex of the perverse options will be embodied by those who refuse to pay the insurance companies for an inherently defective product and also refuse to pay the fine for their transgression, leading to a class of people perhaps to be deemed the “Uninsurables” who will be made to wear the letter “U” on their chests and will be legally prohibited from ever getting sick.

But wait! This new bill is only a first step in the direction of better and more universal health care, say the apologists. It’s the best we could get in this political climate, and represents the sort of compromise that marks both maturity and good sense. It emboldens the Democrats to be more progressive, and provides our fledgling young President with a much-needed momentum boost. It will save money, cover millions more people, rein in some of the worst insurance practices, and bring America into closer alignment with the rest of the nations of the civilized world. To oppose this bill at this critical time would indicate that one is either hopelessly partisan (Republicans), plain old wacko (Teabaggers), naively socialistic (Single Payer), deeply unrealistic (Public Option), or electorally useless (The Actual Left). At the end of the day, we have to get on board with this, since it’s the only game in town, right?

Hmm, I almost even convinced myself for a minute there (not really). Here’s another rendering of the game. Corporate lobbyists opposed the bill until they got the one they wanted, and indeed this one looks a lot like their model version proposed in 2008. Huge sums of money flowed to key congresspersons to purchase/influence their votes, and even the few still on the board who seem at times to display integrity reversed course and gave this one a thumbs up. The political landscape is now dominated by one party with no ideas except regressive anti-intellectualism, and another with no spine that is pretty well bought out by Corporate Persons who vote (and vote and vote) with their unlimited dollars. As for we the people, our triumph is that we now get to have more of us relegated to universal serfdom and also must (or else) pay fealty and tribute to the neo-Robber Barons who have generously expanded the realm of insurance coverage in a selfless act of noblesse oblige. The politics of “least worst” once again prevails, and our health is now totally owned by the company store. And as a final insult, people you like and admire are cheerleading for this, and to do otherwise renders one anathema (which is not covered under most policies, of course).

Suddenly, amidst the celebratory gaveling and laudatory reveling, despite the incessant and pervasive chatter about health this and health that, and notwithstanding the wire-services version of the good news about expanded coverage — suddenly, I’m not feeling all that well. Watching my country continue down a path of feudalism posing as democracy, where our choices are constrained by the machinations of the far right and the center-right, has left me with a damaged heart and an open wound. While my personal disillusionment is no doubt preexisting, its exacerbation is ongoing and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s any hope for a cure at this point. Indeed, I had tried to ignore this condition in the misguided belief that it would magically go away, but it only seemed to get worse in the process. Now I fear it’s become chronic.

But hey, we finally got health care, and hope is restored! Yes, this should effectively balance out perpetual wars, environmental toxification, Big Brother, Bigger Bailouts, mainstream media, rampant recession, and climate change. Whew! It felt good to list all that out. Maybe I won’t be needing that required checkup from my cold-handed health insurance provider after all.

Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D., teaches Peace Studies at Prescott College, and is the Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. His most recent book is Lost In Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly 2008).

Supporting Obama’s Health Bill: Lesser of Evils or Pact with the Devil? March 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in About Health, Health.
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No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. [37] And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. [38] No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.

Luke 5: 37-39

Roger Hollander, March 23, 2010

www.rogerhollander.com

The health industry stocks shot up once the bill passed.  More than anything else that tells us who stands to benefit.

What I find so frustrating is the notion, prevalent amongst Obama’s supporters, that by adding a few new benefits (some of which may or may not happen) to a totally corrupt system, somehow you have moved forward.  The Obamites badly needed a political victory, and they were willing to sell out not only their “progressive base,” as many have mentioned, but the vast majority of Americans who want, need and deserve a single-payer national plan.  Not to mention the roll back on a woman’s right to choose and such things as cruel, costly and stupid restrictions on undocumented immigrants buying health insurance.  

Perhaps the biggest irony is that the Republicans are attacking the bill as “socialistic” when in fact it is just the opposite.  The Republicans are making the right criticism (the government forcing people to buy private insurance, something that actually is right up their alley) for the wrong reason (trash the Democrats regardless of the issue).  Inwardly they are rejoicing at the bill’s entrenchment of private insurance with no public option while outwardly they are indignant at the “socialist” imposition of health insurance.  A win-win situation for them.

The Democrats might as well have put in a single-payer plan, which of course they didn’t not because they chose the wrong strategy, but because they just as much as the Republicans are owned by the corporate insurance and pharmaceutical industries. 

But it is the facile notion that a few crumbs are better than nothing that is staggering in its naïveté and its failure to realize that you do not pour new wine into old wineskins, that in so doing you may (may!) make some small gains at the cost of the ultimate objective.

To those who acknowledge that a single-payer, medicare-for-all plan is the only genuine solution, but that sometimes you have to settle for the lesser of evils, I suggest that there is a difference between the lesser of evils and a Faustian bargain with the Devil.

The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed March 22, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
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(Roger’s note: as someone who has lived under both the US and Canadian health care systems, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the ONLY solution to the serious US healthcare problem is a single payer system, something like Medicare for all.  Should the passing of the Obama bill be celebrated?  I have argued that no bill is better than this bill, and that passing it will further entrench the existing system, which amounts to a corporate monopoly and make it nigh unto impossible to ever achieve genuine reform.  I wish that I were wrong, and that the current bill is a step in the right direction. Only time will tell, but I have not seen anything to convince me that we are on the right road with Obama’s bastardized, Byzantine, Rube Goldberg, corporate give-away concoction that he has pawned off on us a health reform.)

Published on Monday, March 22, 2010 by TruthDig.comby Chris Hedges

Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s decision to vote “yes” in Sunday’s House action on the health care bill, although he had sworn to oppose the legislation unless there was a public option, is a perfect example of why I would never be a politician. I respect Kucinich. As politicians go, he is about as good as they get, but he is still a politician. He has to run for office. He has to raise money. He has to placate the Democratic machine or risk retaliation and defeat. And so he signed on to a bill that will do nothing to ameliorate the suffering of many Americans, will force tens of millions of people to fork over a lot of money for a defective product and, in the end, will add to the ranks of our uninsured.

The claims made by the proponents of the bill are the usual deceptive corporate advertising. The bill will not expand coverage to 30 million uninsured, especially since government subsidies will not take effect until 2014. Families who cannot pay the high premiums, deductibles and co-payments, estimated to be between 15 and 18 percent of most family incomes, will have to default, increasing the number of uninsured. Insurance companies can unilaterally raise prices without ceilings or caps and monopolize local markets to shut out competitors. The $1.055 trillion spent over the next decade will add new layers of bureaucratic red tape to what is an unmanageable and ultimately unsustainable system.

The mendacity of the Democratic leadership in the face of this reality is staggering. Howard Dean, who is a doctor, said recently: “This is a vote about one thing: Are you for the insurance companies or are you for the American people?” Here is a man who once championed the public option and now has sold his soul. What is the point in supporting him or any of the other Democrats? How much more craven can they get? 

Take a look at the health care debacle in Massachusetts, a model for what we will get nationwide. One in six people there who have the mandated insurance say they cannot afford care, and tens of thousands of people have been evicted from the state program because of budget cuts. The 45,000 Americans who die each year because they cannot afford coverage will not be saved under the federal legislation. Half of all personal bankruptcies will still be caused by an inability to pay astronomical medical bills. The only good news is that health care stocks and bonuses for the heads of these corporations are shooting upward. Chalk this up as yet another victory for our feudal overlords and a defeat for the serfs.

The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care-$7,129 per capita-although 45.7 million Americans remain without health coverage and millions more are inadequately covered, meaning that if they get seriously ill they are not covered. Fourteen thousand Americans a day are now losing their health coverage. A report in the journal Health Affairs estimates that, if the system is left unchanged, one of every five dollars spent by Americans in 2017 will go to health coverage. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 cents of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year, enough, Physicians for a National Health Plan points out, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans. Check out www.healthcare-now.org. It has some of the best analysis.

This bill is not about fiscal responsibility or the common good. The bill is about increasing corporate profit at taxpayer expense. It is the health care industry’s version of the Wall Street bailout. It lavishes hundreds of billions in government subsidies on insurance and drug companies. The some 3,000 health care lobbyists in Washington, whose dirty little hands are all over the bill, have once more betrayed the American people for money. The bill is another example of why change will never come from within the Democratic Party. The party is owned and managed by corporations. The five largest private health insurers and their trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, spent more than $6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009. Pfizer, the world’s biggest drug maker, spent more than $9 million during the last quarter of 2008 and the first three months of 2009. The Washington Post reported that up to 30 members of Congress from both parties who hold key committee memberships have major investments in health care companies totaling between $11 million and $27 million. President Barack Obama’s director of health care policy, who will not discuss single payer as an option, has served on the boards of several health care corporations. And as salaries for most Americans have stagnated or declined during the past decade, health insurance profits have risen by 480 percent.

Obama and the congressional leadership have consciously shut out advocates of single payer from the debate. The press, including papers such as The New York Times, treats single payer as a fringe movement. The television networks rarely mention it. And yet between 45 and 60 percent of doctors favor single payer. Between 40 and 62 percent of the American people, including 80 percent of registered Democrats, want universal, single-payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans. The ability of the corporations to discredit and silence voices that represent at least half of the population is another sad testament to the power of our corporate state to frame all discussions.

Change will come only by building movements that stand in fierce and uncompromising opposition to the Democrats and the Republicans. If they can herd Kucinich and John Conyers, the sponsors of House Resolution 676, a bill that would create a publicly funded National Health Program by eliminating private health insurers, onto the House floor to vote for this corporate theft, what is the point in pretending there is any room left for us in the party? And why should we waste our time with gutless liberal groups such as Moveon.org, which felt the need to collect more than $1 million to pressure House Democrats who had voted “no” on the original bill to recant? What was this purportedly anti-war group doing anyway serving as an obsequious recruiting arm of the Obama election campaign? The longer we tie ourselves to the Democrats and these bankrupt liberal organizations the more ridiculous and impotent we appear.

“I’m ready to listen to the White House, if the White House is ready to listen to the concerns about putting a public option in this bill,” the old Kucinich said on the “Democracy Now!” radio and television program before he flipped. “I mean, they can do that. You know, they’re still cutting last-minute deals. Put the public option back in. Make it a robust public option. Give the people a chance to really negotiate rates with the insurance companies … from the standpoint of having a public option. But don’t just tell the people that you’re going to call this health care reform, when you’re giving insurance companies an even more powerful monopoly status in our economy.”

© 2010 TruthDig.com

Democrats mimic GOP sleight-of-hand March 20, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Health.
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Friday, Mar 19, 2010 17:20 EDT

They’re selling huge giveaways to insurance companies and Big Pharm as reform that helps the middle class

By David Sirota, www.salon.com

Ever since Thomas Frank published his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Democrats have sought a political strategy to match the GOP’s. The healthcare bill proves they’ve found one.

Whereas Frank highlighted Republicans’ sleight-of-hand success portraying millionaire tax cuts as gifts to the working class, Democrats are now preposterously selling giveaways to insurance and pharmaceutical executives as a middle-class agenda. Same formula, same fat-cat beneficiaries, same bleating sheeple herded to the slaughterhouse. The only difference is the Rube Goldberg contraption that Democrats are using to tend the flock.

First, their leaders campaign on pledges to create a government insurer (a “public option”) that will compete with private health corporations. Once elected, though, Democrats propose simply subsidizing those corporations, which are (not coincidentally) filling Democratic coffers. Justifying the reversal, Democrats claim the subsidies will at least help some citizens try to afford the private insurance they’ll be forced to buy — all while insisting Congress suddenly lacks the votes for a public option.

Despite lawmakers’ refusal to hold votes verifying that assertion, liberal groups obediently follow orders to back the bill, their obsequious leaders fearing scorn from Democratic insiders and moneymen. Specifically, MoveOn, unions and “progressive” nonprofits threaten retribution against lawmakers who consider voting against the bill because it doesn’t include a public option. The threats fly even though these congresspeople would be respecting their previous public-option ultimatums — ultimatums originally supported by many of the same groups now demanding retreat.

Soon it’s on to false choices. Democrats tell their base that any bill is better than no bill, even one making things worse, and that if this particular legislation doesn’t pass, Republicans will win the upcoming election — as if signing a blank check to insurance and drug companies couldn’t seal that fate. They tell everyone else that “realistically” this is the “last chance” for reform, expecting We the Sheeple to forget that those spewing the do-or-die warnings control the legislative calendar and could immediately try again.

Predictably, the fear-mongering prompts left-leaning establishment pundits to bless the bill, giving Democratic activists concise-yet-mindless conversation-enders for why everyone should shut up and fall in line (“Krugman supports it!”). Such bumper-sticker mottos are then demagogued by Democratic media bobbleheads and their sycophants, who dishonestly imply that the bill’s progressive opponents 1) secretly aim to aid the far right and/or 2) actually hope more Americans die for lack of healthcare. In the process, the legislation’s sellouts are lambasted as the exclusive fault of Republicans, not Democrats and their congressional majorities.

Earth sufficiently scorched, President Obama then barnstorms the country, calling the bill a victory for “ordinary working folks” over the same corporations he is privately promising to enrich. The insurance industry, of course, airs token ads to buttress Obama’s “victory” charade — at the same time its lobbyists are, according to Politico, celebrating with chants of “We win!”

By design, pro-public-option outfits like Firedoglake and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee end up depicted as voices of the minority, even as they champion an initiative that polls show the majority of voters support. Meanwhile, telling questions hang: If this represents victory over special interests, why is Politico reporting that “drug industry lobbyists have huddled with Democratic staffers” to help pass the bill? How is the legislation a first step to reform, as proponents argue, if it financially and politically strengthens insurance and drug companies opposing true change? And what prevents those companies from continuing to increase prices?

These queries go unaddressed — and often unasked. Why? Because their answers threaten to expose the robbery in progress, circumvent the “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” contemplation and raise the most uncomfortable question of all:

What’s the matter with Democrats?

© 2010 Creators.com

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