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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.

One Montana County’s Medicare-for-All Coverage June 28, 2011

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Published on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 by OtherWords

As the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare, here’s a prescription to clean up the whole mess.

  by  Kay Tillow

Back when he presided over the Senate’s health care reform debate, Max Baucus, chairman of the all-powerful Senate Finance Committee, had said everything was on the table — except for single-payer universal health care. When doctors, nurses, and others rose in his hearing to insist that single payer be included in the debate, the Montana Democrat had them arrested. As more stood up, Baucus could be heard on his open microphone saying, “We need more police.”

Yet when Baucus needed a solution to a catastrophic health disaster in Libby, Montana and surrounding Lincoln County, he turned to the nation’s single-payer healthcare system, Medicare, to solve the problem.

You see, a vermiculite mine had spread deadly airborne asbestos that killed hundreds and sickened thousands in Libby and northwest Montana. W.R. Grace & Co., which owned the mine, denied its connection to the outbreaks of mesothelioma and asbestosis and dodged responsibility for this disaster. The federal government got stuck with most of the tab for the cleanup costs, and the EPA has issued a first-of-its-kind order declaring Lincoln County a public health disaster.

When all lawsuits and legal avenues failed, Baucus turned to Medicare.

The single-payer plan that Baucus kept off the table in 2009 is now very much on the table in Libby. It turns out that Baucus quietly inserted a section into the Affordable Care Act that covers the suffering people of Libby, Montana. Medicare covers the whole community, not just the former miners.

Residents of Libby don’t have to be 65 years old or more. They don’t have to wait until 2014 for the state exchanges. There’s no 10-year roll out for them — it’s immediate. They don’t have to purchase a plan — this isn’t a buy-in to Medicare. It’s free. They don’t have to be disabled for two years before they apply. They don’t have to go without care for three years until Medicaid expands. They don’t have to meet income tests. They don’t have to apply for a subsidy or pay a fine for failure to buy insurance. They don’t have to hope that the market will make a plan affordable or hide their pre-existing conditions. They don’t have to find a job that provides coverage.

Baucus simply inserted a clause into the health care reform law to make special arrangements for them in Medicare.

No one should begrudge the people of Lincoln County, where toxic mine waste was used as soil additives, home insulation, and even spread on the running tracks at local schools. Miners brought carcinogens home on their clothes.

“The people of Libby have been poisoned and have been dying for more than a decade,” Baucus explained in a New York Times interview. “New residents continue to get sick all the time. Public health tragedies like this could happen in any town in America. We need this type of mechanism to help people when they need it most.”

But health tragedies are happening in every American town. Over 51 million have no insurance. and over 45,000 uninsured people die needlessly each year. Employers are cutting coverage and dropping plans. States in economic crisis are slashing both Medicaid and their employees’ plans.

Nothing in Obama’s health care law will mitigate the skyrocketing costs. More than half of us, including tens of millions of insured Americans, now go without necessary care. As Baucus said of Medicare, “We need this mechanism to help people when they need it most.” We all need it now.

So as the Ryan Republicans try to destroy Medicare and far too many Democrats use the deficit excuse to suggest other ways to tear the social safety net apart, Libby offers a prescription to clean up the whole mess. Only single-payer universal health care — improved Medicare for all — can save and protect Medicare, rein in skyrocketing health care costs, and give us universal coverage.

Medicare was implemented within less than a year of its 1965 passage. When Congress passes a national single-payer bill, we can all be enrolled in the twinkling of an eye.

A longer version of this commentary first appeared on Firedoglake.

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Kay Tillow

Kay Tillow is the coordinator of the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, which builds union support for H.R. 676. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. www.unionsforsinglepayer.org

Single-Payer in Vermont, A State of Healthy Firsts May 26, 2011

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Published on Thursday, May 26, 2011 by TruthDig.com

  by  Amy Goodman

Vermont is a land of proud firsts. This small, New England state was the first to join the 13 Colonies. Its constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all — public education.

Today, Vermont will boast another first: the first state in the nation to offer single-payer health care, which eliminates the costly insurance companies that many believe are the root cause of our spiraling health care costs. In a single-payer system, both private and public health care providers are allowed to operate, as they always have. But instead of the patient or the patient’s private health insurance company paying the bill, the state does.

It’s basically Medicare for all — just lower the age of eligibility to the day you’re born. The state, buying these health care services for the entire population, can negotiate favorable rates, and can eliminate the massive overhead that the for-profit insurers impose.

Vermont hired Harvard economist William Hsiao to come up with three alternatives to the current system. The single-payer system, Hsiao wrote, “will produce savings of 24.3 percent of total health expenditure between 2015 and 2024.”

An analysis by Don McCanne, M.D., of Physicians for a National Health Program, pointed out that “these plans would cover everyone without any increase in spending since the single-payer efficiencies would be enough to pay for those currently uninsured or under-insured. So this is the really good news — single payer works.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin explained to me his intention to sign the bill into law: “Here’s our challenge. Our premiums go up 10, 15, 20 percent a year. This is true in the rest of the country as well. They are killing small business. They’re killing middle-class Americans, who have been kicked in the teeth over the last several years. What our plan will do is create a single pool, get the insurance company profits, the pharmaceutical company profits, the other folks that are mining the system to make a lot of money on the backs of our illnesses, and ensure that we’re using those dollars to make Vermonters healthy.”

Speaking of healthy firsts, Vermont may become the first state to shutter a nuclear power plant. The Vermont Legislature is the first to empower itself with the right to determine its nuclear future, to put environmental policy in the hands of the people.

Another Vermont first was the legalization of same-sex civil unions. Then the state trumped itself and became the first legislature in the nation to legalize gay marriage. After being passed by the Vermont House and Senate, former Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the bill. The next day, April 7, 2009, the House and the Senate overrode the governor’s veto, making the Vermont Freedom to Marry Act the law of the land.

Vermont has become an incubator for innovative public policy.

Canada’s single-payer health care system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan’s premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada. (Douglas is the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland.)

Perhaps Vermont’s health care law will start a similar, national transformation. The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Just replace “group” with “state,” and you’ve got Vermont.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 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.

A Patient’s View of the Senate Christmas Healthcare Gift December 24, 2009

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Published on Thursday, December 24, 2009 by CommonDreams.orgby Donna Smith

So, all the great fanfare and all the king’s horses.  The great and almighty U.S. Senate has spoken.  I will have to buy private health insurance — forever, amen.  The defective product that has left me wanting for real healthcare for all of my adult life is now a step closer to being the law of the land.

A lump of Christmas coal all polished up with sparkling rhetoric. 

Here’s what the Chicago Tribune said this week, and I agree: 

On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune published an exhaustive front-page analysis by Northwestern University‘s Medill News Service and the Center for Responsive Politics of how it was done. The main culprit: “a revolving door between Capitol Hill staffers and lobbying jobs for companies with a stake in health care legislation.”

The study found that 13 former congressmen and 166 congressional staffers were actively engaged in lobbying their former colleagues on the bill. The companies they were working for — some 338 of them — spent $635 million on lobbying. It was money extremely well spent — delivering a bill that, by forcing people to buy a shoddy product in a market with no real competition, enshrines into law the public subsidy of private profit.

As we approach the end of Obama’s first year in office, this public subsidizing of private profit is becoming something of a habit. It is, after all, exactly what the White House did with the banks. Just as he did with insurance companies, Obama talked tough to the bankers in public, but, when push came to shove, he ended up shoving public money onto their privately held balance sheets.

This is not just bad policy, it’s bad politics.

Now, back to my own thoughts as a patient:

I went broke while carrying health insurance, a disability insurance policy and a small healthcare savings account.  And if I get sick under this mess of a plan, it will happen to me again.  Little has changed except that millions more of my fellow citizens will join my ranks.

How does it happen to insured people under this plan?  Easy.  Step-by-torturous-step.  Slowly.  Like water-torture. 

1.       Buy health insurance at work or on the new exchange;

2.       Avoid using insurance due to co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximum exposures — not to mention lost work time and the worry about losing one’s job in a tough economy;

3.       If symptoms are noticed, treat by internet medical site suggestions and over-the-counter drugs until no other option but going to a doctor are available;

4.       Attempt to make appointment with doctor but first find one who accepts both new patients and your insurance;

5.       Go to doctor and pay co-pay up front before ever speaking to anyone about medical problem;

6.       Sit in outer waiting room for as long as required, missing work and worrying;

7.       Sit in exam room waiting for doctor for as long as required;

8.       See doctor for five or six minutes, if lucky, during which time you will either be prescribed some expensive drug to fix a problem the doctor isn’t sure you have, referred to another doctor who may have a month or two wait for appointments, be directed to get some tests done you aren’t sure your insurance will allow or pay for, and do it all sitting in your underwear or less;

9.       Leave medical office owing more than what you thought your insurance and co-pay advertised (and never get an explanation for how that is possible)  and never sure if this experience was much different than being to a used car lot where the sales folks have assessed your financing mechanism before showing you anything at all and then only show you what fits the financing not what you need or want;

10.   In the alternative, if you collapse or wait until symptoms get so severe that going for an office appointment is impossible, go to an emergency room — repeat steps five through eight — and either be admitted to the hospital if your insurance is adequate and you have any available sick-time from work (if not, beg for drugs and to be released) or go to number nine.

11.    Need a dentist?  Too bad.  Have dental insurance?  Still too bad.  You might get a cleaning and some x-rays, but getting the care you may or may not need will be again totally related to your ability to pay whatever portion of the dental work is not covered (and amazingly, every penny of what dental insurance will cover will be eaten up by whatever problem you may or may not have) — in the alternative, avoid dentists or just pull teeth as they go bad;

12.   When the bills roll in, try to pay some after trying to find out how you can possible owe hundreds if not thousands more than the insurance policy you have indicates is possible;

13.   When the collectors call to collect all of the balances due, try to negotiate payments but endure threats of lawsuit, garnishment and worse as the collectors report back to the doctors you saw for a few moments in number eight;

14.   Try to get your meds — if too costly, go without;

15.   Try to get well — if you cannot, go back to work;

16.   Try to act like this is all wonderful and you are grateful to have any insurance at all;

17.   Get sued by a collection agency for a doctor bill or hospital bill you cannot cover;

18.   Sell your house and use whatever proceeds you have to try to pay some of the debts;

19.   Collectors for the doctors and hospitals are not happy if you don’t pay it all in full and up-front most of the time;

20.   Feel stress, fear, anguish — but don’t gripe and don’t show it at work — buck it up, chump;

21.   Sell keepsakes and anything valuable to try to stay afloat;

22.   Stress, more stress.  Fear to answer the phone.  Friends and family fall away as they don’t want you to ask to borrow money;

23.   Keep working — sick or not, keep working or you’ll lose that damn insurance if you cannot pay the premium — or you’ll be back out on the exchange trying to buy another policy that is cheaper and even worse;

24.   Watch your elected officials claim victory and history as they work to make sure your kids and grandkids must suffer the same fate if they need healthcare in America;

25.   Have a Merry Christmas, so says your U.S. Senate.

Don’t think this can happen to you because it hasn’t yet?  Count your blessings this Christmas. 

I’d really like the gift of healthcare. Medicare for all, single-payer healthcare would remove so much of this awful process. That would be a gift.

Donna Smith is a community organizer for the California Nurses Association and National Co-Chair for the Progressive Democrats of America Healthcare Not Warfare campaign.

Important Message Re: Health Reform Legislation: PROTEST HR 3962, Or Be Stuck With Corporate Medical Insurance Racket For The Rest Of Our Lives November 16, 2009

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“Folks, we are dedicating the next couple months of our lives to stopping the phony reform, and forcing Congress to get real about good public policy. The bill that passed the House last week, HR 3962, represents one of the most profound betrayals in American political history. Forget the fact that the Republicans oppose it as well, they would oppose anything coming out of a Congress where they did not have majority control. WE must oppose HR 3962 because it is a transparent sham, a total sellout to the medical insurance industry.”

Who Else Wants To Get SERIOUS About Real Health Care Reform??

We need the help of every one of our participants who has a website (if not please read on because there is an individual action page as well). We have created a simple and small sized (182×228 pixels) web page module, perfect for the side bar of your web page, where people can watch the latest of the “I’m A Democrat, And I’m A Republican” videos. To get this feature for your website just put the following code anywhere on your web page.

http://tcxs.net/1.js“>

If you are on MySpace or Facebook or another site that disallows javascript, you can copy the alternate code from this page.

http://www.peaceteam.net/mfa.htm

We have already shot six of these incredibly professional looking videos, making the point (with wit and humor) that NEITHER the Democrats, NOR the Republicans, are actually interested in real health care reform. The Democrats are forcing consideration of only plans that further empower the medical insurance corporations that are ripping us off now. The Republican are only interested in derelict non-regulation, achieving the same end result by default.

By getting more and more people to watch these videos, we will mobilize people to submit this fax action page, which sends a strongly worded but even tempered petition (which you can read on the page), stating in essence that we the people are demanding real reform and will not be fooled again. And you can add your own personal comments as well. WATCH the video also on this page.

Medicare For All FREE Fax Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1020.php

There will be a new video release in the “I’m A Democrat, I’m A Republican” series once a week, and the web page module will automatically update with the latest video. And we are asking you, our participants to submit the petition yourself ALSO once a week. We need to speak out and keep speaking out, until Congress finally gets the message, to stop fooling around and do what should have been done in the first place, pass economical and efficient Medicare for All.

Folks, we are dedicating the next couple months of our lives to stopping the phony reform, and forcing Congress to get real about good public policy. The bill that passed the House last week, HR 3962, represents one of the most profound betrayals in American political history. Forget the fact that the Republicans oppose it as well, they would oppose anything coming out of a Congress where they did not have majority control. WE must oppose HR 3962 because it is a transparent sham, a total sellout to the medical insurance industry.

You don’t have to believe us. Believe the corporate analysts themselves gloating about the additional windfall profits they are predicting from this fatally corrupt bill, that purports to FORCE all Americans to buy a plan from a lobbyist designed restrictive “market”, where at least 90% of the American people would be excluded from participating in the feeble non-competitive “public” option provided, even if we wanted to. They might as well now call it the “welfare” option, because all it really represents is welfare FOR the insurance companies.

The Republicans condemn the bill because they demagogue that it does too much. The truth is that it does so LITTLE, that by the time the Senate gets through with it we expect there will be nothing left that any progressive could cheer about. The ultimate Benedict Arnold, Joe Lieberman says HR 3962 is dead on arrival. So we might as well throw it in the medical waste bin where it belongs and start from scratch, then let him try to filibuster what the American people REALLY want.

And we are especially ashamed of the Congressional so-called “Progressive” Caucus which, except for Kucinich and Massa, have demonstrated once again how utterly worthless they are as representatives for the people of their districts.

From time to time we will get email from some of you arguing that there is no point in emailing hardcore Republicans, for those of you who live in such districts where that is your current representation. We disagree about that of course. Never should we let the worst members of Congress think that even people in their own districts are just going to roll over and take just keep taking it in silence.

But for crying out loud, at least the liberals ought to be listening to us. And for the presumptive liberals to wave through a bill that as a bottom line makes exploitive and overpriced corporate insurance MANDATORY, under threat of the police power of the IRS, is so outrageous it defies belief. Each and every one of these gutless wonders needs to hear our protests now.

Medicare For All FREE Fax Action Page: http://www.peaceteam.net/action/pnum1020.php

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the Stupak amendment, forbidding a woman to even use her own money to pay for an abortion, because no plan in the new market will be allowed to provide such a service, even if the plan that woman was forced to buy was paid for with 100% of her own money, is so far out into reactionist wowee-wowee land, it is incredulous that any so-called progressive could have voted for final passage with such a provision in there, especially as they had already SWORN not to support a bill with such a weak joke of a public plan.

So now, and only in response to our outrage, some of them are backtracking, SAYING that draconian anti-choice provision needs to come out of the final bill. Have you ever heard such worthless lip service in your life (apart from their lip service of last week, last month, the year before that, etc.)? Where were the voices of these miserable cowards in Congress, trying to pass themselves off as our progressive representatives, when they voted for FINAL passage in the first place? Who can count on them to put up a fight even one time any time in the future, if they could and would not do so last week?

And the ultimate answer remains what it has always been. IF AND WHEN enough of us speak out at ONCE, and declare that we will no longer support their perpetual shinola, then and only then will we get real policy change. We live for the day when we can build such a base to make it so. That day can be today! So please submit the fax action page once a week, encourage everyone you know to do the same, put the video module on all of your websites so we can get hundreds of thousands of views, and like numbers of action page submissions. Then we will have a real movement for real policy change.

And here is the one click Facebook page for this same fax action.

Single Payer Amendments Action: http://apps.facebook.com/fb_voices/action.php?qnum=pnum1020

And the Twitter reply to send, to send this message to all your members of Congress that way, is

@cxs #p1020

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.

If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.peaceteam.net/in.htm

Or if you want to cease receiving our messages, just use the function at http://www.peaceteam.net/out.htm

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Prescription for a Real Healthcare Debate July 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Media.
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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

How Corporate Media Have Ruined the Health Care Debate

by Isabel Macdonald

The debate about health reform is clearly in critical condition, with the prospects for President Barack Obama’s proposed “public option” looking increasingly uncertain. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation where insurance for primary healthcare is largely in the hands of private corporations, but despite overwhelming public support for a greater government role in health insurance, pundits are now advising us that even Obama’s modest proposal of making private insurance corporations compete with a public insurance fund may have to be scrapped.

Sen. Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) — the politician who played one of the most powerful roles in shaping this debate — would seem at first blush an unlikely man to diagnose the ailments afflicting our health reform debate. 

After all, many people will recall that when several doctors asked at a recent Senate hearing why “Medicare-for-all” — a reform option that many citizens and healthcare professionals see as the best tool for fixing healthcare — was not on the table, Baucus responded by asking for more police. 

Yet as the NYT reported, Baucus has since:

Conceded that it was a mistake to rule out a fully government-run health system, or a ‘single-payer plan,’ not because he supports it but because doing so alienated a large, vocal constituency and left Mr. Obama’s proposal of a public health plan to compete with private insurers as the most liberal position.

After all, what better way to diffuse the fearmongering about Obama’s plan being a “Trojan horse” for the right’s favorite boogeyman — “socialized” medicine — than provide the public with accurate information on Medicare-for-all and its benefits? After all, a single public fund that would provide all Americans with healthcare coverage, much like Medicare currently provides for seniors, is seen by many experts as the most effective way of achieving the goals of healthcare reform: reducing costs while expanding coverage.

What better way to counter the pundits’ insistence that Obama “compromise” with industry-backed politicians than by pointing out that the “public option” is already a serious compromise, given that most citizens and physicians actually favor “single-payer” — a more comprehensive and progressive option.  After all, a recent New York Times/CBS poll (1/11-15/09) found that 59 percent of respondents said they would prefer that”the government in Washington provide national health insurance,” rather than leaving health insurance to private industry. Meanwhile a recent survey (Annals of Internal Medicine, 4/1/08) found that 59 percent of physicians also support single-payer.

Of course, the insurance lobbies and many politicians have never wanted to talk about single-payer. 

But it is largely the media’s fault that Obama’s plan has come to be seen as the most liberal position in the debate. For the corporate media has long shut single-payer and its advocates out of the discussion. 

A recent study by FAIR found that of hundreds of stories about healthcare in major outlets earlier this year, only five stories included the views of advocates of single-payer — none of which appeared on the TV networks.

Now more than ever, it is crucial that the public have information about the full range of options for healthcare reform — including Medicare-for-all. 

That is why the media watch group FAIR, filmmaker Michael Moore, former MSNBC host Phil Donahue, Harvard medical professors David Himmelstein and Stephanie Woolhandler and Quentin Young of Physicians for a National Health Program, Obama’s longtime physician David Scheiner, actors Mike Farrell, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and Donna Smith of the California Nurses Association are calling onto the TV networks to include single-payer in their coverage of healthcare reform.

You can read their letter to ABC, CBS and NBC — and add your voice to this effort to bring about the broad debate on reform options that is so essential to fixing the broken U.S. healthcare system — here: 

On Tuesday, July 28th, FAIR, Physicians for a National Health Program, Healthcare Now!, Code Pink, the Private Health Insurance Must Go Coalition and the Raging Grannies will be delivering this message to the NYC offices of ABC News — the network that disinvited Obama’s longtime physician from its recent healthcare forum where he’d been planning on asking a question about Medicare-for-all.

A version of this article appeared on Alternet.

Isabel Macdonald is Communications Director for FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting)

PBS Lashes Back over Single Payer Dustup April 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Media.
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by Russell Mokhiber

Last week, I wrote an article – “Something is Rotten at PBS” – about a slanted PBS Frontline documentary – “Sick Around America.”

Frontline hired former Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid to put together the documentary.

Reid did the reporting.

He turned over his interviews to the Frontline producers.

And they came back with a documentary Reid couldn’t agree with.

Frontline tried to get Reid to narrate the film anyway – whether he agreed with it or not.

Reid refused.

Reid and Frontline parted ways.

After “Something is Rotten at PBS” ran last week, I got a ton of e-mail.

So did Frontline.

“Something is Rotten at PBS” struck a nerve.

This week, Frontline lashed back.

Frontline issued a statement yesterday attacking “Something is Rotten at PBS” – saying that the article “falsely characterizes both the reporting in ‘Sick Around America’ and the disagreement between Frontline and T.R. Reid.”

Frontline defends “Sick Around America” as an objective piece of mainstream journalism.

Frontline says that “Sick Around America,” in fact, “made no assertions about the path health care reform should take, but simply reported on the current state of health insurance in the country, focusing primarily on how inadequacies in the current private health insurance system, both for-profit and non-profit companies, were negatively impacting many Americans.”

T.R. Reid, on the other hand, was an advocate with a point of view, Frontline said.

“The dispute with Mr. Reid centered on a decision to include a section on the recent attempts by Massachusetts to reform its health care system,” Frontline said. “Mr. Reid objected to the inclusion of Massachusetts, the only state to require its citizens to purchase health insurance, and to require insurance companies to sell them policies with an adequate standard of coverage.”

“Reid repeatedly told Frontline that including Massachusetts in the program at all, was to advocate for that kind of reform as opposed to Reid’s preference of a ‘Medicare for all,’ one payer system for the entire country.”

“Frontline’s position was that simply reporting on the state’s plan was not advocacy and, in fact, our reporting would focus not only on the benefits, but also on the problems with the Massachusetts plan. We think any objective viewing of that sequence in ‘Sick Around America’ will confirm Frontline’s view that it was a piece of reporting not advocacy.”

Frontline noted that “on March 17, just three weeks after he asked to be removed from the film, a Denver magazine reported that T.R. Reid said he was interested it being appointed to a vacant seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, citing that his concerns about health care reform in the U.S. were ‘enough to push him from the reporting side over to the policy-making side. And he thinks Colorado would be a perfect testing ground.'”

“Frontline’s editorial guidelines explicitly state that ‘when working on any politically controversial programs the producer [or correspondent] should engage in no personal political activities…and should not lobby for or against any specific piece of legislation.'”

“In the end, Frontline believes the dispute centered on a conflict between Frontline’s journalistic commitment to fair and nuanced reporting and its aversion to policy advocacy and Mr. Reid’s commitment to advocacy for specific health care policy reforms, for positions he apparently advocates in his forthcoming book.”

Wow!

Reid is biased.

And Frontline is an objective, neutral observer.

I couldn’t reach Reid to respond to Frontline’s attack on him.

But last week, he told me he didn’t think single payer could pass in America.

Instead, he favored giving Americans an option to buy into a public plan that would compete with private, regulated non-profit health insurance companies.

Reid has a point of view.

So do I.

I believe the health insurance corporations – whether for-profit or non-profit – are engaged in what should be considered criminal activity – selling basic health insurance to the American people to gain profit, outrageous salaries, power and privilege.

And these private insurance companies are deserving of the death penalty.

Countries like Canada and the UK agree. It’s illegal in those countries for a private company to sell basic health insurance.

Other countries like Germany, Japan and Taiwan heavily regulate private health insurance companies – so much so, that they would be unrecognizable to health insurance execs in this country.

So, I have a point of view as to how to remedy the situation. (In fact, I, and a group of friends last month launched singlepayeraction.org – to secure single payer health care in the United States in our lifetimes. We believe one million Americans will get the job done. Sign on and donate at singlepayeraction.org.)

Our motto – no compromise with the health insurance industry.

Either we die first.

Or the health insurance corporations die first.

Fight to the finish.

(By the way, according to a Institute of Medicine report, 22,000 Americans dies every year because of a lack of health insurance. That’s 60 deaths a day. Again, either they die first. Or we die first.)

Reid has a point of view.

I have a point of view.

But the Frontline producers don’t have a point of view?

Is that why they included no advocate for single payer in their documentary?

Is that why they included no advocate for a point of view supported, according to recent polls, by the majority of Americans, the majority of doctors, the majority of health economists and the majority of small business people?

Is that why they included no mention of single payer in their documentary?

(Frontline says I made a factual error by assuming that Karen Ignagni, head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, represents only for-profit health insurance companies. I didn’t assume that at all. Of course, Ignagni’s group represents both non-profit and for-profit health insurance corporations. But the two types of insurance companies in America differ little in the level of their disregard for Americans. I was just pointing out that Frontline was giving Ignagni a free ride – misleading Frontline’s viewers into believing that forcing them to buy from American insurance corporations would create a similar system as in some countries in Europe – like Germany and Switzerland – where the insurance industry is heavily regulated, where profits are banished, where executive salaries are a fraction of what they are here.)

I salute T.R. Reid for telling Frontline and PBS to go stuff it.

As for his advocacy for a public plan to compete with the private insurance companies – I disagree with him.

A single payer doc in Ohio – Dr. Johnathon Ross – put it this way to me last year.

The health insurance industry is like a vicious dog, Dr. Ross said.

Those who would create a public plan to compete with the health insurance are just kicking the dog in the face.

The dog is going to counterattack and rip your face off.

Better to put the dog out of his misery.

Yes, singlepayeraction.org has a point of view.

Death to the health insurance corporations.

Health and life to Americans.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter.  He is also founder of singlepayeraction.org.

Media Blackout on Single-Payer Healthcare March 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Media.
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FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting)

Major newspaper, broadcast and cable stories mentioning healthcare reform in the week leading up to President Barack Obama’s March 5 healthcare summit rarely mentioned the idea of a single-payer national health insurance program, according to a new FAIR study. And advocates of such a system–two of whom participated in yesterday’s summit–were almost entirely shut out, FAIR found.

Single-payer–a model in which healthcare delivery would remain largely private, but would be paid for by a single federal health insurance fund (much like Medicare provides for seniors, and comparable to Canada’s current system)–polls well with the public, who preferred it two-to-one over a privatized system in a recent survey (New York Times/CBS, 1/11-15/09). But a media consumer in the week leading up to the summit was more likely to read about single-payer from the hostile perspective of conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer than see an op-ed by a single-payer advocate in a major U.S. newspaper.

Over the past week, hundreds of stories in major newspapers and on NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer mentioned healthcare reform, according to a search of the Nexis database (2/25/09-3/4/09). Yet all but 18 of these stories made no mention of “single-payer” (or synonyms commonly used by its proponents, such as “Medicare for all,” or the proposed single-payer bill, H.R. 676), and only five included the views of advocates of single-payer–none of which appeared on television.

Of a total of 10 newspaper columns FAIR found that mentioned single-payer, Krauthammer’s syndicated column critical of the concept, published in the Washington Post (2/27/09) and reprinted in four other daily newspapers, accounted for five instances. Only three columns in the study period advocated for a single-payer system (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/26/09; Boston Globe, 3/1/09; St. Petersburg Times, 3/3/09).

The FAIR study turned up only three mentions of single-payer on the TV outlets surveyed, and two of those references were by TV guests who expressed strong disapproval of it: conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks (NewsHour, 2/27/09) and Republican congressman Darrell Issa (MSNBC’s Hardball, 2/26/09).

In many newspapers, the only argument in favor of the policy has been made in letters to the editor (Oregonian, 2/28/09; USA Today, 2/26/09; Washington Post, 3/4/09; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/27/09; Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2/26/09).

In contrast, the terminology of choice for detractors of any greater public-sector role in healthcare–such as “socialized medicine” and “government-run” healthcare–turned up seven times on TV, including once on ABC News’s This Week (3/1/09) and five times on CNN. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has herself adopted this terminology in discussing healthcare reform, stating (CNN Newsroom, 2/26/09) that “if in time, Americans start to think what President Obama is proposing is some kind of government-run health system–a la Canada, a la England–he will get resistance in the same way that Hillary Clinton got resistance when she tried to do tried to do this in the ’90s.”

Particularly in the absence of actual coverage of single-payer, such rhetoric confuses rather than informs, blurring the differences between the Canadian model of government-administered national health insurance coupled with private healthcare delivery that single-payer proponents advocate, and healthcare systems such as Britain’s, in which healthcare (and not just healthcare insurance) is administered by the government.

The views of CNN’s senior medical correspondent notwithstanding, opinion polling (e.g., ABC News/Washington Post, 10/9-19/03) suggests that the public would actually favor single-payer.

Though more than 60 lawmakers have co-sponsored H.R. 676, the single-payer bill in Congress, Obama has not expressed support for single-payer; both the idea and its advocates were marginalized in yesterday’s healthcare forum. But given the high level of popular support the policy enjoys, that’s all the more reason media should include it in the public debate about the future of healthcare.

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.

Obama to Single Payer Advocates: Drop Dead March 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health.
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23 Corporate Crime Reporter 10, March 3, 2009

http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com

President Obama’s White House made crystal clear this week: a Canadian-style, Medicare-for-all, single payer health insurance system is off the table.

Obama doesn’t even want to discuss it.

Take the case of Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan).

Conyers is the leading advocate for single payer health insurance in Congress.

Last week, Conyers attended a Congressional Black Caucus meeting with President Obama at the White House.

During the meeting, Congressman Conyers, sponsor of the single payer bill in the House (HR 676), asked President Obama for an invite to the President’s Marchy 5 health care summit at the White House.

Conyers said he would bring along with him two doctors – Dr. Marcia Angell and Dr. Quentin Young – to represent the majority of physicians in the United States who favor single payer.

Obama would have none of it.

This week, by e-mail, Conyers heard back from the White House – no invite.

Why not?

Well, believe it or not, the Obama White House is under the thumb of the health insurance industry.

Obama has become the industry’s chief enforcer of its key demand: single payer health insurance is off the table.

Earlier this week, Obama named his health reform leadership team – Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy-Ann DeParle.

Single payer advocates were not happy.

Since leaving Medicare, DeParle cashed in as a director at major for profit health care corporations, including Medco Health Solutions, Cerner, Boston Scientific, DaVita, and Triad Hospitals.

Now, what does the health insurance industry make of the Sebelius/DeParle team?

Here is Karen Ignagni, president of the lead health insurance lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans:

“Today the President is putting in place a team that is ready on day one to provide the leadership necessary to achieve health care reform. Governor Sebelius is the right person to move the President’s health care agenda forward. She is a proven leader with extensive knowledge of health care issues and a long history of working effectively across the political aisle. As a former CMS administrator, Nancy-Ann DeParle brings considerable experience and a strong track record working on all of the health care issues facing the nation.”

Karen sounds really upset, right?

Dr. David Himmelstein is a founder and spokesperson for Physicians for a National Health Program.

Himmelstein’s take – Obama is caving to the insurance industry.

“The President once acknowledged that single payer reform was the best option, but now he’s caving in to corporate healthcare interests and completely shutting out advocates of single payer reform,” Himmelstein said. “The majority of Americans favor single payer, and it’s the most popular reform option among doctors and health economists, but no single payer supporter has been invited to participate in the administration’s health care summit. Meanwhile, he’s appointed as his health reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, a woman who has made her living advising health care investors and sits on the board of many for-profit firms that have made billions from Medicare. Her appointment – and the invitation list to the healthcare summit – is a clear signal that the administration plans to propose a corporate-friendly health reform that has no chance of actually solving our health care crisis.”

Obama to single payer advocates: drop dead.

 

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