The Real Health Care Debate April 9, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: affordable care, big pharma, chris hedges, constitution, health, health care, heritage foundation, individual mandate, insurance industry, massachusetts health, medicare, medicare-for-all, mitt romney, obamacare, pharmaceutical industry, roger hollander, single payer, universal health
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Published on Monday, April 9, 2012 by Truthdig
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.”
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.
Tags: big pharma, blue cross, blue shield, health, health care, health care industry, health care legislation, health care reform, health debate, health insurance, health lobbyists, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, jason leopold, kaiser health, karen ignagni, Lobbyists, Obama, pfizer, pharmaceutical industry, pharmaceutical trade, roger hollander, trade groups
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Wednesday 25 November 2009
Top health care officials met with Barack Obama and other administration officials just as the president pushed Congress to pass legislation to overhaul the health insurance industry, newly released White House visitor logs show.
According to an analysis by the Associated Press, the 1,600 records the White House released Wednesday show that a “broad cross-section of the people most heavily involved in the health care debate, weighted heavily with those who want to overhaul the system.”
Some of these individuals include:
Laird Burnett, a top lobbyist for insurer Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., and a former Senate aide. Kaiser has spent some $1.7 million lobbying Congress over the past two years.
Joshua Ackil, a lobbyist whose clients include Intel, U.S. Oncology Inc., and Knoa Software Inc., all of which have reported lobbying on the health care overhaul. Ackil met with Dan Turton, the White House’s deputy legislative affairs director who works with the House, in August. Seven people were at the Aug. 21 meeting, the records show.
Alissa Fox, a lobbyist with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, met March 31 with Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. Four people attended, the records show. The health insurance federation has spent at least $6.7 million lobbying this year.
Amador “Dean” Aguillen, a former aide to Nancy Pelosi who is now with Ogilvy Government Relations, where he lobbies for clients including pharmaceutical companies SanofiPasteur and Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, Pfizer Inc., and Amgen USA Inc., all of which reported lobbying on health care issues this year. Aguillen appears to have attended the same Aug. 21 meeting with Turton that Ackil did.
Bloomberg added that the visits also included representatives from pharmaceutical trade groups.
Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, visited eight times, meeting twice with Obama and once with economic adviser Lawrence Summers. Former U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, had two meetings with deputy chief of staff Jim Messina among at least eight at the White House.
Ignagni’s group, whose members include Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., is lobbying against efforts to include a public insurance option to compete with the private companies that are members of her trade association. Phrma, whose members include Whitehouse Station, New Jersey-based Merck & Co., is pushing Congress to enact health-care legislation.
Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, said Wednesday that the administration received more than 300 requests from the public during the month of October seeking access to the visitor logs, which were posted on the White House’s website.
“Consistent with our earlier announcement that we will only release records that are 90 days or older, this group of records covers the time period between January 20, 2009 to August 31, 2009,” Eisen wrote in a blog post.
Eisen noted that many of the names on the list may appear to be well-known figures, but he cautioned that these indivudals are not who they would appear to be.
“With an average of 100,000 White House access records created each month, many White House Visitors share the same name as celebrities,” Eisen wrote. “In October, requests were submitted for the names of some notable figures (for example Michael Jordan and Michael Moore)…The famous individuals with those names never actually came to the White House, but we have included the individuals that did visit and share those names.”
Heavyweights in the energy and banking industries, were also among the individuals who met with Obama and senior members of his administration.
In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’ November 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: big pharma, biotechnology industry, congress, genetnech, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance industry, Lobbyists, pharmaceutical industry, robert pear, roche, roger hollander, washington lobbyists
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WASHINGTON — In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.
Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.
E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.
The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.
Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.
In an interview, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said: “I regret that the language was the same. I did not know it was.” He said he got his statement from his staff and “did not know where they got the information from.”
Members of Congress submit statements for publication in the Congressional Record all the time, often with a decorous request to “revise and extend my remarks.” It is unusual for so many revisions and extensions to match up word for word. It is even more unusual to find clear evidence that the statements originated with lobbyists.
The e-mail messages and their attached documents indicate that the statements were based on information supplied by Genentech employees to one of its lobbyists, Matthew L. Berzok, a lawyer at Ryan, MacKinnon, Vasapoli & Berzok who is identified as the “author” of the documents. The statements were disseminated by lobbyists at a big law firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal.
In an e-mail message to fellow lobbyists on Nov. 5, two days before the House vote, Todd M. Weiss, senior managing director of Sonnenschein, said, “We are trying to secure as many House R’s and D’s to offer this/these statements for the record as humanly possible.”
He told the lobbyists to “conduct aggressive outreach to your contacts on the Hill to see if their bosses would offer the attached statements (or an edited version) for the record.”
In recent years, Genentech’s political action committee and lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some who filed statements in the Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers. But Evan L. Morris, head of Genentech’s Washington office, said, “There was no connection between the contributions and the statements.”
Mr. Morris said Republicans and Democrats, concerned about the unemployment rate, were receptive to the company’s arguments about the need to keep research jobs in the United States.
The statements were not intended to change the bill, which was not open for much amendment during the debate. They were meant to show bipartisan support for certain provisions, even though the vote on passage generally followed party lines.
Democrats emphasized the bill’s potential to create jobs in health care, health information technology and clinical research on new drugs.
Republicans opposed the bill, but praised a provision that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to approve generic versions of expensive biotechnology drugs, along the lines favored by brand-name companies like Genentech.
Lawmakers from both parties said it was important to conduct research on such “biosimilar” products in the United States. Several took a swipe at aggressive Indian competitors.
Asked about the Congressional statements, a lobbyist close to Genentech said: “This happens all the time. There was nothing nefarious about it.”
In separate statements using language suggested by the lobbyists, Representatives Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Joe Wilson of South Carolina, both Republicans, said: “One of the reasons I have long supported the U.S. biotechnology industry is that it is a homegrown success story that has been an engine of job creation in this country. Unfortunately, many of the largest companies that would seek to enter the biosimilar market have made their money by outsourcing their research to foreign countries like India.”
In remarks on the House floor, Representative Phil Hare, Democrat of Illinois, recalled that his family had faced eviction when his father was sick and could not make payments on their home. He said the House bill would save others from such hardship.
In a written addendum in the Congressional Record, Mr. Hare said the bill would also create high-paying jobs. Timothy Schlittner, a spokesman for Mr. Hare, said: “That part of his statement was drafted for us by Roche pharmaceutical company. It is something he agrees with.”
The boilerplate in the Congressional Record included some conversational touches, as if actually delivered on the House floor.
In the standard Democratic statement, Representative Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania said: “Let me repeat that for some of my friends on the other side of the aisle. This bill will create high-paying, high-quality jobs in health care delivery, technology and research in the United States.”
Mr. Brady’s chief of staff, Stanley V. White, said he had received the draft statement from a lobbyist for Genentech’s parent company, Roche.
“We were approached by the lobbyist, who asked if we would be willing to enter a statement in the Congressional Record,” Mr. White said. “I asked him for a draft. I tweaked a couple of words. There’s not much reason to reinvent the wheel on a Congressional Record entry.”
Some differences were just a matter of style. Representative Yvette D. Clarke, Democrat of New York, said, “I see this bill as an exciting opportunity to create the kind of jobs we so desperately need in this country, while at the same time improving the lives of all Americans.”
Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, used the same words, but said the bill would improve the lives of “ALL Americans.”
Mr. Payne and Mr. Brady said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for our brightest technology minds.” Mr. Pascrell said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for our brightest minds in technology.”
In nearly identical words, three Republicans — Representatives K. Michael Conaway of Texas, Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Lee Terry of Nebraska — said they had criticized many provisions of the bill, and “rightfully so.”
But, each said, “I do believe the sections relating to the creation of a market for biosimilar products is one area of the bill that strikes the appropriate balance in providing lower cost options.”
The Cheney-Like Secrecy of the Obama White House August 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Democracy, Dick Cheney, Health.
Tags: bush administration, cheney, cheney energy, government secrecy, health care industry, health care reform, health insurance, healthcare industry, healthcare reform, john nichols, obama administration, official secrecy, pharmaceutical industry, presidency, presidential transparency, roger hollander, transparency, visitor logs, white house visitor
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It also provided an early indicator that darker and dirtier deeds would eventually be done by Cheney and his compatriots. And they were.
So what should we make of the news that the Obama administration is now refusing to release White House visitor logs that detail meetings between members of the new administration and health-care industry insiders?
(The) administration’s multibillion-dollar deals with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies have been made in private, and the results were announced after the fact. Both industries promised Obama cost savings in return for an expanded base of insured patients; beyond that, the public is in the dark about details.In some ways, it resembles what his party criticized President George W. Bush for doing with oil and gas companies as Vice President Dick Cheney wrote a national energy plan in the early days of the Bush administration.
As the Bush White House did, the Obama White House is refusing to release visitor logs that would let people see everyone going in and out during the thick of discussions over major national policies.
There is a lot of talk about the fact that Obama has broken a campaign promise.
But far more serious is the perpetuation of practices of official secrecy that characterized the Bush-Cheney den of iniquity.
When administrations begin to enjoy the benefits of operating in the dark, they become disinclined to end the practice. They also begin to buy into the fantasy that keeping details from Congress and the people is the only way to get things done, as did Obama White House spokesman Reid Cherlin when he tried to explain away a lack of transparency by saying: “Here’s what’s happening: Groups that have steadfastly opposed reform in the past are coming to the table and making concessions — because they know we can’t wait another year to pass health insurance reform.”
Actually, bad players are embracing bad compromises because they have made bad deals with the White House.
And, make no mistake, more bad things will happen.
Only whack jobs who believe that Barack Obama was birthed in Jakarta could imagine that this administration might ever be as corrupt as its predecessor. Bush and Cheney achieved Warren Harding levels of official crookedness.
However, bad-but-not-quite-Cheney-bad is an unacceptable standard.
Official secrecy, especially when it involves meetings by White House aides and representatives of corporate interests that face government regulation, is corrosive. It warps the official agenda and undermines the system of checks and balances — making the legislative branch a weak second to a unitary executive.
Barack Obama promised when he sought the presidency to usher in a new era of openness and transparency. “We’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies,” candidate Obama declared at a Pennsylvania campaign stop two months before the 2008 election.
Now, he is doing the opposite.
Worse yet, he is perpetuating the foul practices of the most corrupt administration in American history.
Copyright © 2009 The Nation
John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy – from The New Press. Nichols’ latest book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.
Dennis Kucinich; Exciting Single Payer Healthcare Update July 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
Tags: alternative medicine, Dennis Kucinich, erisa, health, health care, health care reform, healthcare, healthcare reform, insurance premiums, kucinich amendment, pharmaceutical industry, prescription drugs, roger hollander, single payer, state legislatures
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www.opednews.com, July 17, 2009
With your support, your phone calls, your emails, we won a major legislative victory today for a state single payer health care option in the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. The House Education and Labor Committee approved the Kucinich Amendment by a vote of 27-19, with 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans voting yes.
The amendment propels the growing single payer health care movement at the state level. There are at least ten states which have active single payer efforts in their legislatures. They are California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. The amendment mandates a single payer state will receive the right to waive the application of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which has in the past been used to nullify efforts to expand state or local government health care.
Under the Kucinich Amendment a state’s application for a waiver from ERISA is granted automatically if the state has signed into law a single payer plan. With the amendment, for the first time, the state single payer health care option is shielded from an ERISA-based legal attack. Now that the underlying bill has been passed, as amended, by the full committee, we must make sure that Congress knows that we want the provision kept in the bill at final passage!
The state single payer option was one of five major amendments which I obtained support to get included in HR3200. One amendment brings into standard coverage for the first time complementary and alternative medicine, (integrative medicine). Another amendment drives down the cost of prescription drugs by ending pharmaceutical industry’s sharp practices manipulating physician prescribing habits. An amendment stops the insurance industry from increasing premiums at the time when people are not permitted to change health plans; and finally an amendment imposing a requirement on insurance companies that they disclose the cost of advertising, marketing and executive compensation expenses (which generally divert money from patient care).
Please make sure you post this message on your social networking site, ask all your friends to get involved and encourage everyone you know to sign up at www.Kucinich.us so we can build full momentum behind this movement for real health care.
Let’s do this!
Tags: amy godman, California Nurses Association, cigna, cna, denis moynihan, for profit health, health, health care, health care reform, health insurance, health insurance industry, health insurance lobby, health premiums, healthcare, healthcare reform, hmos, insurance exectuives, max baucus, pharmaceutical industry, roger hollander, senate finance, single payer, wendell potter, whistle blower
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Wendell Potter is the health insurance industry’s worst nightmare. He’s a whistle-blower. Potter, the former chief spokesperson for insurance giant CIGNA, recently testified before Congress, “I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick—all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.”
Potter was deeply involved in CIGNA and industrywide strategies for maintaining their profitable grip on U.S. health care. He told me: “The thing they fear most is a single-payer plan. They fear even the public insurance option being proposed; they’ll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that to try to scare people into thinking that embracing a public health insurance option would lead down the slippery slope toward socialism … putting a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor. They’ve used those talking points for years, and they’ve always worked.”
In 2007, CIGNA denied a California teenager, Nataline Sarkisyan, coverage for a liver transplant. Her family went to the media. The California Nurses Association joined in. Under mounting pressure, CIGNA finally granted coverage for the procedure. But it was too late. Two hours later, Nataline died.
While visiting family in Tennessee, Potter stopped at a “medical expedition” in Wise, Va. People drove hours for free care from temporary clinics set up in animal stalls at the local fairground. Potter told me that weeks later, flying on a CIGNA corporate jet with the CEO: “I realized that someone’s premiums were helping me to travel that way … paying for my lunch on gold-trimmed china. I thought about those men and women I had seen in Wise County … not having any idea [how] insurance executives lived.” He decided he couldn’t be an industry PR hack anymore.
Insurance executives and their Wall Street investors are addicted to massive profits and double-digit annual rate increases. To squeeze more profit, Potter says, if a person makes a major claim for coverage, the insurer will often scrutinize the person’s original application, looking for any error that would allow it to cancel the policy. Likewise, if a small company’s employees make too many claims, the insurer, Potter says, “very likely will jack up the rates so much that your employer has no alternative but to leave you and your co-workers without insurance.”
This week, as the House and Senate introduce their health care bills, Potter warns, “One thing to remember is that the health insurance industry has been anticipating this debate on health care for many years … they’ve been positioning themselves to get very close to influential members of Congress in both parties.” Montana Sen. Max Baucus chairs the Senate Finance Committee, key for health care reform. Potter went on, “[T]he insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others in health care have donated … millions of dollars to his campaigns over the past few years. But aside from money, it’s relationships that count … the insurance industry has hired scores and scores of lobbyists, many of whom have worked for members of Congress, and some who are former members of Congress.”
The insurance industry and other health care interests are lobbying hard against a government-sponsored, nonprofit, public health insurance option, and are spending, according to The Washington Post, up to $1.4 million per day to sway Congress and public opinion.
Don’t be fooled. Profit-driven insurance claim denials actually kill people, and Wendell Potter knows where the bodies are buried. His whistle-blowing may be just what’s needed to dump what’s sick in our health care system.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2009 Amy Goodman
Tags: ama, canada health, dean baker, drug companies, drug patents, germany health, health care, health care industry, health care reform, health care system, health costs, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare reform, medical supply industry, medicare, pharmaceutical industry, roger hollander, single payer
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This is the time when the excrement starts hitting the fan. The lobbyists are in overdrive, rounding up members of Congress just like the cowboys of the Old West would bring in the herd.
The industry groups will also have their friends in the news media working overtime hyping any possible obstacle to health care reform. And they are filling the airwaves with scary ads, warning that people will never be able to see a doctor again if meaningful health care reform passes.
Since there are trillions of dollars at stake, the effort is understandable. The basic story is simple. The insurance, pharmaceutical and medical supply industries, along with the hospitals and the American Medical Association, have rigged the deck so that they get rich at the public’s expense. They have structured our health care system so that we pay more than twice as much per person as people in other wealthy countries, even though we get worse care by many measures.
The bloat in the health care sector is projected to grow rapidly over the next decade as health care consumes an ever larger share of the economy. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reports that just the increase in health care spending share of the economy over the next decade will cost us $4.3 trillion. That is equal to a health care tax of $57,000 for an average family of four.
Who benefits from the taxpayers generosity? CMS projects that $1.4 trillion, or $18,500 per family will go to the hospitals. Doctors and the pharmaceutical companies are each expected to score about $550 billion, costing families $7,300. And the insurance industry’s share of GDP is projected to rise by $360 billion, or $4,800 for an average family.
These massive transfers are not the result of the wonders of the free market. These folks are getting money out of our pockets because their friends in Congress have rigged the deck so the money flows from us to them. For example, the government grants the pharmaceutical industry patent monopolies that prevent normal competition in the prescription drug market.
Unlike every other country in the world, the United States lets the drug companies use their government-granted monopolies to charge whatever they want. As a result, we pay nearly twice as much for our prescription drugs as people in countries like Canada and Germany.
Similarly, doctors are able to tightly control the supply of both US trained physicians and the number of doctors that can enter the country from abroad. If custodians had the same control over the labor market for janitors, they would all be making $80,000 a year. We pay close to twice as much for our doctors as people in other wealthy countries. The gap is especially wide for highly paid specialists like neurosurgeons and cardiologists.
Of course, the insurance industry is a total mess. They pocket more than 15 cents for every dollar they pay out to providers. By comparison, the administrative costs of Medicare are less than 2 percent of its revenue. If the insurers ever had to compete with a publicly run insurance plan on a level playing field, they would be blown out of the water.
We know that private insurers can’t compete because we already had this experiment with the Medicare program. When private insurers had to compete on a level playing field with the traditional government-run plan they were almost driven from the market. That is why they got their friends in Congress to pass Medicare Advantage. This program spreads the wealth around by giving the private insurers a subsidy of more than 11 percent per patient.
As Congress debates health care reform, we should be very clear what is going on. It is easy to devise reforms that will reduce costs without jeopardizing the quality of care.
That is not the fight. The fight is over whether Congress will leave in place structures that will siphon an ever-larger amount of money out of taxpayers’ pockets and put this money in the hands of the insurance industry, the hospitals, the drug companies and the doctors.
Getting a robust public plan, that both individuals and employers can buy into, will be the key indicator of whether Congress is still determined to redistribute income into the hands of the insurers, the drug companies and the rest. A robust Medicare-type plan will not only reduce the insurance industry’s tax on our health care, it will also be able to bargain for lower prices from the drug companies, the medical supply companies, and other health care providers.
For this reason, most of the industry is united against any sort of serious public plan. Their latest compromise is a system of small cooperative insurers that will have no bargaining power. That’s a cute joke, but it has nothing to do with health care reform.
So, keep hold of your scorecard. Unless Congress creates a serious public plan, you can expect to be hit with the largest tax increase in the history of the world – all of it going into the pockets of the health care industry.
Tags: big pharma, canada helath, canadian health care, canadian healthcare, clintons, health, health care, health care costs, health care reform, health costs, health insurance, health insurance industry, healthcare, healthcare costs, healthcare reform, Medicaid, medicare, paul rogat loeb, pharmaceutical industry, private health insurance, rick scott, Robert Reich, roger hollander, singel-payer, single payer, tommy douglas
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Will serious health reform meet the fate of the scorpion and the turtle? In that fable, the scorpion pleads with the turtle to carry him across a river. The turtle resists, fearing the scorpion’s sting, but the scorpion reassures him that he’d do nothing so foolish, since both would drown if he did. Finally the turtle agrees. Halfway across, the scorpion betrays his promise with a lethal sting. As the turtle begins to drown, he asks why he took both their lives. “It’s just who I am,” the scorpion replies.
I fear we’re about to get stung again. When people look back at the failure of the Clinton-era health care initiative, they point, accurately, to an opaque process that produced a baroque Rube Goldberg mess that satisfied no one. That happened even before the insurance industry went on the attack with their Harry and Louise ads. But another missing element parallels our current challenge-appeasement of the insurance companies as the plan’s centerpiece, and the inevitability that these same interests will betray us again.
The Clintons assumed the insurance companies were too powerful to confront, so the plan had to go along with them. But once they assumed any bill had to get the companies’ approval, no plan could work, because it had to build in ways for the companies to maintain their profit margins and the immensely wasteful overhead they spend on advertising, processing claims, and turning down as many sick people as they can. Their approach also creates corollary wastes, like the third of the expenses of the average medical office that go toward dealing with insurance company paperwork.
Our health care crisis is so dire that the simple single-payer approach, as in Canada, should be at least seriously debated. Compared with us, most Canadians are satisfied with their system, in contrast with a recent US poll where 49 percent said our health system needed fundamental changes and 38 percent said it should be completely rebuilt. Canadians get a full choice of doctors (unlike in the US, where households have to switch doctors when employers change their insurance or insurance companies change their preferred provider lists). Tommy Douglas, the Canadian New Democratic Party leader who pushed through national health care in the mid-60s (replacing a system like ours), was recently voted Greatest Canadian in a recent contest, beating hockey star Wayne Gretzky and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Even if single payer isn’t politically achievable yet, there’s no reason to take it off the table from the beginning. Doing so means most Americans never get to hear the contrast in cost savings, in allocation ease, in impact on ordinary citizens and their health outcomes. They never get to hear the story that might allow them to overcome current fears about losing the health care they have, being unable to see their preferred doctor, or being condemned to the Purgatory of endless waiting. Maybe we’ve been so conditioned that we can’t quite get the support for a full-fledged switch. A recent Kaiser Foundation poll still gives single-payer a narrow 49 to 47 percent majority, vs 67 percent for including a fully competitive public option, and maybe that isn’t enough. But at least we need to tell the story, so the probably inevitable compromise works down from full public coverage, as opposed to considering options that gut even the option of serious public coverage entirely.
Instead, because we’ve accepted the premise that the private insurance companies have to be included, we’re now starting to consider including a public option only if it includes poison pills that will doom it to fail, like requiring it be triggered by a set of exceedingly unlikely circumstances deferred to the indefinite future. Or requiring it to play by rules so onerous that it can’t achieve its straightforward cost savings. Or turning it over to the states, so Big Pharma and Big Insurance interests can simply, as Robert Reich warns, “buy off legislators and officials as they’ve been doing for years.”
But why assume that the insurance companies are our friends? Why appease them at all? It’s not as if they’ve played a helpful role in our current system. Rather, they’ve gamed it in every possible way, leaving our country with the highest health care costs in the world and worst health outcomes of any advanced industrial country. While they’ve made promises to cut costs, their promises are only that (like the scorpion’s), and they’re already lobbying with everything they have to gut any seriously competitive public option. Add in examples like former HCA/Columbia CEO Rick Scott. after his company paid a $1.7 billion fine (the largest in US history) for defrauding Medicare, Medicaid, and the program that serves our armed forces, he is now organizing attacks on any public program (hiring the PR firm that coordinated the “Swift Boat” attacks on John Kerry). We need to challenge the insurance companies, not appease them. There’s no evidence that suggests they’re constructive players, or are likely to do anything except defend their own parochial interest.
The insurance companies and other major financial interests are talking a good line of late. They have no choice if they don’t want to be cut out of the game. But ultimately, they are who they are, and their behavior reflects this. It makes no sense to embrace a partner who you know will ultimately betray you.
Maybe the public private mix is the best compromise we can get at the moment. But we must raise our voices now to demand a full debate on the other alternatives, like single payer, and then if necessary settle for something that gives a public option a chance, under equitable rules, to see how it plays out in efficiency, service, and cost. Trusting the insurance companies and stacking the deck to guarantee that private options will prevail merely assures we continue our dysfunctional system until its human and financial costs drown us all.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles.
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The “Senator for K Street” is Putting Campaign Donor Profits Ahead of the Basic Needs of the People
by Kevin Zeese
Senator Max Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee are too corrupted by corporate health industry profiteers donations to give America the health care policy it needs.
Health care is 15% of the U.S. gross domestic product. U.S. health care expenditures, which have been rising rapidly for several years, surpassed $2.4 trillion in 2007, more than three times the $714 billion spent in 1990. The cost of health care is projected to reach $4.4 trillion by 2018. There is a lot of room for corporate profiteering in the increasing cost of health care. The millions the health care industry has invested in Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee could therefore turn out to be very profitable.
It is evident that any bill that comes out of the Senate Finance Committee will be a pro-industry bill that will ensure trillions in profits for the health insurance industry, HMOs and the pharmaceutical industry.
Baucus has held two hearings so far and has refused to allow advocates for the most popular reform-a single payer national health policy-to even testify. Single payer “improved Medicare for all” is favored by more than 60% of Americans as well as majorities of doctors, nurses and economists. It is the most cost-effective and efficient way to provide health care to all Americans from cradle to grave.
Why aren’t single payer advocates allowed to testify before Baucus’ committee? Follow the money. Campaign donations explain why, and demonstrate that the Senate Finance Committee should not be in charge of health care. Senator Reid should remove the health care reform bill from Baucus and start all over before the Health Committee in the Senate.
Here’s why Baucus is not doing the people’s business:
According to OpenSecrets.org, over his career he has taken donations from:
* The Insurance Industry: $1,170,313
* Health Professionals: $1,016,276
* Pharmaceuticals/Health Products Industry: $734,605
* Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $541,891
* Health Services/HMOs: $439,700
Baucus has shown his bias and should be removed from leading the health care reform effort by the Democratic Party leadership.
That is a grand total of $3,902,785. Can we trust Baucus to put aside the profits of the industries that have kept him in the Senate? Will he put the people’s necessities ahead of the profits of his contributors?
In 2008 Baucus had virtually no challenger in Montana. A little-known Republican was on the ballot, and Baucus won with 73% of the vote. But, Baucus sought big donations from big business anyway. He used his connections to corporations with business before his committee to raise an immense campaign fund of more than $11 million. In 2008, 91% of his donations come from individuals living outside of Montana, which is why he is more the “Senator for K Street” then the Senator for Montana. Corporate health profiteers who invested in Baucus will now benefit from his stewardship over health care reform. His 2008 donations from health care profiteers included:
* Insurance: $592,185
* Health Professionals: $537,141
* Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $524,813
* Health Services/HMOs: $364,500
* Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $332,826
That is $1,826,652 Baucus took from these industries, and now he can reward them by deforming health care reform.
The health care profiteers knew that Baucus would determine their fate and ponied up. Now the only thing standing between them and their payback is a single payer national health care plan. Yet single payer, which would end private insurance and control the cost of pharmaceutical drugs, is not being considered-not even allowed to participate in the conversation before Baucus.
It is not just the chairman of the committee who has received massive donations. The full Finance Committee is a gluttonous embarrassment of campaign pay-offs. In 2008 the committee members received a total of $13,263,986 from industries affected by health care reform. Can we trust this committee to put the interests of the people before their donors?
The donations to the Finance Committee in 2008 included:
* Insurance: $5,103,900
* Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $3,308,831
* Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $2,809,353
* Health Services/HMOs: $2,041,902
These industries expect to be rewarded with billions, even trillions, in profits and hundreds of millions in corporate welfare. Senator Baucus’s behavior shows they have made a good investment-they’ve bought themselves a senator who should be called Chairman Blagojevich. He is doing his best to make sure the single payer message is not heard because he knows it is the fairest, most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure health care access for all Americans-but he can’t let that be implemented because it would put some of his donors out of business and control the profits of others.
It is time to remove Baucus from the leadership of health care reform. It is time to move the critically important priority of reforming America’s health care system from the Finance Committee and put it before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. At least their mission is health care, not money.
Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore News Network.
Kevin Zeese is the executive director of the FreshAirCleanPolitics.net, which is urging a single payer national health care system as part of its ProsperityAgenda.US project. Along with seven others, Zeese was arrested when he testified from the audience of a recent Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care. See the video on YouTube.