by BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon
With the corporate media relentlessly distorting the public discussion around health care reform, it time for some clear, bright lines to help us tell who is doing what to whom, and whether any of it leads to health care for all of us. Here are ten of them.
Top Ten Ways To Tell Your President & His Party Aren't Fighting For Health Care For Everybody
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate were swept into office on a promise they would deliver affordable and accessible health care for all Americans. But the corporate media journalism limits the national health care conversation to what insurance companies, drug companies, for-profit health care professionals, their executives, lobbyists and politicians of both parties and other hirelings have to say. So it isn't as easy as it ought to be to tell what the politicians are doing about accomplishing health care for everybody. Hence we offer these ten points. This is how you can tell whether your president and his party are fighting for the health care you deserve.
2013 isn't “day one.” It's not even after the midterm election. It's clear after the president's second term, if he gets one. Congress passed Medicare in 1965 and president Lyndon Johnson rolled out coverage for millions of seniors in eleven months, back in the days before they even had computers.
22,000 Americans now perish each year because they can't get or can't afford medical care, and this year three quarter million personal bankruptcies will be triggered by unpayable medical bills. Why this president and these Democrats are in such a hurry to pass health care now that doesn't take effect till two elections down the road doesn't make sense in any kind of good way.
Their “public option” isn't Medicare, won't bring costs down and will only cover about 10 million people.
The “public option” was sold to the American people as Medicare-scale plan open to anybody who wants in that would compete with the private insurers and drive their costs downward. But in their haste not to bite the hands that feed them millions in campaign contributions each hear, the president and his party have scaled the public option back from a Medicare-sized 130 million to a maximum of 10 million, too small to put cost pressure in private insurers. Worse still, the president and his party are playing bait-and-witch, not telling the public they have reduced the public option, to nearly nothing.
This remnant of a public option is not Medicare, as Howard Dean insists, and it will not lead to the sort of everybody-in-nobody-out health care system that most Americans, whenever they are surveyed say they want.
Some Senate and House Democrats want to ditch even the pretense of a “public option” in favor of something they're calling a private insurance “co-op”, which as near as anybody can tell has the same relationship to an actual cooperative that clean coal has to actual coal.
The president and his party have already caved in to the drug companies on reimporting Canadian drugs, on negotiating drug prices downward and on generics.
This explains why Big Pharma, the same people who ran the devastatin g series of anti-reform “Harry and Louise” ads to spike the Clinton-era drive to fix health care are spending $100 million to run Obama ads using the president's language about “bipartisan” solutions to health care reform.
The president and his party have received more money from private insurers and the for-profit health care industry than even Republicans, with the president alone taking $19 million in the 2008 election cycle alone, more than all his Repubican, Democratic and independent rivals combined.
Democratic senator Max Bacaus got $1.1 million in 2008. Democratic senators Harkin, Landreau and Rockerfeller each got over half a million, and Senator Durbin got just under half a million. Other Democratic senators got a little less. Four Democrats in the House, Rangel, Dinglell, Udall and Hoyer got over half a million apiece in 2008, with other Democrats not far behind.
Is there any wonder that the insurance companies, like the drug companies are also running “bipartisan health care reform” commercials using the president's exact language?
The president's plan, and those of Republicans and Democratic blue dogs too, will require families to purchase health insurance policies from private insurers.
This is something the policy wonks call an 'individual mandate”, under which Individuals will be “mandated” to purchase affordable insurance, though companies would not be required to offer it. In Massachusetts, the prototype state for the Obama plan, a family with an income of $33,000 can be required to spend $9,000 in deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses before the insurance company is obligated to pay a dime. As in Massachusetts, public money is used to purchase private insurance for the very poorest citizens. With the revenues of insurance companies on the decline, individual mandate programs are a welcome bailout for the private insurance industry.
The president's plan, and those of Republicans and Democratic blue dogs too, could force you to buy junk insurance.
Think about an insurance policy that costs a lot, but is full of loopholes, exceptions and steep deductibles and co-payments. That's junk insurance, and for many it's the only insurance companies offer. Even more pernicious is the widespread practice among insurance companies of “recission” in which claimants are routinely investigated and disqualified in the event that they finally make a claim. Insurance companies admit they do this to half of one percent of policies per year. That means if you hold a health insurance policy twenty years, you don;t have insurance – you have a ninety percent chance of having insurance.
The president's plan, as well as those of Democratic “blue dogs” and Republicans, are to be funded in part with cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.
Private insurance companies have always hated Medicare because it is far more efficient than they are. Medicare's administrative expenses are under five percent, as compared with the one third of every health care dollar taken by the for-profit insurance companies for their advertising, bad investments, billing and denial machinery, executive salaries and bonuses. Private insurers have, over the years, purchased enough influence in Congress and previous White Houses to restrict Medicare's payment rates and partially privatize it. But president Obama's plan, perhaps the most friendly to Medicare and Medicaid, calls for over $300 billion in cuts to the programs that now provide medical care to those with the fewest options, while failing to guarantee that care will come from elsewhere. In Massachusetts right now, hospitals are turning away poor people they used to be able to provide care for because funding that used to go to those institutions is now plowed into the state's “individual mandate” system.
The president, with the cooperation of corporate media and the Republicans is trying to make the argument about himself instead of a discussion on the merits of his policy.
The president and his critics are happy to talk about whether this will be “his Waterloo”, or his Dien Bien Phu, as if that matters more than the 22,000 Americans who die each year from lack of medical care, or the three quarter million who will go bankrupt because of unpayable medical bills. The concentration on whether the president looks good or bad takes up air, ink, and coverage time that might otherwise be spent explaining what is and isn't in the various proposals, and why.
If the president were not afraid of his own supporters publicly examining the merits and demerits of his proposals, he would mobilize those 13 million emails and phone numbers collected during the campaign. The reason he has not sone so already is that most of his own supporters favor a Medicare-For-All single payer health care system, HR 676.
The president and his party, and the corporate media have spent more time and energy silencing and excluded the advocates of single payer health care, mostly the president's own supporters, than they have fighting blue dogs and Republicans.
But no matter how diligently the spokespeople for single payer are excluded from media coverage and invitations to Obama's policy forums and round tables, no matter how many times the White House cuts their questions from transcripts and video of public events, the calls, emails and letters keep pouring into Congress and the White House demanding the creation of a publicly funded, everybody-in-nobody-out system, a Medicare-for-All kind of single payer health care plan.
Despite the president's own admission that only a single payer health care system will deliver what Americans want, he and the leaders of his party insist that Medicare For All, HR 676, us utterly off the table.
Before he became a presidential candidate, Barack Obama identified himself as a proponent of a single payer health care system. All we had to do, he told us, was elect a Democratic congress and senate, and a different president. Now that this has been done, he insists that “change” is just not possible, and we have to settle for less. The president continues to admit that only a single payer health care system will cover everybody, but insists that America just can't handle that much change.
The truth is that Barack Obama campaigned as the candidate of change, and a health care system that covers everybody from day one with no exceptions is what people imagined they voted for when they swept him and an overwhelming number of Democrats into office.
A single payer Medicare-For-All system will eliminate 500,000 insurance company jobs and replace them with 3.2 million new jobs in health care for a net gain of 2.6 million new jobs according to a study by the National Nurses Organization. That's as many jobs as the US economy lost in all of 2007. Single payer will create hundreds of billions in annual wages and local and state tax revenues for cash strapped cities and towns. It will lift the shadow of bankruptcy for medical reasons from two thirds of a million American families yearly. It's what we deserve.
It's what we voted for, and we won't stop demanding it.
Bruce Dixon is based in Atlanta GA and is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.