Health Care In America-- A Privilege Or A Right?
"You can do it-- have him arrested too"
Earlier today, Noah's frustration over Democrats teaming up with Republicans to kill health care reform at the behest of Big Insurance and the whole Medical-Industrial Complex, got a little... feisty. And maybe the brusied and battered photograph of Senate Finance Committee Chair/corrupt DLC shill Max Baucus was displayed inappropriately for a man of such high office (although I would bet that the senator had no problem having his wounds well treated-- and at taxpayers' expense). But many of us are very frustrated to see the entire concept of single-payer, universal health care be declared "not on the table" (even to the point of watching Chairman Baucus pointedly not inviting any single payer advocates to testify and then having the 13 who showed up at his committee hearing-- now known as the Baucus 13-- arrested and thrown in jail).
Why would Baucus, putatively a Democrat-- albeit a DLC Democrat like other anti-working family Democrats such as Evan Bayh (D-IN), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Joe Lieberman (I-CT)... all the scum-- be toiling for the insurance companies like a Republican instead of for working families? Above and beyond the $3,405,669,482 the Medical-Industrial Complex has spent on lobbying in the last decade (second only to the banksters' $3,560,808,113 lobbying efforts in the same time period), the Medical-Industrial Complex has "donated" $833,259,267 directly to members of Congress. Not counting the huge amounts of money given to presidential candidates like Obama, McCain and Kerry, the biggest "donations" have gone to the 3 worst industry shills who have been well-paid to make sure there will never be effective, robust health care reform:
Arlen Specter (R-D- PA- $4,026,933)
Max Baucus (DLC- MT- $2,833,731)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY- $2,758,468)
And when you just go right to Big Insurance, the non-presidential candidates who got the biggest legalized bribes were the 7 senators who have been tasked with the job of killing single-payer:
Ben Nelson (DLC-NE- $1,196,799)
Max Baucus (DLC- MT- $1,184,113)
Joe Lieberman (DLC- CT- $1,036,302)
Arlen Specter (R-D- PA- $1,035,530)
Chuck Schumer (D-NY- $981,400)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY- $929,207)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA- $884,724)
Yesterday The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel tried making sense out of why conservative Democrats have teamed up with the GOP and Insurance Industry to derail real health care reform. She went to the senator with the best handle on the whole mess, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, one of the half dozen firm advocates for working families in the Senate.
Yesterday he arranged a meeting between single-payer advocates and Finance Chair Max Baucus-- Baucus had previously not only denied them a seat at the table for his hearings but even had some arrested...
Q: Tell me about the purpose of the meeting with Senator Baucus today?
Senator Sanders: The truth of the matter is-- and I say this not ideologically but just from an objective analysis of the health care situation-- the only way you're gonna provide comprehensive, universal, and cost-effective healthcare to every man, woman, and child in this country is through a single-payer system. That's just a simple reality. And the reason for that is that to pay for universal comprehensive healthcare you have to deal with the enormous amount of waste that is currently within the private health insurance industry. The estimate is about $400 billion a year in administrative costs, in billing, in profits, in CEO compensation, in advertising--all of those things which have nothing to do with the provision of healthcare...
In California, my understanding is that 1 out of every 3 dollars of premiums goes to administration. If we are gonna address the very rapid and dangerous increase in healthcare [costs], then the only way to do that is through a single-payer system which wrings out all of the waste that private health insurance creates.
So, you gotta put that issue out on the table and that's what we're trying to do.
The meeting with Senator Baucus is an effort to allow all of the people in this country-- including 15,000 physicians, the largest nurses organizations-- to at the very least begin to get a hearing [on] what is the most sensible proposal out there. I'm going to be talking to Senator Dodd-- who for a while has taken over the leadership of the HELP Committee-- about the possibility of a hearing within the HELP Committee. I don't know if that would happen but I'd like to see that.
I just think it's very important for the American people to understand why our system is the most expensive, the most wasteful, the most bureaucratic in the entire industrialized world. The only way you can do that is through the analysis that single-payer provides.
Right now Sanders is pushing for an incubator program (5 states with single payer) to test it out and show how it works. The Progressive Caucus in the House is still insisting-- some would say tilting-- for a robust national plan that will lead to single payer.
Eighty liberal lawmakers, in a letter sent to House Democratic leaders Friday, forcefully demanded a “robust and affordable” new government-run health insurance plan be part of healthcare reform.
That would be the Progressive Caucus teaming up with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus trying to counterbalance the Blue Dogs who oppose a workable public option (although several moderate Blue Dogs freaked out and diassociated themselves from the GOP talking points that were touted as the Blue Dog position). Here's the statement from the Progressive Caucus:
The Congressional Progressive Caucus stands united behind President Obama’s call to provide high quality, affordability, and accessibility in healthcare choices for all Americans. The overwhelming majority of Congressional Progressive Caucus members prefer a single-payer approach. If a single-payer plan is not enacted, we agree with President Obama that there must be a robust public health insurance option like Medicare offered alongside the private plans. This public plan would provide a guarantee of coverage, affordable, high-quality and accessible healthcare, and lower costs – regardless of income, health status, race, employment, or gender. We oppose any conditions or triggers undermining and limiting the availability of the public option.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus calls for a robust public option that must:
· Enact concurrently with other significant expansions of coverage and must not be conditioned on private industry actions.
· Consist of one entity, operated by the federal government, which sets policies and bears the risk for paying medical claims to keep administrative costs low and provide a higher standard of care.
· Be available to all individuals and employers across the nation without limitation
· Allow patients to have access to their choice of doctors and other providers that meet defined participation standards, similar to the traditional Medicare model, promote the medical home model, and eliminate lifetime caps on benefits.
· Have the ability to structure the provider rates to promote quality care, primary care, prevention, chronic care management, and good public health.
· Utilize the existing infrastructure of successful public programs like Medicare in order to maintain transparency and consumer protections for administering processes including payment systems, claims and appeals.
· Establish or negotiate rates with pharmaceutical companies, durable medical equipment providers, and other providers to achieve the lowest prices for consumers.
· Receive a level of subsidy and support that is no less than that received by private plans.
· Ensure premiums must be priced at the lowest levels possible, not tied to the rates of private insurance plans.
In conclusion, the public plan, like all other qualified plans, must redress historical disparities in underrepresented communities. It must provide a standard package of comprehensive benefits including dental, vision, mental health and prescription drug coverage with no pre-existing condition exclusions. It must limit cost-sharing so that there are no barriers to care, and incorporate up-to-date best practice models to improve quality and lower costs. All plans, including the public plan, must include coverage for evidence-based preventive health services at minimal or no co-pay. All plans, including the public plan, should be at least as transparent as traditional Medicare.
I want to leave off today by urging you to watch the Bill Moyers piece below. There is nothing that I've seen that better explains the debate over health care reform now. Watch it and you'll be an expert on what this is all about. One thing before you do. Yesterday I finished reading Russ Baker's truly extraordinary opus, Family of Secrets and something he said in summation haunted me all night:
· Presidents have a lot less power and independence than I had assumed. Party affiliation is not a major factor in this regard.
· Initiating reforms or standing up to powerful interests can invite retribution of a kind that I had not imagined. Presidents are subject not only to pressure but to entrapment, blackmail, and even, in one way or another, [extra-constitutional] removal.
UPDATE: Is It Too Late To Save Health Care Reform?
Yesterday Robert Reich warned of the same dangers we've talking about here-- how the Medical-Industrial Complex and their congressional shills like the entire GOP and Baucus, Specter, Bayh and Nelson, plan to kill health care reform. He thinks it may not be too late to save something. I think he's wrong; if we can't even make a lapdog to big Pharma like Arlen Specter toxic enough so that corporate shills like Biden and Rendell would be afraid to embrace him, we have no clout at all; might as well bend over and take it like a man and hope they use a lot of grease. "Big Pharma and Big Insurance," writes Reich "are gaining ground in their campaign to kill the public option in the emerging health care bill... They argue that would be unfair. Unfair? Unfair to give more people better health care at lower cost? To Pharma and Insurance, 'unfair' is anything that undermines their profits."
One of their proposals is to break up the public option into small pieces under multiple regional third-party administrators that would have little or no bargaining leverage. A second is to give the public option to the states where Big Pharma and Big Insurance can easily buy off legislators and officials, as they've been doing for years. A third is bind the public plan to the same rules private insurers have already wangled, thereby making it impossible for the public plan to put competitive pressure on the insurers.
Max Baucus, Chair of Senate Finance (now exactly why does the Senate Finance Committee have so much say over health care?) hasn't shown his cards but staffers tell me he's more than happy to sign on to any one of these. But Baucus is waiting for more support from his colleagues, and none of the three proposals has emerged as the leading candidate for those who want to kill the public option without showing they're killing it. Meanwhile, Ted Kennedy and his staff are still pushing for a full public option, but with Kennedy ailing, he might not be able to round up the votes. (Kennedy's health committee released a draft of a bill today, which contains the full public option.)
Enter Olympia Snowe. Her move is important, not because she's Republican (the Senate needs only 51 votes to pass this) but because she's well-respected and considered non-partisan, and therefore offers some cover to Democrats who may need it. Last night Snowe hosted a private meeting between members and staffers about a new proposal Pharma and Insurance are floating, and apparently she's already gained the tentative support of several Democrats (including Ron Wyden and Thomas Carper). Under Snowe's proposal, the public option would kick in years from now, but it would be triggered only if insurance companies fail to bring down healthcare costs and expand coverage in he meantime.
Tom Caper is the vice Chair of the DLC. You can be sure that anything controversial that Tom Carper supports is toxic for working families and pre-approved by his corporate patrons. Big Insurance has poured $451,724 into Carper's career and Big Pharma, HMOs and other pieces of the Medical-Industrial Complex even more. He's on the take and there is no way to ever get ourselves out of the morass we're in short of defeating crooks like Carper.
You want real health care reform? There's one way to do it. Take a pledge to vote against incumbents like Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), John McCain (R-AZ), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jim Bunning (R-KY), David Diapers Vitter (R-LA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Jim DeMint (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), and Robert Bennett (R-UT) next year. That would get the attention of the rest of the Senate so fast that we'd have the best medical system in the world within months. Or maybe Obama will crack the whip and show some tough leadership. There's not a more important issue to keep the powder dry for.