Health Care Reform : ‘This Won’t Hurt a Bit’

Cartoon by Puckett from Stand Up For America.

Congress’ health care fix:
Cure worse than the disease?

By Dr. Stephen R. Keister / The Rag Blog / January 4, 2010

“History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control of government.” — James Madison (With thanks to Steve Berry, The Paris Vendetta)

Christmas arrived with the much publicized terrorist “almost” incident in Detroit, thus giving Fox News and the Republicans another issue to distort and with which to further spread fear among the American public. This worked quite well for Bush/Cheney in 2001; however, perhaps, just perhaps, the American people will have a more mature, more sophisticated reaction to the present episode.

Chart from Firedoglake.

Firedoglake published an article that helps to put the situation into perspective. It charts selected causes of death in the United States for 2009 as follows:

  1. Lack of insurance 45,000
  2. Traffic related 43,000
  3. Unintentional falls 20,000
  4. Firearm homicide 12,000
  5. Swine flu 10,000
  6. Salmonella 1000
  7. Terrorism 16.

With that in mind we return to the ongoing discussion of health care reform, while asking if the pending legislation before Congress will indeed reduce those 45,000 deaths or whether it is, as it has been called by some, “The Health Insurance Enrichment Act.”

In recent days the progressive press has placed more and more attention on the bill’s potential encroachment upon our civil liberties through mandating that an individual be forced by fiat to purchase health insurance from American’s for profit insurance cartel.

An article on Firedoglake by emptywheel entitled “Health Care on the Road to Neo-Feudalism” tells us that “the bill, if it becomes law, would legally require a portion of Americans to pay more than 20% of the fruits of their labor to a private corporation in exchange for 70% of their health care costs.” The author continues,

Consider a family of four making $66,150 — a family at 300% of the poverty level and therefore, hypothetically, at least ‘subsidized.’ That family would be expected to pay $6482.70 (in today’s dollars) for premiums — or $540 a month. But the family could be required to pay $7973 for copays and so on. So if that family had a significant — but not catastrophic — medical event, it would be asked to pay the insurer almost 22% of its income to cover health care.

Senate Democrats are requiring middle class families to give the proceeds of a month of their work to a private corporation — one allowed to make 15% or maybe even 25% profit on the proceeds of their labor. It is one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes — to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have 25% of that go for paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the companies CEOs.

Previously on The Rag Blog I have suggested that legislation requiring Americans to buy from a private corporation is unconstitutional.. This question again arises in an article by Ellen Hodgson Brown, J.D. , published in Truthout. Ms. Brown is not a newcomer to the health care discussion; she is co-author of a Forbidden Medicine, Natures Pharmacy, and The Key To Ultimate Health.

Ms. Brown says:

The health reform bills now coming through Congress are not focused on how to make health care cheaper or more effective, how to eliminate waste and fraud or how to cut out expensive middlemen. As originally envisioned, the public option, would have pursued those goals. But the public option has been dropped from the Senate bill and radically watered down in the House bill.

Rather than focusing on making health care affordable, the bills focus on how to force people either to buy health insurance if they don’t have it, or to pay more for it if they do. If you don’t have health insurance and don’t purchase it, you will be subject to a hefty fine. And if you do purchase it, premiums, co-pays, co-insurance payments and deductibles are liable to keep health care cripplingly expensive. Most of the people who don’t have health care can’t afford to pay the deductibles, so they will never use the plans they have been forced to buy.

The author continues,

…compulsory health insurance is like compulsory selective military service (the draft), except that all our numbers have come up. The argument has been made that auto insurance is compulsory so why not health insurance? But the obvious response is that you can choose to drive a car. The only way to escape the vehicle we call a body is to give up the ghost.

Terrance Heath’s lengthy and well-written article at Campaign for America’s Future entitled “The Window or the Stairs: Kill the Mandate or Kill the Bill,” makes this point:

My take is that it is unconscionable to force people to buy a product from a private insurer that enjoys sanctioned monopoly status. It’d be forcing everyone to attend baseball games, but instead of watching the Yankees, they were forced to watch the Kansas City Royals. Or Washington Nationals. It would effectively be a tax — and a huge one — paid directly to a private industry.

Where are the civil libertarians regarding this issue? Where is the ACLU, of which I have been a member for years? Perhaps the ACLU had best forget complaining about total body scanning at our airports and redirect its attention to this much larger issue of personal rights. I prefer to be safe when flying, and did not object to a strip search by El-Al in London some 25-30 years ago. And I did not object to El-Al’s “profiling” that had nothing to do with race or ethnic background, nor to the extra stewards on the flights, well aware that these gentlemen were subtly armed, en route from Kennedy to Tel Aviv, or Tel Aviv to London.

Jane Hampshire in FireDogLake cites reasons that the Senate Bill is unfriendly to the Average American, including the fact that it will be paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer. It will cause the employers to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.

Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits until 2014 when the program begins. It allows insurance companies to charge older people 300% more than others and grants monopolies to drug companies that keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market. It doesn’t allow importation of prescription drugs, which could save consumers $100 billion over 10 years. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year.

We must remember that this legislation, especially the Senate version, is to a great extent the product of lobbyists for the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group, blames a “toxic cocktail of insiders and money” for short-circuiting a government-run plan that would have competed with private insurers.

Health industry contributions to congressional candidates have more than doubled so far this decade, rising to $127 million in the 2008 election cycle from $56 million in the 2000 election, with disproportionate sums going to the party in power and to members of committees that oversee health care, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

If indeed this legislation passes without placing the health insurance industry under the Fair Trade Act, the entire exercise is a sham and a farce. There will be no restrictions on price fixing and collusion among the health insurance carriers. The idea that a few government regulators can control these predators is absurd. Each insurance giant will outmatch the regulators by a personnel ratio of at least 20:1 in defining methods to bypass the regulations and maintain their profits. One can imagine a high school football team playing the New England Patriots. The American public is once again being scammed by their corporate masters and their elected prostitutes.

There is nothing in this legislation that frees the physician to do his duty without interference from the insurance industry. Nothing to free the family doctor from overburdening paper work when he should have that time for seeing the sick. Health care will continue to be rationed to the consumer by the executives and stockholders of the health insurance cartel. The pharmaceutical industry will continue to overcharge the American public and to deprive many folks of lesser means of the medications which they need.

It is not a pretty picture. Our elective representatives have, without shame, taken their constituents to the cleaners.

[Dr. Stephen R. Keister lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. He is a retired physician who is active in health care reform. His writing appears regularly on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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6 Responses to Health Care Reform : ‘This Won’t Hurt a Bit’

  1. I love the chart in this article. Of course, how the researchers could possibly determine that had an individual received care, their illnesses would have been controlled such that they would not have died, is a mystery.

    I have had friends and relatives that received all the treatment in the world died anyway from their illnesses. I guess the smart folks at Harvard have a magic bean they can consult to tell the difference.

    But the chart did give me an idea. PHCR (post healthcare reform) I plan to create a website dedicated to publishing the same statistics with comparisons, pre and post HCR. I also plan to track the number of people that die or are permanently injured because they had to wait longe to get into a doctors office to receive treatment. I might be able to also throw in the number of people that die because the care they need is now rationed.

    I need a catchy name. Something like, “Obama Lied and This Many People Died” index. Or maybe, “I spent 2 Trillion Dollars and It Didnt Save Anyone” index.

    I will forward Dr Keister the link so he can keep the RagBlog readers updated.

  2. Fed Up says:

    What is really scary about this “health care” “reform” is that our leaders had a chance to do something cost effective and productive (single payer) and instead, they heaped more abuse on the working poor to buoy up a system that did not work in the first place and cannot be fixed.

    We are going to collapse, because our leaders are insanely stupid, and that is not going to be any fun. And it will not be the first time this has occurred, either. What do they say: First time tragedy, second time farce?

  3. Anonymous says:

    To all,
    What I guess is required is a really good statistician, unbiased by politics or profit. Just bring out the odds of positive or negative response to
    various levels of “reform”.

  4. I am a believer in the 80/20 rule. Paraphrased, it says that one can often get 80% of the beneits/value for 20% of the work/cost.

    I am convinced and will say again that an 80/20 approach to HCR would have yielded a far better outcome, and avoided much of the stagering cost and partisan trench warfare that ensued. HCR would have been done months ago, and other issues could have received due attention. Obama would have some political capital left in what is now a pretty barren political bank account.

    The Democrats made the same mistake on 2009 that the Republicans did in 1995. They won the House and Senate and then took off on an idealogical tangent thinking that their newly minted “mandate” would protect them from failure. It did not work in 94 nor in 2009 and it wont work in 2010-12.

    Given the deep wounds that have been opened over HCR, i doubt that a pragmatic approach to governing is possible in Obama’s remaining years. His vaunted postpartisan approach to leadership turned out to be just another hollow campaign promise. Its a shame, much could have been accomplished.

  5. Steve says:

    It is ironic how the conservatives are quick to cry foul and whine about “socialized healthcare” while their voice-box puppets write the bills to institutionalize corporate insurance giveaways, freedom from anti-trust laws, freedom from negotiating volume drug discounts and sole-source Big PhRMA by restricting imports. The USA healthcare profit model is a giant too big to fail and thus it is too big to exist. As long as the corporate foxes are watching the henhouse they will be happy, fat and pregnant.

    Wall Street social bailouts and social tax reform for the rich were bad enough with the last Republican Administration. Now we turn a muted voice, a blind eye and deaf ear to the manipulation and lies on healthcare and have surgically remove the truth of the insatiable windfall the industry will reap. As long as our “representatives” keep their campaign war chests filled by the industry that will benefit it is business as usual – not healthcare delivery. It is the socialized corporate resuscitation 101 treatment and transferable with the current Democratic Administration. No, it’s not “CHANGE”; it’s RAPE!

    Yes, it’s freedom all right in America; freedom for profit to run roughshod over US. The individual, employers, our limited economic growth and our children’s grandchildren will pay for it. Healthcare profit rules over healthcare delivery and it is again not a right but a privilege. So much for the best medical innovation if it can not be delivered. So much for “democracy” if it has to be bought and sold to the highest corporate bidder. We are the saps who are dying on Main Street because we have not been able to get to the doctor in time. But even if we do, the expert doctor will say, “Oh yes, we have the cure.” But most likely ask, “Do you have any insurance?”

    Take profit out of healthcare delivery. Medicare for all or bust!

  6. Anonymous says:

    You note the cost of a “significant but not catastrophic medical event” at say $6,000 + co-pays. A steep price yes. But, without insurance the option could be bankruptcy or death.

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