Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hooray For Our Side

Dave Collins

March 23rd I awoke to a deluge of reports and op-ed pieces proclaiming the “historic” victory for the forces of democracy and the well being of the 90% of men, women, and children in the United States that own less than 30% of its wealth. The passage by a vote of 219 to 212 of this glorious reform legislation has been seized on and is being celebrated by a great many of Democrats, “progressives,” “liberals,” “leftists,” and the majority of the pundits who purport to represent those political segments of this nation.

Makes me want to puke.

For me, what has just transpired at the hand of the President and the actions of Congress, and all the blather that has followed, is testimony to how pathetically distant this nation is from either a democratic republic or a humane society.

Please consider just a few of what, appears to me, to be obvious facts. First, and most obviously, this nation will continue to stand alone in the world of so-called developed nations (and most “developing” ones). We are the only one where the only way for the vast majority of the public under age 65 to seek financial protection from the ever rising costs of health care is by paying money to a private corporation required by law to put profit above all other concerns. But wait, “health care reform” goes one better; it makes it a federal crime to decline to purchase one of these “products.”

The revelers protest, “Well, our heroes made sure those health insurance corporations can’t turn you down for a pre-existing condition.” Whoopee! They forget to mention that there does not appear to be a single word that prevents those for-profit insurance companies from jacking the rates on all us poor slobs unfortunate enough not to make it all the way to the grave without some chronic illness. See, here in Texas , I get to buy insurance in spite of my “pre-existing condition.” No sweat. I get coverage, though with an astronomical deductible, severe limitation on how much reimbursed care I can get in one year and – drum roll, rim shot – by state law the corporation must charge me twice the prevailing market rate for that coverage, regardless of how much or little use I make of my “insurance.” Of course, all the taxpayers in Texas get the opportunity to kick in a few bucks for some hidden and mysterious subsidy paid by the state to the insurer as a bribe to “only” charge me that double rate. Sweet deal. Probably see more of that now.

“Yeah, but the President cut a deal with the health care industries and they are going to drive out a whole bunch of cost over the next 10 years,” protest the celebrating pundits and their acolytes. Oh. Was that deal recorded in the legislation with harsh fines and penalties if they fail to deliver? [Nope] But hey, we can trust those good profit hungry folks to keep their word. Wink, wink,

“Look, Rome wasn’t built in a day; this is a first step and soon we’ll be in the land of milk, honey and single-payer coverage,” protest the cheerleaders for the victorious team. Riiiiight. When we are offered examples of how this wonderful incremental approach has delivered the goods in the past, it seems the examples have all exceeded their “sell-by dates” by a few decades. News flash. The reason the only thing that could be squeezed out of Congress is a massive corporate give away cloaked by faux reform is that when incrementalism worked in the past, corporations did not own both political parties. They do now. Stay tuned; the mighty Supremes (not the ones from Motown) made it sooo much easier for Big Pharma and Big Insurance and Big Hospitals and Big Banks and all the rest of the Too Big to Fail Gang to simply buy their politicians outright without the bother of all the silly games. Games like the executives paying themselves bonuses they then use to fund their contributions to their corporate PACs; the cover story [currently] required to make the deal go down. Yeah, no sweat, it’s all gonna get better, don’t you know.

So, the for-profit insurance companies now have a federally enforced monopoly (very literally since in some areas one corporation controls as much as 80% of the market [e.g., Blue Cross in Oklahoma and California]). Repeal of the federal law allowing that literal monopoly was once a topic of reform promises and fevered discussion. Hear about that lately? Didn’t think so.

What about the underlying cost of health care? We never see much in the papers or on TV about how the US compares to the rest of the world in cost per person for health care. Once the watered down, likely DOA in the marketplace “public option” was stricken from the “debate,” so was any remaining discussion of the fact that a person here pays a whole lot more than a person in any of those other countries. You know, the ones with the demon socialized medicine. In some cases we pay twice as much. And, across the board, by every accepted measure, those folks in the other countries are healthier. So, what is the program to attack that little problem? Well, we have that promise from the corporations, the one with no teeth. And then we have…squat.

Just a couple more.

Are you on Medicare? Well, one slight-of-hand maneuver that is part of the historic reform is to find money in Medicare to offset the costs of subsidies to folks too damn poor to buy those for-profit products.

Congress and the President do not intend to cover all the cost of subsidies by stealing from Medicare. The industry must chip in also. Pharma, health delivery and health insurance corporations will be taxed. Now, how should we assume those corporations will cover the cost of these taxes? Well, they could cut into profits. None starter, huh? Or, they could cut into executive compensation. Sure, two days after hell freezes over. So, about the only remaining option is - jack the price of the product to cover the subsidies. Pretty nifty shell game, ain’t it?

There are other gems in this magnificent work of what the FT. Worth paper called the “Work of Decades” in its above the fold headline. For example, there is what happened to reproductive rights for women. The cheerleaders shout and the audience cheers. In the immortal words of Will Rogers, “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and poor can always be counted on to help with the job.”

Those cheerleaders for the centrist wing of the Corporatist Party are tossing their pom-poms and shouting the cheers. Their team has scored a touchdown for the team owners. But, the owners know that if the players in our sports metaphor laden excuse for a political process ain’t pounding on one another, we might lose interest and maybe start demanding new bread and new circuses. So, the right wing of the Corporatist Party is busy designing new plays and the cheer squad is practicing new cheers and the game goes on. Meanwhile, us suckers just keep paying and dying, but we do neither quite so fast as the insurance companies would prefer.

Sorry. Gotta run, I feel the dry heaves coming on.

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