Annual Fundraising Appeal
Over the course of 21 years, we’ve published many unflattering stories about Henry Kissinger. We’ve recounted his involvement in the Chilean coup and the illegal bombings of Cambodia and Laos; his hidden role in the Kent State massacre and the genocide in East Timor; his noxious influence peddling in DC and craven work for dictators and repressive regimes around the world. We’ve questioned his ethics, his morals and his intelligence. We’ve called for him to be arrested and tried for war crimes. But nothing we’ve ever published pissed off HK quite like this sequence of photos taken at a conference in Brazil, which appeared in one of the early print editions of CounterPunch.
100716HenryKissingerNosePicking
The publication of those photos, and the story that went with them, 20 years ago earned CounterPunch a global audience in the pre-web days and helped make our reputation as a fearless journal willing to take the fight to the forces of darkness without flinching. Now our future is entirely in your hands. Please donate.

Day12Fixed

Yes, these are dire political times. Many who optimistically hoped for real change have spent nearly five years under the cold downpour of political reality. Here at CounterPunch we’ve always aimed to tell it like it is, without illusions or despair. That’s why so many of you have found a refuge at CounterPunch and made us your homepage. You tell us that you love CounterPunch because the quality of the writing you find here in the original articles we offer every day and because we never flinch under fire. We appreciate the support and are prepared for the fierce battles to come.

Unlike other outfits, we don’t hit you up for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it.

CounterPunch’s website is supported almost entirely by subscribers to the print edition of our magazine. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads.

The continued existence of CounterPunch depends solely on the support and dedication of our readers. We know there are a lot of you. We get thousands of emails from you every day. Our website receives millions of hits and nearly 100,000 readers each day. And we don’t charge you a dime.

Please, use our brand new secure shopping cart to make a tax-deductible donation to CounterPunch today or purchase a subscription our monthly magazine and a gift sub for someone or one of our explosive  books, including the ground-breaking Killing Trayvons. Show a little affection for subversion: consider an automated monthly donation. (We accept checks, credit cards, PayPal and cold-hard cash….)
cp-store

or use
pp1

To contribute by phone you can call Becky or Deva toll free at: 1-800-840-3683

Thank you for your support,

Jeffrey, Joshua, Becky, Deva, and Nathaniel

CounterPunch
 PO Box 228, Petrolia, CA 95558

A Predatory System

The Health Insurance Monopoly

by DON MONKERUD

Like pathetic knights of another era jousting at windmills, industry shrills attack health care reform, claiming it "tramples individual liberty" and stifles "free enterprise."

Far from protecting individual liberty or promoting free enterprise, these forces uphold monopoly control of health care insurance that has a stranglehold on American consumers. And they pay huge sums to control the debate and twist legislation to their advantage.

Since 1998, over 400 mergers left two conglomerates in control of the huge health care insurance industry. Mergers allowed insurers to raise prices, buy influence in Congress, and redistribute cost savings to shareholders. Consolidation increased rapidly. Between 2004 and 2005, 28 health care mergers, valued at $53 billion, outpaced the number of health care mergers in the previous eight years combined.

Low interest rates, leverage and lax anti-trust enforcement by the Bush Administration allowed conglomerates to take control of the health insurance in the U.S. A 2009 report from Fortune Magazine reveals that the revenue of the top two companies account for $142 billion or 36 percent of the health care insurance market, while the top four gross $202 billion, almost three quarters of all health insurance.

"During the Bush administration, there were no enforcement actions against health insurers’ anticompetitive, deceptive or fraudulent conduct," David Balto, senior fellow, Center for American Progress, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in July 2009. "There was tremendous consolidation in the market, and the Justice Department simply required minor restructuring of two mergers. There were no cases against anticompetitive conduct by health insurers."

Health insurance monopolies do business under pseudonyms to hide their identities and project a false impression of competition in the industry. The largest, UnitedHealth Group, reported $81 billion in revenue in 2008 and sold products under such names as OptumHealth, Ovations and AmeriChoice. WellPoint, the second largest, has revenues of $61 billion and insures 35 million people under Unicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Concentration is even greater on a state-by-state basis.

A 2006 study by the AMA found that health insurance is "highly concentrated" in 94 percent of the states, and in a majority of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas a single insurer controlled more than half the business. A 2007 study by Health Care for America Now found that in 38 states, the top two insurers control 57 percent or more of the market, and in 15 states one insurer controlled 60 percent or more of the market.

Facing the monopoly power of UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, smaller firms cannot compete: Aetna ranks third with $31 billion in revenue, and Humana is fourth with $29 billion. Of the 14 health care insurers, the smallest eight have yearly revenue of less than $12 billion.

Such concentration stands in stark contrast to a "free enterprise" system where companies compete to lower costs and provide consumer choices. Instead, monopoly control raises prices unilaterally and controls every aspect of clients’ health care. No wonder insurance premiums increased an average of 87 percent in the past six years, according to FamiliesUSA.

Economists point out that most wage increases went to pay for health insurance from 2000 to 2009. For example: In New York, the cost of health insurance increased 93 percent, while wages increased 14 percent; in California, health insurance increased 109 percent, while wages increased 26 percent; and in Texas, health insurance rose 80 percent, while wages rose 11 percent. Insurers also have "monopsony" power to dictate prices and coverage terms to hospitals and doctors, with profits redistributed to shareholders. Profits increased apace.

According to SEC filings, the major health insurers increased their profits over 400 percent from 2000 to 2008. Overall, profits rose from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $13 billion in 2007. CEOs were paid accordingly; their pay reaching 468 times that of the average American worker, with money left over to lobby against reforms.

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the health care industry paid almost $400 million to politicans in state governments in the past six years. The Center for Responsible Politics discovered the industry spent over $1 billion in the past two years to oppose real reform. As the debate progressed, important consumer protection provisions were whittled away.

"Although the overwhelming majority of the American people support it, there’s no public option, no end of the anti-trust exemption for the health insurance industry, no option for people over 55 to buy into Medicare, no ability of the government to negotiate drug prices or import cheaper drugs from Canada, and no real regulation of health insurance premiums," said Zack Kaldveer, spokesman for the Consumer Federation of California. "Yet, Congress is mandating everyone to purchase an overpriced product from a corrupt system. If premiums continue to rise, we’ll be stuck wasting money on an unsustainable health care system."

The insurance monopoly is pouring millions of dollars into creating misleading catchwords, carefully chosen to guide our opinions. Reforms are needed to protect consumers from a vast monopoly, slowly draining our paychecks into for-profit conglomerates. Without strict controls over these monopolies, we will be stuck with the same old predatory system.

DON MONKERUD is an California-based writer who follows cultural, social and political issues. He can be reached at monkerud@cruzio.com.