Scare Tactics, Spin and Health Care


Liberals are on a mission to convince a skeptical public the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (known by the last three letters, ACA) should not only be supported, it’s actually a good piece of legislation, a step in the right direction. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In their article on the website Salon.com last month titled “A Practical Guide Forward for Progressives on Health Care,” authors Ellen R. Shaffer and Judy Norsigian admonish health care activists, particularly supporters of single-payer, for not enthusiastically promoting the ACA. Then they warn if we don’t stop “simmering” because we’re “convinced that it [the ACA] did too much for private insurers and too little for average Americans,” we’re playing into the “right’s hand.”   

It is incomprehensible how two long-standing feminists, articulate champions of a women’s right to control their bodies, Norsigian’s Our Bodies Ourselves — a seminal book that launched the movement for women’s rights in health care — could compromise away their core values and beliefs and shill for a piece of legislation that further restricts women’s reproductive rights. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment should have been an automatic deal breaker for anyone pro-choice. In a second slap in the face to women, President Obama signed an executive order ensuring no federal money could be used for elective abortions even though the Hyde Amendment already guarantees it. Shaffer and Norsigian should have been outraged at Obama’s placating of anti-abortion fanatics. These fierce advocates for women’s health should have publicly denounced and withdrawn their support for the misogynist legislation. Instead, they supported the Democrats who bargained away a woman’s right to control her own body to rabid Blue Dogs and religious plankton, thus eroding abortion rights even further.  

No mention of the restriction on abortion in their article (except to say they were “disappointed”), or the life changing impact it will have on women, especially poor women. Instead they recommend: “Progressives should appreciate that he [Obama] overcame obstacles that have sunk every reform effort over the past 10 years and managed to sign a bill into law.” 

Shaffer and Norsigian, in one of America’s longest and most politically toxic traditions aimed exclusively at the left, tell us to suck it up, stop criticizing the president, the Democratic Party and inadequate legislation no matter how disgusted or disappointed you feel. Or else! Or else you, yes you the two women write, are “… handing control of the country back to the most extremist Republican Party in history.”

Really? More extreme than Reagan or the Bushes?   

When Democrats in power sell out to corporate interests, pass legislation that falls far short of campaign promises and their populist rhetoric resonates less and less with an angry electorate, “progressives” in the Democratic Party set themselves two tasks: scare and spin. They create panic and fear of the Republican Party regaining congressional seats, the presidency and exaggerate, lie (or lies of omission) about the effects of reform legislation.

The passage of the ACA is a classic example. In the end, desperate for a victory no matter how hollow, establishment liberals were willing to concede anything in order to pass anything.

Norsigian and Shaffer assert the insurance industry is “predatory, dishonest and parasitic” and admit “we would be better off without it.” They’re right, but they don’t believe it’s possible to put them out of business. Instead, we must always and everywhere be vigilant, forever engaged in thousands of battles against every insurer, in every state, as well as ready to fight with employers who eliminate benefits, increase cost sharing, discriminate against women or drop coverage.

These separate battles have been going on for decades. It’s a divide and conquer loser strategy. The predatory, dishonest and parasitic insurance industry has to be eliminated. That is the lesson we have learned the hard way over decades in this country and that is the prerequisite to create the health care system Norsigian and Shaffer say they want. Yet the authors were not active in the nation-wide, grassroots single-payer movement. Instead they supported the public option: another dead end proposal and diversion from the struggle for single-payer.

Their article struggles unconvincingly and in a patronizing tone to convince those of us who wanted fundamental change (single-payer) to abandon that goal and work to improve the ACA.

Norsigian and Shaffer tell us there are four myths about the legislation that have duped us into less than sanguine support of ACA.

Myth: “Progressive activists should ignore or undermine the new law which will get us to single payer more quickly.”

Single-payer activists aren’t ignoring the new law, we are vocal critics of it. We unapologetically opposed the passage of the ACA because it enriches and further entrenches the insurance industry. Our mission is to continue exposing insurance company abuses. It’s not hard to do because of their sheer audacity. A few days after the bill was signed, insurers argued coverage of children with disabilities wouldn’t begin immediately as President Obama had publicly announced. In Massachusetts, the predators tried to increase premiums up to 30 percent. This month Obama summoned the parasites to a private meeting at the Whitehouse and warned them not to use the bill “as an opportunity to enact unjustifiable rate increases that don’t boost care and inflate their bottom lines.” Does anyone believe the insurers won’t?    

Ron Pollack of Families USA, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the remnants of Health Care for America Now (HCAN) have launched a national campaign to sell the bill to the public. Single-payer supporters need to be similarly engaged but in the opposite direction, to expose and explain the not-so-fine print of the ACA: no caps on premiums; allows for gender rating in large group plans with more than 100 hundred employees; permits employers and insurers to charge three times more based on age and certain health conditions; Stupak-Pitts anti-abortion amendment; and millions of undocumented immigrants denied health care.     

Myth: “The new law won’t save money because the insurance industry is still standing.”   

The reality is the legislation cannot control costs. The cost drivers of the current system remain in place: no regulation on insurance premiums; excessive and wasteful administrative costs; Medicare forbidden to negotiate drug prices; and outrageous insurance and pharmaceutical profits.

Myth: “The insurance industry is still standing because President Obama made a backroom deal.”

Norsigan and Shaffer argue Obama made transparent-to the-public deals with the insurance and drug industries. What planet are they on? The fact is Obama, Kennedy, and Baucus met privately and made deals with America’s Health Insurance Plan’s (AHIP) CEO Karen Ignagi and Billy Tauzin, the former CEO of PhRMA. C’mon. The health industry spent $3 billion lobbying members of Congress from 2008-2009. That money buys behind the scenes access, influence and agreements. Like a thief in the night, Tauzin went to the Whitehouse and demanded and got from President Obama the extension of patents for biotech drugs to 12 years; no drug reimportation from Canada; and no negotiating for drug prices in the Medicare program. I don’t recall the health care summit at the Whitehouse with all the “players” at the table, cameras flashing and videos recording when that billion dollar deal went down.  

Myth: “The country is ready to go for a Medicare-for-all single-payer system, run by the government.”

The authors believe the public has “mixed feelings about the government.” Not according to numerous polls.

A Kaiser Poll in July, 2009 found 58 percent of Americans support “A national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare for all.” Another Kaiser poll found 49 percent of Americans support “Having all Americans get their insurance from a single government plan.” Doctors want single-payer, too. In 2008, a survey of physicians in the Annals of Internal Medicine found 59% agreed either “strongly” or “generally” with the statement: “In principle, do you support or oppose government legislation to establish national health insurance.”

The authors have “mixed feelings” about a single-payer, government-run health system, it’s not the American people.

At the end of the article the authors assert, “With the new law, we have won policy space to further challenge corporate control, including control of the health care system.” Again, what planet are Shaffer and Norsigian on? How does giving the predatory, dishonest and parasitic insurance industry $447 billion in taxpayer money and a mandate to punish those who don’t buy their defective product help our side to challenge or control them?

John Nichols, a liberal writer for The Nation and some time supporter of single-payer, engages in scare and spin, too. In his article titled, “The Unexpected Winning Issue for Democrats: Healthcare,” he warns Republicans are gearing up to repeal the ACA. Nichols reports Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina still has a “Repeal It!” petition on her campaign website. We’re supposed to be afraid of that? Republican nutjob Ron Johnson who is challenging Russ Feingold is a credible threat to overturning the legislation because he asserts, “The health care bill is the greatest assault on our freedom in my lifetime. It must be repealed.” Please! LOL.

Scare tactics applied, Nichols goes on to celebrate a recent poll showing increased support for the ACA, “as imperfect as it may be.” Imperfect is an understatement. Moreover, he’s happy 51 percent of Americans trust Democrats to do a better job [than Republicans] of responding to health care issues. Should undocumented workers, women who want abortions and the 23 million who still won’t be insured in 2019 trust the Democrats?  

Nichols counsels, “Smart Democrats will run as savvy backers of reform who talk about it as a first step…” The legislation is not a first step, it is a step backwards and to argue otherwise is simply dishonest.  

Millions of Americans don’t support the bill because they don’t understand its implications (it’s 2000-pages and regulations are still be written), or they flat out reject the ACA because it doesn’t go far enough; it’s not change they can believe in. And those who oppose the bill are not all Teabaggers, either.

Ultimately for liberals like Shaffer, Norsigian and Nichols the reelection of Democrats trumps the needs of Americans literally dying for fundamental health care reform. Years from now when the ACA is completely discredited and understood as yet another failed attempt to reform the health care system, liberals that engaged in scare and spin tactics and provided cover for a very bad bill that betrays the majority of people will have much to answer for.   

HELEN REDMOND is a single-payer activist with the Chicago Single-Payer Action Network. She can be reached at: redmondmadrid@yahoo.com






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