Annual Fundraising Appeal

Here’s an important message to CounterPunch readers from Chris Hedges….

Hedges2

Chris Hedges calls CounterPunch “the most fearless, intellectually rigorous and important publication in the United States.” Who are we to argue? But the only way we can continue to “dissect the evils of empire” and the “psychosis of permanent war” is with your financial support. Please donate.

Day5

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….)

paypal-donate-21

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

Putting Profits Over People

The Truth About ObamaCare

by BURKELY HERMANN

It’s not a government takeover of medicine. It’s the privatization of health care. If you took George H. W. Bush’s health plan and removed the label, you’d think it was Obamacare. If you thought a single-payer advocate would say these words, you’d be wrong. It was Republican lobbyist Tom Scully speaking to a room of fifty large Wall Street investors as quoted in a recent article by Wall Street-funded business journalist Adam Davidson,[1] in the New York Times Magazine.

Davidson continued, writing that Scully promised that  millions would sign up for insurance, and that “the law was going to make some people very rich…With the…savvy investors could help underwrite innovative companies specifically designed to profit from the law,” while he still personally was “ambivalent about the Affordable Care Act.” [2] Davidson added that “billions could flow from Washington to Wall Street.” This seemed like a rich guy’s dream come true.

Stewart Alexander, Socialist Party USA’s presidential candidate for 2012 went even further, saying the law was the “corporate restructuring of the healthcare system in America, that the “the Supreme Court upheld the bad healthcare reform that will insure the profits of private healthcare companies,” and argued that “Obama’s policy was based on the original sin of allowing the pharmaceutical companies off the hook…This is no reform; it is just another corporate giveaway by the Obama administration.”[3] On reddit, one person argued when I implied that voting for Obamacare was a negative, it was just wrong.[4] This article will not only counter such views, but instead of just criticizing the law’s provisions one by one like Paul Craig Roberts has done,[5] the law will be put into context by explaining its history, and how it benefits some over others.

There is already some sense that this law was not meant for the people. Back in December 2009, Democratic politico and doctor Howard Dean declared on ABC’s Good Morning America that the law was a “bigger bailout for the insurance industry than AIG…A very small number of people are going to get any insurance at all, until 2014, if the bill works. This is an insurance company’s dream, this bill. This is the Washington scramble, and I think it’s ill-advised…[its] a whole bunch of bureaucracies and a lot of promises…at this point, the bill does more harm than good.”[6] Around the same time, came an article quoting an angry CEO of the powerful Business Roundtable, saying that “If these areas aren’t improved the reform effort will not work and we need something that works…At some point we will either know that these objectives can’t be met or can be met, and at that point we’ll make a decision.”[7] Only two months later, there was an article in The Hill noting that “any kind of government-run health insurance program would lead to higher costs for employers [according to] corporate executives.”[8]

All of these articles come from an report put out by investigative journalist David DeGraw, who wrote in February 2010 that the law was “drastically altered by Roundtable lobbyists representing interests like WellPoint, Aetna, Cigna, Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Johnson & Johnson…when it came to finishing the bill, Roundtable members began to walk away from the process. That’s the real reason why the reform bill has stalled. Obama will be meeting with the Roundtable on February 24th, in hopes of getting healthcare reform back on track.”[9] This is likely why a bunch of business groups are listed as “Opposing H.R.3590,” [10] Obamacare in 2009, but for the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010, the amended version of the law, the American Medical Association and the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) are listed as supporters.[11] This is exactly why the Green Party USA wrote in a September 2009 press release that “as long as for-profit insurance continues to exist, access to health care remains secondary to corporate middle-man profits….now that he is President, he won’t challenge the power and profits of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies…He would improve access to health insurance and reduce the number of uninsured, but at a cost of $1 trillion over ten years…Obamacare will protect drug company profits by maintaining the Bush ban on bulk purchasing of prescription drugs…Obamacare means a giant taxpayer-funded life-support system for private for-profit corporations, while Americans spend more money for less access…[while] Insurance, pharmaceutical, and other big-business lobbies pumped millions of dollars into both Democratic and Republican campaigns in the last election to buy influence.”[12]

There is something even deeper. In May 2009 as noted in a little-known article in the New York Times notes that numerous groups say they will “join President Obama on Monday in announcing their commitment to a sharp reduction in the growth of national health spending” but the White House can’t enforce the commitment.[13] The original letter , signed by the Presidents of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Hospital Association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the president-elect of the American Medical Association and the Chair of SEIU Healthcare of the Service Employees International Union, notes that

“The times demand and the nation expects that we, as health care leaders, workwith you to reform the health care system…It is critical, however, that health reform also enhance quality, improve the overall health of the population, and reduce cost growth…To achieve all of these goals, we have joined together in an unprecedented effort, as private sector stakeholders…to offer concrete initiatives that will transform the health care system…As restructuring takes hold and the population’s health improves over the coming decade, we will do our part to achieve your Administration’s goal of decreasing by 1.5 percentage points the annual health care spending growth rate…We are committed to taking action in public-private partnership to create a more stable and sustainable health care system that will achieve billions in savings through…focusing on administrative simplification, standardization, and transparency that supports effective markets… Reducing over-use and under-use of health care… Encouraging coordinated care… Reducing the cost of doing business.” [14]

The article notes that these goals mirrors the ideas noted in a proposal made in December 2009 by “America’s Health Insurance Plans, the lobby for insurers like Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth and WellPoint” which was brought to the attention of the Obama administration by “Dennis Rivera, coordinator of the health care campaign of the Service Employees International Union.” Then, there’s the words of business journalist and liberal pundit Ezra Klein, writing in May 2009 that this announcement means that “the entire medical industry [is] stepping forward and declaring themselves partners in Obama’s effort” and noted that “the fact that the White House is making a big deal of their support means it would be a big deal if they lost it.”[15]

This is only a small piece of the puzzle. In September 2009, an article by Huffington Post reporter Ryan Grim surfaced, noting that a memo “obtained by the Huffington Post confirms that the White House and the pharmaceutical lobby secretly agreed to [a] wide-ranging deal…[and] lists exactly what the White House gave up, and what it got in return. It says the White House agreed to oppose any congressional efforts to use the government’s leverage to bargain for lower drug prices or import drugs from Canada — and also agreed not to pursue Medicare rebates or shift some drugs from Medicare Part B to Medicare Part D, which would cost Big Pharma billions in reduced reimbursements. In exchange, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) agreed to cut $80 billion in projected costs to taxpayers and senior citizens over ten years.”[16] The writer continued, quoting an anonymous lobbyist who “originally received it” who told Grim that the memo “is the PhRMA deal…It was the PhRMA deal…As far as the pharmaceutical industry, PhRMA and its member companies, yes, they say a deal is a deal. We’ll see what happens.”

On top of this, there is an article in the New York Times one month earlier, saying that “the drug industry has authorized its lobbyists to spend as much as $150 million on television commercials supporting President Obama’s health care overhaul…the industry lobbyists pressed the Obama administration for public reassurances that it had agreed to cap the industry’s additional costs at $80 billion…The drug industry has already contributed millions of dollars to advertising campaigns for the health care overhaul through the advocacy groups like Healthy Economies Now and Families USA. It has spent about $1 million on similar advertisements under its own name.” [17] This connects to a wonderful piece by journalist and former columnist for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald in December 2012 about one of the architects of the bill, Elizabeth Flower. Greenwald writes that the key legislator for the law was

“the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, whose committee took the lead in drafting the legislation…the architect of that legislation was Elizabeth Folwer, his chief health policy counsel…Fowler…actually drafted it…before joining Baucus’ office as the point person for the health care bill, Fowler was the Vice President for Public Policy and External Affairs…at WellPoint, the nation’s largest health insurance provider… the bill’s mandate that everyone purchase the products of the private health insurance industry, unaccompanied by any public alternative, was a huge gift to that industry…when the Obama White House needed someone to oversee implementation of Obamacare after the bill passed, it chose . . . Liz Fowler…[She] is once again passing through the deeply corrupting revolving door as she leaves the Obama administration to return to the loving and lucrative arms of the private health care industry…[with a position at Johnson & Johnson]…[At the same time] PhRMA was one of the most aggressive supporters – and most lavish beneficiaries – of the health care bill drafted by Fowler.” [18]

Former Goldman Sachs employee and journalist Nomi Prins wrote about the law as well, on Nation of Change, writing in November 2012 that “the PPACA does nothing to restructure the health insurance industry, anymore than the Dodd-Frank Act restructures the banking industry…They are merging, consolidating, eliminating competitors, and controlling their domain. They are manufacturing power…After the Supreme Court upheld the PPACA, a spate of mergers rippled through the managed health care realm, to ostensibly cope with smaller profit margins and  ‘compliance costs.’ …And if you’re keeping score – billion[s] of dollars are flowing from insurance companies – NOT to reduce premiums to patients and NOT to reimburse doctors and NOT to enhance the quality of care, but to simply expand nationally and globally…It’s not an imaginary government takeover anyone should fear; but a very real, here-and-now insurance company takeover, to which no one in Washington is paying attention.” [19]

This isn’t all. An article in the December 2009 edition of Harper’s magazine notes interestingly that since the healthcare industry has so much power over the regulatory process, and has given more to Democrats than Republicans which caused Obama to present a deal that will “save” the insurance industry which would “collapse if the government allowed real competition.” [20] Giving some background, the author, Luke Mitchell, writes that “the insurers themselves have always favored the central elements of the Democratic plan,” with the Health Insurance Association of America (now America’s Health Insurance Plans or AHIP) announcing at the time when Hillary Clinton was formulating the Clinton healthcare plan in 1992 that “insurers would agree to sell insurance to everyone…if the government required every American to buy that insurance, and used tax dollars to subsidize those who could not afford to do so,” similar to what the insurance companies said in December 2009, announcing that they would agree to “sell their undifferentiated commodity to all people, no matter how sick, if the government agreed to require all people, no matter how healthy, to buy their undifferentiated commodity.” As a result, Mitchell concludes that “the Democratic plan looks to be a huge windfall for the insurance companies…[and] the drug companies” which is probably why the insurance executives were very angry at the Obama administration for having a defective website, since it would infringe on their profits. [21]

The corporate nature of the bill has come up other places as well.  Marshall Auerback of the Roosevelt Institute wrote in March 2010 that Obamacare “entrenches the centrality of private health insurance companies and contain no serious proposals to limit costs…[while] largely promot[ing]…the status quo by pulling more people into an expensive health care system that is managed and funded by private insurers with no countervailing government option.”[22] Over two years later, in December 2012, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship had an article published on Salon magazine which said that “after Obamacare passed, Senator Baucus himself, one of the biggest recipients in Congress of campaign cash from the health care industry, boasted that the architect of the legislation was none other than Liz Fowler. The health care industry was very pleased, too…the Senate and the White House cut deals that protected the interests of the health care industry, especially insurers and the pharmaceutical companies. Lobbyists beat back such popular proposals…and a requirement that drug companies negotiate the prices they charge.” [23]

Even Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice president of Health Care Initiatives and supporter of the law said that it wouldn’t cover all of the uninsured on Democracy Now! [24] Then, there was a rare time on TV on that horrible show with lots of shouting, CNN’s Crossfire, with Republican former business executive Carly Fiornia commenting to one of the hosts “Amazingly, I agree with absolutely everything Mr. Nader had to say in terms of the problems with this healthcare law” and most importantly, she said “…lets go back to a comment Mr. Nader made. This law was written with big insurance companies with big [drug companies]. Exactly right.” [25] This means that she agreed with consumer advocate Ralph Nader said earlier in the show: “even when it’s fully implemented, there will be about 25 million people not covered. Second, it doesn’t control cost of hospitals, drug companies, doctor practices because it’s the same fee-for-service process. Third, it’s enormously complex to administer…right from the beginning, Obama dumped the public option, which was government insurance to hold the private insurers in these exchanges feet to the fire. And right from the beginning, he was conceding to the big drug companies and big insurance companies.”

Let us not be taken in for fools. Obamacare is not for our benefit, as it keeps the insurance company profiteers in business, and makes them strong. The public option in and of itself is a deception (and a ploy) with  Robert Knutter saying that: “once the White House made this deal with the insurance companies, the public option was never going to be anything more than a fig leaf” and Yves  Smith writing that “the Administration signaled very clearly it that the public option was a mere trading chip [falsely calling it] the “public option”…an incredibly lame name, not the sort you’d ever use if you were serious about rallying public support.” [26]

On another note, there is the interesting news that corporatist John Boehner was going behind the scenes to preserve thousands of dollars of health insurance subsidies for members of Congress and Capitol Hill aides. [27] Additionally, the pre-existing condition program has ended.[28] One of the major authors of the bill, Max Baucus, has said that unless the program is implemented correctly, then it will be a “train wreck.” [29] As Margaret Flowers wrote on Black Agenda Report that “…the ACA will increase the number of people who have inadequate insurance which requires high out-of-pocket costs and does not cover all necessary services…[and that] the ACA has significantly lowered the bar for what is considered to be adequate health insurance coverage.” [30]

Let us all remember what Andy Piascik wrote in The Indypendent in June 2012 and push for it to be a reality: “…Momentum for a single payer system is far from dead, however. Like all efforts for social justice, the push for single payer received a tremendous infusion of energy from the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. Occupy has shone much-needed light on who it is that really owns this country. If that light continues to grow brighter, real health care reforms – not to mention many other necessary changes – are still a possibility.” [31]

Burkely Hermann is an activist who writes numerous blogs to educate the populace about international, local and national issues. He tries to mimic the idea of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to appeal to the common people and pushes for nonviolent direct action.

Notes.

[1] http://shameproject.com/report/adam-davidson-corrupt-wall-street-booster/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/the-president-wants-you-to-get-rich-on-obamacare.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[3] http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2012/06/29/18716571.php

[4] http://www.reddit.com/r/alltheleft/comments/1on10k/a_progressive_surge_of_deceptive_hope/cctlws5

[5] http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/05/obamacare-a-deception/ At the same time, let us not forget that “tax credits and Medicaid that are the key to expanding healthcare access to the poor, will be subject to the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits their use for abortion” as noted on Salon.  So much for a president caring about women’s reproductive rights!

[6] http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/HealthCare/howard-dean-health-care-bill-bigger-bailout-insurance/story?id=9349392&singlePage=true

[7] http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=800AD390-18FE-70B2-A82C95068798BE30

[8] http://thehill.com/homenews/house/65161-anxious-ceos-criticize-any-public-insurance-option

[9] http://ampedstatus.com/full-report-the-economic-elite-vs-the-people-of-the-united-states-of-america/#elite

[10] http://www.opencongress.org/bill/hr3590-111/bill_positions

[11] http://www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h4872

[12] http://www.gp.org/press/pr-national.php?ID=249

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/health/policy/11drug.html

[14] http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/politics/20090511_HealthGroups_Letter.pdf

[15] http://prospect.org/article/health-care-industry-obamas-side-obama-health-care-industrys-side

[16] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/13/internal-memo-confirms-bi_n_258285.html

[17] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/health/policy/09lobby.html

[18] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/05/obamacare-fowler-lobbyist-industry1

[19] http://www.nationofchange.org/reader/31971

[20] http://harpers.org/archive/2009/12/understanding-obamacare/?single=1

[21] http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2013/10/tech-surge-planned-to-fix-obamacare-website.html?mid=twitter_nymag

[22] www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/03/health-insurance-companies-happy-affordable-care-act.html

[23] http://www.salon.com/2012/12/13/obamacare_brought_to_you_by_johnson_johnson/

[24] http://www.democracynow.org/2013/9/27/decoding_obamacare_a_guide_to_new

[25] For Fiornia 3:14-3:36 and 4:29-4:35, and for Nader 1:36-1:52 and 2:25-2:37 of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=RKgCkit3uK4

[26] http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2009/12/dc-for-sale-health-care-and-financial-services-as-case-studies.html

[27] http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/john-boehner-hill-obamacare-subsidies-97634.html

[28] http://www.forbes.com/sites/gracemarieturner/2013/04/10/a-temporaray-insurance-program-foretells-exploding-obamacare-costs/

[29] http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/article/2013/aug/06/context-obamacare-train-wreck/

[30] http://blackagendareport.com/content/beyond-spin-some-facts-about-affordable-care-act

[31] http://www.indypendent.org/2012/06/05/obamacare-and-bogus-healthcare-debate