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Health Savings Accounts: a Boon to the Bosses

by FRED GARDNER

Pot Shots wants to emphasize a point merely implied by Vice President Cheney in his comments about mistaking Harry Whittington for a quail: marijuana played no part whatsoever in this episode.

So, for five days the Bush Administration had to stay “off-message” while the wags in the media snickered about the shooting accident In those five days a little item about $7 billion in tax relief for the oil companies (that just recorded the greatest profits since King Midas) came and went The Cheerleader-in-Chief was back with a vengeance on Friday, shilling for “Health Savings Accounts.” These duplicitous devices shift the basic burden of paying for healthcare from the bosses to the workers, while enabling the former to save on payroll taxes.

The biggest backers of HSAs, according to a Wall St. Journal piece Feb. 3, are “the insurance industry and the financial-services industry, which is poised to reap billions of dollars in fees from managing money squirreled away in HSAs.”

Wal-Mart and GM are among the companies promoting HSAs to their employees. The Journal noted hopefully, “Just as the 401(k) -invented as a supplemental benefit- ended up supplanting pensions, HSAs could do the same to traditional employee health insurance

“Employers decide whether to contribute money to the accounts. Even if they do contribute, the employer’s total cost for each employee in an HAS is generally lower than for a worker in a traditional health plan. For example, employers typically pay $3,284 for a single employee in a traditional insurance plan; covering the same employee in a high-deductible plan would cost $2,850

“Even if they don’t contribute a cent, employers still get tax benefits. And the more of their own pay employees set aside each year, the bigger their employers’ tax breaks. That’s because employers ordinarily have to pay a variety of payroll taxes on cash income their employees earn; these taxes fund Social Security, Medicare and state and federal unemployment programs. But under at least some HAS arrangements, employers can skip most of those taxes on employee contributions to the account, bringing the employers savings of as much as 7% to 10%, according to some estimates.”

Teflon Kills

An Environmental Protection Agency advisory group acknowledged Jan. 30 that the main ingredient in Teflon -perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA- is “likely” to cause cancer. PFOA enters the body from food cooked in Teflon pots and pans or packaged in stick-free containers; also, via microfibres from stain-resistant carpets and clothing, and fumes from nail polish. There is no avoiding indirect exposure because vast quantities of PFOA and its precursor chemicals are released into the environment in the Teflon manufacturing process. “No hidin’ place down here,” says the old song.

DuPont is the sole US manufacturer of PFOA and Teflon; 3M and the fast-food chains are major distributors. The ominous news about Teflon is being conveyed to the American people incrementally -just like the news about cigarettes and every other cancer-causing commodity- amidst denials, stalls and obfuscation from the corporations that make and sell the deadly stuff. People who keep birds have known for decades that an overheated Teflon pan can kill a canary in the next room. “Mere anecdotal evidence” said DuPont’s experts. Numerous studies have linked PFOA to cancer in lab animals, and high levels have been found in people’s blood. “The chemical hasn’t been linked to cancer in humans” was DuPont’s response to the EPA’s Jan. 30 warning, according to the Wall St. Journal. Meanwhile, out of the goodness of its corporate heart, Dupont “said it had committed to ‘virtually eliminate’ sources of exposure by 2015 and has already reduced manufacturing emissions by 94%.”

A common assumption in all these drawn-out exposes is that the deadly products cannot be withdrawn from circulation immediately. Sales are simply more important than public health. The WSJ piece on the EPA’s Teflon findings noted, “One reason PFOAs and fluoropolymer coatings are so widespread is because alternatives have been hard to develop.” But why are alternatives required? Any cook knows that cast iron, stainless steel, or enamelware, properly used and washed, is close to stick-free. The marketing of stick-free cookware by DuPont in the postwar years was a classic case of creation of demand. DuPont claimed their toxic synthetic was salubrious because it enabled cooks to use less butter, olive oil, lard, etc. “Easier to clean” was another big selling point.
“War on Terror” A Better Rationale For Militarism than “War on Drugs”

The U.S. Department of Defense has less need to rely on the War on Drugs to rationalize its funding requests now that they’ve got “terrorism.” This is made clear in Afghanistan, where poppy cultivation is again widespread as the U.S. military seeks support, or at least neutrality, from the farmers.

The DOD’s direct involvement in the War on Drugs was authorized by the coke-crazed Congress of 1988. Over the years DOD developed 179 sub-programs -building and maintaining air bases, training other countries’ troops, intelligence gathering, overflights, etc.-costing $1 billion/year and enabling the U.S. to introduce troops into some 30 countries. But the missions often involved restrictions imposed by the locals or some constitutionalists in the U.S. Congress, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his neo-con clique wanted their operatives to be able to go anywhere and do anything. Given the U.S. military’s real longterm mission -securing oil production facilities and guarding the pipelines and ports- “counter-terror” seems like a much better rationale than the WOD.

In the summer of 2002, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz issued a memo which, according to an LA Times story by Paul Richter, “said the department had ‘carefully reviewed its existing counter-narcotics policy’ because of ‘the changed national security environment, the corresponding shift in the department’s budget and other priorities, and evolving support requirements.’ The Pentagon will now focus its counter-narcotics activities on programs that, among other things, ‘contribute to the war on terrorism,’ Wolfowitz added.”

FRED GARDNER is the editor of O’Shaughnessy’s Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group. He can be reached at: fred@plebesite.com

 

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Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.com

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