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Buttigieg and McKinsey

Photograph Source: Phil Roeder – CC BY 2.0

Major questions have been raised about presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s work for global consulting firm McKinsey, with even the New York Times editorial board demanding that he release the information. After Buttigieg issued a sparse and vague overview on December 7, questions remain unanswered about his work for McKinsey from 2007 to 2010.

My recent book Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism has a major focus on McKinsey, which has long been one of the lead corporate players engaged in privatizing the world. Published in November 2016, the book sheds light on many of McKinsey’s activities, including during the time Buttigieg was employed there. It appears that Mayor Pete did indeed “drink the McKinsey Kool-Aid” on at least one issue – health care.

Turn-Around Specialist

As one of its many consulting services, McKinsey functions as a “turn-around specialist,” advising failing companies on ways to become profitable again – usually by laying off thousands of employees. But as I wrote in Beyond Banksters, “It’s important to note that apparently, there are times when a ‘turn-around specialist’ like McKinsey & Co. actually can take a functioning organization and turn it into a disaster. Or at least that seems to be view across much of England toward McKinsey.”

Over the past dozen years, McKinsey has been largely responsible for the creeping privatization of the UK’s beloved National Health Service (NHS), advocating policies adopted by Conservative governments that have underfunded and eroded public health services and which favor the private sector.

For example, a major 2009 report from McKinsey called on the NHS to find “efficiency savings” of 4 billion pounds sterling every year for five years – a gargantuan amount of $20 billion pounds sterling in total. McKinsey’s advice eventually led to major NHS cuts, including the loss of 6,000 nursing jobs.

As well, McKinsey has drafted UK healthcare policy proposals that have been incorporated wholesale into legislation, to the financial benefit of McKinsey itself as well as its corporate clients who have gained increasing access to the healthcare system.

McKinsey has been pushing the NHS toward the U.S. for-profit healthcare model, and has even taken UK legislators on trips to the U.S. to see the ‘integrated care model” in action. After one such trip, private discussions took place between McKinsey and the UK health watchdog over the possibility that some 65,000 hospital beds could be closed.

Such revelations have shocked the British public and added to the urgency around the Brexit vote. Equally important, McKinsey’s creeping privatization of the NHS has pushed that service further into a “two-tier healthcare system”. In January 2017, The Guardian revealed that the number of people in Britain taking out private medical insurance “has risen significantly…amid fears about the ongoing crisis gripping the NHS”. [1]

So turn-around specialist McKinsey had taken an organization that had been functioning well for decades and gradually (and with the cooperation of conservative government) turned it into mess – a standard corporate playbook for privateers. The next step is usually for the private sector to “come to the rescue” and “save” the failing entity by privatizing it.

On November 27, the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn revealed a dossier containing details of secret negotiations between the UK’s Conservative government and the U.S. to privatize the NHS as part of the Brexit deal. Of course, this would be the fulfillment of McKinsey’s plan. The Dec. 12 UK elections will be decisive for this issue and so many others.

Echoing McKinsey

Pete Buttigieg’s attacks on single-payer and Medicare For All echo the McKinsey vision. Apparently, he learned well during his three years of employment with the company. His “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan is a clever recapitulation of the “two-tier” system that McKinsey has fostered in the UK, with private insurance companies making millions off the system, while the public sector erodes.

Right-wing lobbyists in Canada are pushing a similar “two-tier” system, advocating the sale of private health insurance so individuals can “take charge of their health”. [2] Ultimately, of course, two-tier is intended to become mainly one-tier, a fully privatized health service in Canada. McKinsey & Co.’s Dominic Barton started advising the Justin Trudeau Liberal government in February 2016 as the “new economy czar”.

Buttigieg has said of his “Medicare For All Who Want It” plan that “if it’s the right plan, then everybody will move to it until it is the single payer. And if it’s not the right plan for everybody, then we’re going to be really glad we didn’t kick some Americans off their private plans.” [3] But his proposed funding for the idea is so low that it’s difficult to see how any so-called “public option” could survive, much less deal with millions who have no health coverage at all.

Wendell Potter, healthcare expert and single-payer advocate, has explained much of what people need to know about Medicare For All in a recent interview for commondreams.org. The interview is free of jargon and very illuminating. [4] Having once worked as a PR professional for the private insurance industry, Potter is now intent on eliminating private insurance from healthcare as “an unnecessary middleman”.

Tellingly, on October 16, 2019, Potter tweeted: “I can’t tell if @Pete Buttigieg is campaigning for President or my old job at @Cigna.”

Footnotes.

[1] Patrick Collinson, “Private health insurance sales surge amid NHS crisis,” The Guardian, January 16, 2017.

[2] “Canadians on Health Care, Public & Private,” Financial Post, Dec. 6, 2019.

[3] Quoted in Tim Hains, “Buttigieg on Medicare For All: No Reasons To Spend $20 Trillion ‘When We Can Do The Same Thing For A Fraction Of The Cost’,” RealClear Politics, November 3, 2019.

[4] Michael Winship, “Healthcare Reformer Wendell Potter: The For-Profit ‘System Is Unravelling’,” commondreams.org, Sept. 30, 2019.

Joyce Nelson’s sixth book, Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism, can be ordered at: http://watershedsentinel.ca/banksters. She can be reached through www.joycenelson.ca.

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