Posts Tagged ‘Health Care Reform’

Drawing Credit: Freakout Nation

[previously published at Examiner.com 3-14-12]

A conversation I had with an old friend yesterday should strike fear in the hearts of all Democrats.
“Hey, what’s with this Obama guy?” my friend asked.

“What do you mean?” I replied, trembling. I was reasonably sure if I heard one more usually apolitical friend spouting Republican talking points my brain would explode.

“You know, I used to like Obama,” my buddy explained, “but he wants to force everybody to buy health insurance.”

Obama the Tyrant

Fighting the urge to bury my teeth in his neck, I calmly explained to my friend that the mandate for everyone to purchase insurance was necessary to get insurance companies to agree to insure people with preexisting conditions. It was also the only way Obama and the then-Democratic majority in the legislature could get insurance companies to stop un-insuring people when they get sick and/or leaving them high and dry when their medical bills got too big. In other words, in order to persuade the insurance companies to operate their businesses in an ethical manner, the government had to promise them a whole bunch of new premium payers — that is, every adult in the country.

I looked my buddy in the eye and said, “Obama’s mandate was the only politically viable way to prevent 46,000 Americans per year from dying of lack of insurance and to reduce American bankruptcies by 60 percent — without denying insurance CEOs their polo ponies and summers in the Hamptons, of course.”

“Oh,” said my friend, clearly surprised by my pushback. “I guess I don’t really know that much about it.”

Repeat the Lie Long Enough…

In fact, until that moment, the only thing my buddy “knew” was that “this Obama guy” was tyrannically forcing Americans to buy insurance — whether they wanted it or not. Why? Who knows? It’s just the kind of thing tyrants do.

I suppose after months of Republican presidential contestants on TV repeatedly characterizing Obama and “Obamacare” as the Devil and the Devil’s work, respectively — repeatedly characterizing the Affordable Care Act as a government takeover, job killer and fast-track to Socialism — it shouldn’t be too surprising that some of the rhetoric managed to ooze through a few Americans’ “Wait, this makes no sense” barriers. The expected overturning of the law by five-ninths of the Supreme Court probably didn’t help much either.

But here’s the kicker: My intelligent, talented and usually reasonable friend also happens to be a quadriplegic. Due to a decade-old medical condition, he was one of those unfortunate, uninsurable souls with a preexisting condition when he fell and broke his neck three years ago. Needless to say, his finances were quickly reduced to zilch by subsequent operations, therapy and round-the-clock care. So today, Medicare and Social Security pay for his board and care at a convalescent/rehab facility in the Valley.

That my friend’s opinion of Obama and the Affordable Care Act — a law with such dramatic influence on his life — had been informed by the ravings of Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry is disturbing. That these soundbites might even have influenced his vote this November and prompted him to side with the party that has repeatedly vowed to straight razor the very safety nets that are keeping him alive — well, I’m hoping that our little talk will keep him from leaping off that particular bridge.

Citizens United

But if Romney, Santorum and friends were able to plant the Obama-as-tyrant idea in my friend’s head with just a few months of Republican primary news coverage, what will a sustained campaign of Citizens United-fueled, anti-Obama TV and radio commercials do?

This will be our first presidential election since the landmark Supreme Court decision made a present of our democracy to corporations and other special interests. It will be interesting to see how democracy holds up.

Already, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are planning to spend $500 million to defeat Obama. Who knows how much money large corporations and other “one-percenters” are planning to contribute to the same end?

The Great Equalizer

Although Mitt Romney may very possibly be the least appealing, most gaffe-prone, no-there-there presidential candidate in modern American history, there’s no telling what kind of equalizer a half-billion dollars shouting, “Obama is an American hating, communist-fascist-despot-sissy-foreigner” over and over again for six months might turn out to be. Toss in a sluggishly recovering economy, a disappointed left and a weird, vestigial racism simmering in a disgraceful number of American hearts and it’s easy to see that this election will be no cakewalk for the president.

The big question in our new Citizens United world is how on earth do real, individual human beings fight back?

I don’t know.


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Impressionistic rendering of health insurers' profits

The new rules on health coverage are causing fibrillation in the microscopic hearts of health insurance giants Cigna, Aetna and United Health.

Apparently, stipulations in the new federal health law—including prohibitions on dropping policyholders when they get sick and refusing insurance to kids with preexisting conditions—will adversely affect insurers’ “medical loss ratio,” the percentage of each premium dollar pried out of insurers’ clutches to be used for actual healthcare.

A recent story by Robert T. Garrett of the Dallas Morning News puts it all in perspective.

In the article, former Aetna and Cigna executive Wendell Potter tells an illustrative tale of just how important this medical loss ratio is. According to Potter, Aetna had a problem a “few years ago when it announced that its medical loss ratio had inched up from slightly above 78 percent to a little bit more than 79 percent. The investors were so upset about that incremental change, the stock price dropped 20 percent on that one single day.”

Over the last 15 years, the industry has managed to drop, deny, lie, steal and cheat their healthcare costs down 15%, causing jubilation in the boardrooms, and industry profits to inflate like an engorged tick.

Having to divert money from the important things–executive compensation, bonuses and dividends–to things like medicine and healing has filled industry CEOs with dread; Wall Street does not like trimmer ticks.

*

I must be going deaf and blind. I know there are hordes of angry Americans out in the streets, carrying pitchforks and torches, screaming at the top of their lungs for an end to a healthcare system that determines its success by how little healthcare it delivers… I just can’t see them.

 

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[originally published in OpEd News]
Actually, there is no pat meaning or definition for the phrase “family values.” Like obscenity, I guess you just know it when you see it. 

Often used by social conservatives to conjure up a mythical America of yesteryear, the phrase evokes an era when everyone’s lawn was green, thick and well manicured, kids were obedient, and “Lassie” had no genitalia—long before liberals turned us into gay, pot-smoking abortionists, before minorities and women got so noisy and before movie stars said naughty words on screen.

Today many Republicans use the term as a weapon against same-sex marriage, legal abortion, the decriminalization of marijuana and a zillion other issues they find unacceptable.

To clarify our terms, I suggest we define “family values” as “valuing the American family.” “Republicans” will mean “the movers and shakers of today’s dynamic GOP.”

Valuing the Family… the Republican Way

To be fair, I think Republicans do value families — but only their own. Everybody else’s family is either trying to stay in the country illegally, getting rich and lazy on welfare, undeserving of a living wage, a terrorist cell, or immorally trying to become a family while being gay.

Though many Democratic leaders share the blame in the Great Stacking of the Deck Against American Families, these Democrats tend to be of the sneaky, corporate shill variety who are often at odds with American families’ wishes and their own party’s positions (see Public Option). Republicans, however, are very open about their willingness to throw the American family under the bus in the name of big business, bigotry, big business, bad judgment and big business.

There is really no reason—or enough room on my hard drive—to go into all of the sordid, headline-grabbing family values hypocrisies of such Republican pillars of wholesomeness as Sen. David “Escort Service” Vitter and Sen. Larry “Strokin’ in the Boys Room” Craigs. Though these indiscretions do highlight the dilemma of a party that professes to love America but can’t tolerate how Americans live, they are not the result of official party policy, as far as I know. Rather, it’s the official, loudly-touted policies of today’s lockstep GOP leadership that amply demonstrate the party’s disregard for the majority of American families.

With the possible exception of a proposed Wendell Willkie postage stamp, every major item on the GOP wish list would prove disadvantageous or downright devastating to most American families if ever put into effect.

Here are a few:

Deregulation

As homeless shelters burst at the seams with newly impoverished families, and old folks wonder how on earth they’re going to get through their golden years now that their 401(k) is in tatters and their home is worth borscht, Republicans are clamoring to let the Wall Street robber-barons who drove our economy into a ditch continue to speed along with even fewer rules of the road.

Rather than offering to commit public seppuku for creating the Reagan-Gramm deregulation free-for-all that made the Wall Street greed orgy and collapse possible, Republican enablers like Sen. Mitch McConnell and others call Obama a socialist for wanting more governmental oversight of the industry, whining in chorus that such intrusion into the private sector would kill jobs and stifle innovation.

Yeah, we saw the kind of “innovation” Wall Street is capable of.

By the way, whenever you hear a sentence containing any form of the words “job” and “kill” spoken by a Republican, remember who was steering the ship of state when the jobs began to die. You’ve got to admire Republican testicular strength, though—if nothing else—for even mentioning “deregulation” and “jobs” in the same sentence.

Anti-Unionism

For the last thirty years Americans have watched their wages shrivel while CEOs have increasingly taken home salaries and bonuses that would make the Sultan of Brunei blush. According to a University of California Santa Cruz study, the top 20% of households owned 85% of all privately held wealth in 2007—leaving the rest of us 80% to divvy up the remaining 15%.

Oddly enough, it was also during this time that Republican policies, votes and propaganda made it more difficult for workers to unionize. Organized labor has gone from representing one-third of America’s workforce in 1950 to just 11.9% in 2010. Union membership in the private sector is down to a feeble 6.9%. It’s no coincidence that Americans’ earning power accompanied that decline. Where did America’s middle class go? It committed suicide in the voting booth.

Yet Republicans continue to paint unions as enormously powerful bogeymen and have even ramped up their union bashing. Why? As organizations of and for working Americans, unions tend to favor Democrats. Republicans know if they can get rid of unions completely Democrats will lose the financial support and organizational strengths unions have historically given to Democratic politicians and issues. In the end, Republicans would have the support of Big Business and all the votes corporate money can buy while Democrats would be out on the street with a hurdy-gurdy and a monkey.

Incredibly, Republicans have managed to get a surprising number of American workers—low skilled through professional—to swallow this anti-union codswallop. For these Americans, the image of collective bargaining has morphed from Woody Guthrie rousing a union hall with his guitar into Vito Corleone spraying the room with a sub-machine gun.

Apparently, these Americans have forgotten where living wages, worker safety, tolerable conditions and decent hours came from in the first place. Those who think these advances for American workers and their families came from the goodness of corporate hearts should be made to write “British Petroleum” 100 times on the blackboard, or at the very least, read this little heart-warmer about two high-level Massey Energy executives and their descent into the Upper Big Branch coalmine immediately after the mine’s deadly explosion. Heroic rescue attempt or an attempt to destroy evidence and rescue themselves from criminal indictments and billions in fines and civil judgments?

Anti-Same-Sex Marriage

By attempting to end these families before they’ve even begun, this Republican position affecting a large number of our countrymen and women may be the hands-down champ of blatant, Republican anti-family-ness. Good lord, fellas, I know this issue whips your Tea Party pals into a white-hot lather, but sometimes, reason, fairness and the U.S. Constitution must win over political expedience…mustn’t it…sometimes?

I really don’t think anyone with the power to reason still believes that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, a  naughty experiment or juicy flaunting of our moral code. No one really thinks that teenagers choose to be slammed into lockers by lettermen clubs, or look happily forward to the day they will tell their parents to “forget about grandchildren from me.”

So, what we have here is a major political party attempting to punish and marginalize a large segment of the American population by trying to prohibit them from doing what comes naturally: fall in love and get married. As gays and lesbians try to lead their lives despite cruel prejudice and religious dogma that holds approximately the same modern relevance as stoning your son to death for being a gluttonous drunkard (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), the Grand Old Party does its level best to keep anti-gay bigotry loud and alive by demanding prior restraint on would-be families with its Marriage Protection Amendment to the Constitution.

Lifting the Assault Weapon Ban

What can anyone say about this Republican wish and its potential effect on American families, other than “Lift the assault weapon ban?

Come November

The Republican Party’s long tradition of siding with big business over the American family continues to chip away at the average American’s earning power and standard of living. However, the damage a Republican controlled Washington could further inflict on American families isn’t limited to economics. When you toss in other family-unfriendly Republican positions on global warming, preemptive and continual war, education, reproductive rights and family planning, and their new jaw-dropper regarding unemployment insurance creating  “lazy” Americans, it’s not too difficult to figure out which party’s policies and worldview promote “family values.”

The truth is, until special interest money is removed from our electoral system, neither party will truly be the champion of the American family. Sadly though, with the Republican majority of the Supreme Court opening the corporate spigots wide with its Citizens United ruling, that heavenly day is likely to be a long, long way down the line.

Forced to choose between the two parties, however, the American family would be wise to go with the Democrats. The Grand Old Party is too darned busy trying to keep people from voting, selling American families to the highest corporate bidders, undermining the Obama presidency at the country’s expense and coming up with new and better ways of converting Americans’ lesser angels of fear and bigotry into political power to even care about how American families are doing.

For a scary trip down the Republican rabbit hole:
2012 Texas Republican Platform: A Frightening Look Inside the New Republican Brain

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When a lawmaker is found to have a few thousand ill-gained bucks stashed behind packages of Ore-Ida hash browns and a half-eaten pint of Cherry Garcia in his freezer at home, we call it bribery.”

When Democratic lawmakers take money from private health insurers, and then proceed to fight their own party, president and constituents by trying to undermine, hijack, maim, and vaporize the only hope we have of making American health care more Hippocratic than plutocratic – we call it “politics.”

Of course, this is nothing new.  Politicians throughout history have been on the take in varying degrees of legality.  From 54 B.C – when every single candidate for Roman consulship was indicted on charges of bribery – to Boss Tweed’s Tammany Machine, to Representative Jefferson’s Frigidaire, the violation of public trust in exchange for money has been the engorged leech on the body politic.  But as the cost of modern American campaigning continues to soar (and the idea of meaningful campaign finance reform has become a quaint artifact of a bygone era), the once discreet tit-for-tat collusion between “special interests” and our leaders has oozed from the smoke-filled back rooms of yesteryear into a full-blown yard sale of political influence and favor.  By now, selling votes to the highest corporate bidder is no doubt a rider on American legislators’ oaths of office.

But, as commonplace as the ownership of our elected officials has become, the positions on the “public option” taken by the House Blue Dogs and centrist-conservative Democrats in the Senate are – even by today’s standards – nauseating in their blatant toadyism, shining the brightest spotlight yet on the Turkish bazaar we call the United States Government.

One would think the numbers alone would be enough to scare the Blue Dogs and Democratic Senators like Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln into line.  Recent polls show that most Americans continue to believe a strong, non-triggered, public option is a good idea.  Among Democrats and health professionals the pro-public option numbers are overwhelming.  One can only imagine how Democratic doctors feel about it.  Yet, these lawmakers have tried to crush the public option at every turn.  To be fair, a few of these centrist-conservatives may have a little honest-though-misguided ideology prompting their party apostasy, and it’s true that Landrieu will soon be facing a tough re-election in her conservative Louisiana.  But she needs Democratic votes and the party’s good will.  She is – despite all recent evidence to the contrary – a Democrat.  Civil rights groups have been airing TV ads pressing her on the issue, and unions are following suit with letter-writing campaigns.  If she and her fellow flies in the ointment continue in their current direction, the Mark of Cain shall be upon them, friendless in the party and at the polls.

What could possibly make these folks behave in such a seemingly politically self-destructive way?  What could make them side with the universally loathed health insurance industry – the industry that views their customers as medicine-grubbing pests?  Will the half-million Landrieu’s gotten from insurance and health sectors, the million Nelson has received, the million and a half tossed to Bayh, and the nearly two million heaped upon Lincoln buy enough TV time to overcome the party alienation and livid voters created by their obstruction?  They must think so.

Then, there’s the morality – the decency of it all.  Thanks to Rep. Alan Grayson and a recent Harvard study (http://www.ajph.org/first_look.shtml), it is now widely known that 45,000 Americans per year die because of lack of health insurance.  That’s die – as in spouses and children left to grieve, or parents left to endure what psychologists cite as the most profoundly excruciating experience life can dish out to a human psyche.  Why?  Because they could not afford–or were denied access to–the care that might have detected that tiny tumor long before it became inoperable, or that irregular heartbeat that eventually killed an otherwise healthy little kid.  And, if 45,000 of us are dying of “lack of insurance,” and related causes, like suddenly discovered “preexisting conditions” and “denied experimental procedures,” how many of us are being blinded and crippled by the same conditions?

For many voters, this takes the public option issue out of the political realm and plants it firmly in personal, deeply-felt territory.  The Blue Dogs’ in-boxes must be exploding with emails asking, “Are you really going to sit there with an American flag pinned to your lapel while you condemn Americans to death for being sick or poor?”  “Yes,” is their implied answer, as they continue to sideswipe hope into a ditch.  Surely, they must realize all the television time in the world will not erase the sense of betrayal these voters are feeling, or the blame these lawmakers will share if the public option goes up in smoke or turns out to be a combination of the spineless, industry-friendly versions currently being spewed by the Senate and the House.

Maybe they just don’t get it.  Maybe they’re looking at the public option as just another bit of politics, to be wheeled and dealt with as their corporate sponsors see fit.  It wouldn’t be too surprising.  When “Independent” Joe Lieberman announced his plan to join the planned Republican filibuster, the TV news reporter explained matter-of-factly that Senator Lieberman has a number of private health insurers based in his state – as if it’s understood that a senator-host to large insurance corporations is somehow required to hold American’s health hostage to please his guests.

Or maybe there’s something larger going on here.   For the first time in a long time, our government is considering a move that could deeply affect the bottom line of one of the wealthiest industries in the world.  CEOs in every sector must be watching the public option debate like slave owners fearing an uprising.  The Corporate Word has gone out to lawmakers everywhere: “Hey, if we can’t trust you on this health care thing, what’s gonna happen when my defense, energy, finance or transportation bill comes up before you guys?  Are you gonna go Grayson and Kucinich on us?”

The implied threat of having his corporate spigots not only turned off, but also opened wide for his more “trustworthy” opponent in the next election, puts the poodle right back in the yard; that is, if the poodle was even thinking about jumping the fence in the first place.

Obama is wrong when he downplays the public option as a mere “sliver” of overall health care reform.  It is the centerpiece, and he knows it.  A government-run insurance option is the only way – short of a politically unattainable single-payer, European-type system – to help make health care more affordable and accessible to Americans.  But more importantly, it has become a crucible in American politics.  The implementation of a real public option will show that reports of our democracy’s demise have been somewhat premature.

Now that we’ve seen congress’ embarrassing, whittled down versions of the plan, it is clear Obama’s influence and veto power – along with lawmakers who actually use their office to help Americans – are our last and only hope.  Will the oligarchy emerge triumphant, once again?   Or will Obama use the power we gave him and start effecting real change, making the adoption of the public option an historic bellwether that saved our lives and our government – when the common good went up against some of the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in the world, and despite their propaganda, their staged “grassroots” protests, their TV ads and the tireless efforts of their very own politicians – the American people won.

For a look at political bribery and health care–set to music (sample): “All-American Suckers”

Dear Max,

I know it’s been a while since we last spoke, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about you.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.

Max, I’m gonna get straight to the point.  Lately, there’s been a lot of ugly talk connecting your attempt to torpedo the public option with the millions of dollars you’ve gotten from health insurance honchos.

People see conspiracy in everything these days; have they never heard of coincidence?

But, you’ve got to admit; to those who don’t know the honorable Max Baucus, as I do, your position does emit a certain aroma.  Frankly, it makes you look a lot like one of those corporate poodles we used to point and laugh at in the congressional cafeteria.  Now, I know you called a “moratorium” on any further health sector donations to the Max Baucus campaign, and that was good – but a wee bit late, I’m afraid.  People recognize four million over five years can buy a shitload of influence, and your recent attitude toward the public option and health care reform in general is scorching many a nostril.

As you know, Montanans are among the least health insurance-covered folks in the country.  Hell, out of sheer desperation, Republicans in your state are calling for the public option.  So I’m sure you’re aware that your high profile and adamant objection to it could make life very difficult for you during your next campaign, no matter how much TV time your health industry money buys.

The national scene is even worse. Your party’s leadership and an overwhelming majority of Democratic voters are ape-wild for this option.  Unless you count the remedial class on the other side of the aisle, you and the Blue Doggerels sit alone like lepers at a fashion show.  And now with Obama’s pledge to keep his plan deficit neutral, the rug has been pulled out from the only almost-credible reason you had for objecting to the public option in the first place.

In fact, I was hoping you might have used Obama’s speech as an aha moment – an opportunity to publicly change your mind.  Instead, a few days later you released your committee’s counter proposal, which if enacted would not only put the public option out to pasture and squeeze the middle class like an empty tube of toothpaste, but would also do for private health insurers what HIV did for the latex industry.

Hell, I’m even starting to think something’s up, Max- ha ha.

All quid pro quo aside, guy, you and I both know a government-run health insurance option is the only way to get your pals at Aetna and United to stop the wholesale ripping-off and selective killing and maiming of our countrymen.  The Max I know, cares about stuff like this.  And though you benefit mightily from their dollars, your innate decency must be wreaking havoc on your sleep and that ulcer of yours.

But, don’t despair, my friend; I’ve got a plan.

Remember back in 2002 when you rented your support to the financial sector, and helped make filing personal bankruptcy for Americans more difficult than getting gold at the Olympics?  Or when you voted to lift what was left of those pesky regulations on Wall Street?

How much were you paid for your “help?”  Four million over ten years.  Ten years, Max!  You gave them the green light to own people for life, and greased the way for the investment boys to reap a windfall while destroying our economy in the bargain.  And all you got was a crummy four hundred thousand a year!

You were severely chumped, my friend, and you know it.

And, how about the NRA?  You vote to give Americans their constitutionally guaranteed right to shoot armor-piercing rounds at deer and Kevlar-wearing javelinas, and what do you get in return?  A lousy fifteen grand.  This is madness, kiddo.  These guys are worth zillions!

As the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, there are plenty of industries champing at the bit to develop a “stronger relationship” with you.  Energy, telecommunications, defense, transportation, your old pals in finance – the list is endless.  Sure, some of your votes on your new clients’ behalf may stir up a little controversy from time to time, but nothing like this public option landmine your health “friends” have placed neatly in your path.

You’ve given them enough already.  It’s time to scrape them off of your wingtips, and open yourself up to some real dough.

As your folks used to say, “You can have your cake and eat it too.”

Just call a press conference and say something like, “Upon further study, I now believe an efficient, government-run health insurance choice (don’t say “public option”) can be cost-effective, and is in the best interest of Americans.”

With those few words, Mercenary Max becomes a statesman.  You might even get Olympia Snow to go along with you, who knows?

Sure, there will be many nasty calls from health care lobbyists, but what do you care?  You don’t need them. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, you’re alpha-poodle.

Anyhow, I hope I didn’t come on too strong with this thing.  And I’m sure you know that I’m only looking out for your welfare, old chum.  By the way, I know you’re a busy boy of late, but if you’re not doing anything tonight, stop by the house. We’re having a little get-together with some friends from Exxon.  I’m sure they’d be happy to see you.

Take care,

Russ Buchanan