Untied States

Bailout for Insurance Companies

By Bruce A. Dixon

There’s no polite way to put it. If you’re one of millions who voted Democrats into Congress and the White House last year to enact universal healthcare, you’ve been played and betrayed.

The legislation squeezed out by the House on Saturday was a giant step away from ensuring the kind of quality, affordable, everybody in, nobody out healthcare that polling shows most Americans favor. Apologists for the White House and its party of course insist that while imperfect, it’s a giant step forward, providing health insurance coverage to millions who didn’t have it before, and that in any case it was the best they could do under the political circumstances. It’s hard to see how anyone can believe this.

Instead of recognizing a human right to healthcare, the White House and congressional Democrats have enshrined into law a corporate right to profit on the delivery or the non-delivery of healthcare. Health insurance will be mandatory, like car insurance, and government subsidies will enable everyone to purchase the shoddy, deceptive and defective products of the private insurance industry, which already rakes off fully one out of every three healthcare dollars in tolls for nothing more than standing between patients and their healthcare.

Many of the millions of new customers the insurance companies will get due to the individual mandate, as it’s called, are the young and healthy who pay premiums and seldom need much in the way of care—the very most profitable customers of private insurers.

Drug companies will be shielded against competition from generics in the fastest growing categories of drugs, the so-called biologics, which include just about all vaccines.

The public option, which progressives insisted all summer would be the line in the sand beyond which they would not retreat, had been gutted by early spring. Members of congress knew it, but fed us hype all summer and fall about its imaginary wonders, how it would keep costs down, provide choice and effectively compete with private insurers. Even Howard Dean told us the public option was “best thought of as Medicare.” He lied, and so did many Democrats.

And the ban on pre-existing conditions is undercut by provisions in the law that encourage insurance companies to institute “wellness” incentives, a backdoor means of achieving the same kind of segmentation that discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions served.

Insurance companies are not only prohibited to offer abortion services in any policy paid for in part with government funds, they are not even required to offer pelvic examinations or family planning services of any kinds. Doubtless then, some will not.

Medicare will be slashed, depending on which version you prefer, from $300 to $500 billion and the medical benefits of those who have them now taxed to fund the “public option” and low-end private insurance offerings, enabling racist Republicans a peg to tell their constituencies that their hard working tax dollars are paying for the meds of undeserving, lazy black people and so-called “illegals.”

And although millions more will receive some kind of health insurance, just about all those who do so between now and 2013 will do so through the expansion of Medicaid, rather than the private insurance exchanges, which are not scheduled to be fully operational till 2013 at the earliest.

Why President Obama’s attempt to reform healthcare should take three or more years when Medicare back in the 1960s was fully operational in under a year is a question almost never asked.

2013 is a long way off. It’s two election cycles down, past the 2010 midterms and beyond the 2012 presidential contest. Hope is a heady drug, but it’s hard to imagine how the crack pipe can be kept hot that long. Between now and the time the illusion of Obamacare, if we can call it that, unravels, thousands more will die because they cannot get medical care, and hundreds of thousands will go bankrupt. The differences between the promises and the facts are multiplying, and could cost the Democrats control of Congress as soon as next year.

But real change rarely if ever comes from above. Real change comes from below. The wave of sit-ins and civil actions in favor of single payer healthcare, the only plausible solution to the crisis, shows no signs of stopping. Like the housing and general economic crises, which the administration and media tell us every day have turned around, the healthcare crisis will drag on for the foreseeable future., November 11, 2009