Health Care’s Enigma-In-Chief

The most stunning and least reported news about President Obama’s press conference with health industry executives this week wasn’t those executives’ willingness to negotiate with a Democrat. It was that Democrat’s eagerness to involve those executives in a discussion about health care reform even as they revealed their previous plans to pilfer $2 trillion from Americans.

That was the little-noticed message from the made-for-TV spectacle administration officials called a health care “game changer”: In saying they can voluntarily slash $200 billion a year off the country’s medical bills over the next decade and still preserve their profits, health care companies implicitly acknowledged they were plotting to fleece consumers, and have been fleecing them for years. With that acknowledgment came the tacit admission that the industry’s business is based not on respectable returns, but on grotesque profiteering and waste — the kind that can give up $2 trillion and still guarantee huge margins.

David Sirota via

Baucus’ Raucous Caucus

This is beginning to look like a replay of the failed 1993 health-care reform efforts led by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Back then, the business interests took a hard line and waged a PR campaign, headlined by a fictitious middle-class couple, Harry and Louise, who feared a government-run health-care bureaucracy.

Still absent from the debate are advocates for single-payer, often referred to as the “Canadian-style” health care. Single-payer health care is not “socialized medicine.” According to Physicians for a National Health Program, single-payer means “the government pays for care that is delivered in the private (mostly not-for-profit) sector.”

A February CBS News poll found that 59 percent in the U.S. say the government should provide national health insurance.

Amy Goodman via

The Health Care Industry’s PR Scam

In other words, the underlying purpose of this PR stunt is to slow or block any meaningful health care reforms, which could actually improve care while reducing the price tag by a lot more than 1.5 percent. These include regulating the cost of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, curtailing or eliminating the role of the insurance companies, or introducing single-payer, which allows other developed countries to deliver superior health care for 20 to 40 percent less–all of which make $2 trillion in weight-loss programs and paperwork reduction measures look pretty pitiful by comparison.

All we can hope for is the possibility, remote as it may be, that Obama himself is also playing a PR game–making nice with the industry shills while planning some kind of genuine reform that will hit them in the only place that counts, and the only place where truly meaningful savings reside: their profit margins.

James Ridgeway via

Why We Risked Arrest for Single-Payer Health Care

The senators understand that most people want a national health system and that an improved Medicare for All would include everybody and provide better health care at a lower cost. These facts mean nothing to most of them because they respond to only one standard tool of advocacy: money, and lots of it.

The people seated at the table represented the corporate interests: private health insurers and big business and those who support their agenda. The people whose voices were heard all represented organizations which pay huge sums of money to political campaigns. These interests profit greatly from the current health care industry and do not want changes that will hurt their large, personal pocketbooks.

And so, we have entered a new phase in the movement for health care as a human right: acts of civil disobedience. It is time to directly challenge corporate interests. History has shown that in order to gain human rights, we must be willing to speak out and risk arrest. We must engage in actions that expose corporate fraud and corruption. We must make our presence known.

Margaret Flowers, M.D. via

Bush Veto a No-Hearter

Why is this country, at this time, the richest in the world, arguing about how few or how many children they can serve? We ought to — this is a no-brainer. The American people want all of its children served. All children deserve health coverage, and I don’t know why we’re having such a hard time getting our president and our political leaders to get it, that children should have health insurance. —Marian Wright Edelman

I believe government cannot provide affordable health care. I believe it would cause the quality of care to diminish. I believe there would be lines and rationing over time. If Congress continues to insist upon expanding health care through the SCHIP program — which, by the way, would entail a huge tax increase for the American people — I’ll veto the bill. —George W. Bush

Pretty much says it all. This man has not the vaguest idea of what it means to be anything other than pampered-from-birth. Doesn’t see any problem with the free heathcare the government provides for him — just doesn’t think it would work out for all those poor children.

Michael Sky

Peak Oil and Healthcare

One of the better examinations of America’s addiction to cheap oil is Jim Kunstler’s blog — Clusterfuck Nation. Author of the book, “The Long Emergency,” Kunstler depressingly outlines the many ways in which American car-culture is doomed as oil becomes more scarce. He cautions that supposed techno-fixes like ethanol will only exacerbate our problems, and that any real solutions must begin with a total rethink of every aspect of American culture.

As Al Gore tried to point out during his run for the presidency (to a big media yawn), our society is now designed to burn oil at every stage: to get us to work and play; to grow, process and move our foods and products to market; to heat our 5,000 sq ft homes and fire up our Hummers; to jet us about the world; and, to run the largest military machine in history, which has as its main purpose — the whole reason we’re mucking up the Middle East — to secure cheap oil into the future.

Even Bush admitted to America’s addiction to oil, though he used the moment to push plant-based fuels, again, not a solution at all.

Now we can add another worry to the “peak oil” list: healthcare. As if there were not already ample problems with American healthcare, Dan Bednarz shows how our fossil fuel dependence is jeopardizing our healthcare system:

Petrochemicals are used to manufacture analgesics, antihistamines, antibiotics, antibacterials, rectal suppositories, cough syrups, lubricants, creams, ointments, salves, and many gels. Processed plastics made with oil are used in heart valves and other esoteric medical equipment.

Petrochemicals are used in radiological dyes and films, intravenous tubing, syringes, and oxygen masks. In all but rare instances, fossil fuels heat and cool buildings and supply electricity. Ambulances and helicopter “life flights” depend on petroleum, as do personnel who travel to and from medical workplaces in motor vehicles. Supplies and equipment are shipped — often from overseas — in petroleum-powered carriers. In addition there are the subtle consequences of fossil fuel reliance.

A recently retired doctor informs me, “In orthopedics we used to set fractures mostly by feel and knowing the mechanics of how the fractures were created. I doubt that many of the present orthopedists could do a good job if you took away their [energy-powered] fluoroscope or X-ray.”

However, just as the shift to more ecologically sound practices is only financially threatening to those too attached to the status quo to move on to something in all ways better, so removing the petrochemicals from our healthcare practices can ultimately result in a better system with better outcomes at a fraction of the cost:

We can avoid collapse, however, by reducing medicine’s present consumption of energy and creating a health-care system that reflects our actual relationship to resources. Ironically, peak oil can be a catalyst for creating a health-care system that is cost-effective, ecologically sustainable, and congruent with a democratic social ethos.

Michael Sky

Death by insurance

I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room. —George W. Bush

In advance of a promised veto of legislation that would extend improved healthcare benefits to the nation’s poorest children, Mr. (well-insured by the government) Bush is off on an obfuscation bender. He’s repeating all the usual lies, his main point being that the worst thing for the American people would be “government healthcare”.

Paul Krugman answers Mr. (well-insured by the government) Bush:

The claim that the uninsured can get all the care they need in emergency rooms is just the beginning. Beyond that is the myth that Americans who are lucky enough to have insurance never face long waits for medical care.

Actually, the persistence of that myth puzzles me. I can understand how people like Mr. Bush or Fred Thompson, who declared recently that “the poorest Americans are getting far better service” than Canadians or the British, can wave away the desperation of uninsured Americans, who are often poor and voiceless. But how can they get away with pretending that insured Americans always get prompt care, when most of us can testify otherwise?

A recent article in Business Week put it bluntly: “In reality, both data and anecdotes show that the American people are already waiting as long or longer than patients living with universal health-care systems.”

Let’s say it again slowly, for Mr. (well-insured by the government) Bush and the rest of our (well-insured by the government) politicians — single-payer, universal healthcare will not lead to greater waits for critical healthcare.

And it will most certainly not lead to worse outcomes, as happens when insurance companies withhold care in order to increase profits:

Besides, not all medical delays are created equal. In Canada and Britain, delays are caused by doctors trying to devote limited medical resources to the most urgent cases. In the United States, they’re often caused by insurance companies trying to save money.

This can lead to ordeals like the one recently described by Mark Kleiman, a professor at U.C.L.A., who nearly died of cancer because his insurer kept delaying approval for a necessary biopsy. “It was only later,” writes Mr. Kleiman on his blog, “that I discovered why the insurance company was stalling; I had an option, which I didn’t know I had, to avoid all the approvals by going to ‘Tier II,’ which would have meant higher co-payments.”

He adds, “I don’t know how many people my insurance company waited to death that year, but I’m certain the number wasn’t zero.”

Death by insurance — the real crisis in American healthcare.

Michael Sky

Health Care vs. the Profit Principle

The greatest contribution of Michael’s Moore’s Sicko is his direct and unambiguous attack on the profit motive in healthcare. Moore shows that since the insurance companies have turning a profit as their prime directive — rather than providing care for and healing people — they cannot help but keep adding to the ranks of under- and uninsured Americans.

But attacking the profit motive in America is so unamerican. SWe will need many more people making the case. Such as Barbara Ehrenreich:

I once tried to explain to a Norwegian woman why it was so hard for me to find health insurance. I’d had breast cancer, I told her, and she looked at me blankly. “But then you really need insurance, right?” Of course, and that’s why I couldn’t have it.

This is not because health insurance executives are meaner than other people, although I do not rule that out. It’s just that they’re running a business, the purpose of which is not to make people healthy, but to make money, and they do very well at that. Once, many years ago, I complained to the left-wing economist Paul Sweezey that America had no real health system. “We have a system all right,” he responded, “it’s just a system for doing something else.” A system, as he might have put it today, for extracting money from the vulnerable and putting it into the pockets of the rich.

Of course, transferring wealth from the poor to the rich is the whole point of American capitalism, so things will not be improving any time soon.

If government insurance for children (S-CHIP) isn’t expanded to all the families that need it, there is no question but that some children will die — painfully perhaps and certainly unnecessarily. But at least they will have died for a principle.

Michael Sky

Michael Sky

Socialized Medicine for Those Who Need it Least

For years we’ve had to listen to Republican candidates for political office rail against the many problems with “big government” while simultaneously begging us to elect them and keep them in office. No one in the media ever points out the obvious: why would we put people who hate government in charge of the government? And why would we be surprised when a group of government-haters like the Bushies turn out to be so monumentally incompetent at governing?

Not surprisingly, these same self-serving hypocrites rail most loudly against the evils of “socialized medicine” even as they enjoy the best healthcare plan in America — provided by the very government can’t do anything right:

There is an employee/insurance deal in the U.S. that includes unlimited doctor office visits of your choosing; covers all accidents, routine exams, physical therapy, labs and X-rays; and the like; unlimited hospital visits and stays; certain chronic care and rehab; full prescription coverage; and unlimited specialty consultations. For the employee and the entire family. There are no deductibles, no co-pays, and only a $35 monthly fee taken from an annual salary of $158 thousand. Thirty-five dollars!

The group awarded this insurance looks forward to a full pension and continued coverage until their deaths. Quite a few, most in fact, were millionaires before they took on their jobs that got them such a perk. Who gets this coverage? It would be nice if it were the underprivileged or the chronically ill and debilitated or our veterans.

But no. For starters, the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, and add to that the few hundred in the upper executive and judicial branches of government.

In truth, these overfed assholes are neither anti-government nor anti-socialized-medicine. They’re anti-the-people.

Any politician, Republican or Democrat, who says that the American people cannot have exactly the same healthcare plan as the politicians get needs to be strapped to a gurney and left in some overcrowded emergency room for a long, long time.

Michael Sky

Health Care Terror

After the recent bomb plot in Great Britain was traced to a group of doctors, right-wing loons, led by Fox’s Neil Cavuto, were quick to suggest a link between “socialized medicine” and terrorism. He didn’t actually provide a logical argument; it was enough just to say “socialized medicine” and “terrorism” in the same sentence and let Bush Americans draw their own lame-brained conclusions.

Not surprisingly, this is a total reversal of the truth; the real “medical terrorists” all reside in the US, and are virtually all overfed white guys. And they are the only ones terrorized at the thought of a more moral, efficient, and effective sociable healthcare system coming to America.

It is grasping-at-straws time for the status quo in American healthcare: after decades of scaring Americans with the prospect of the nation going communist if it dares to offer all of its citizens the sort of sane and sensible healthcare that the rest of the world’s leading democracies enjoy, they’re shifting to the bogeyman of the moment — Islamic terrorism.

But their arguments have become so craven, so totally transparent, we can only hope the American people are ready to wise up and give these bums the hook.

As Paul Krugman writes:

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.” So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn’t one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs – here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can’t overcome those forces here, there’s not much hope for America’s future.

Michael Sky