Obama Hires Baucus HCR Executive to Run Health Insurance Reform

I thought Americans voted for change in 2008?  In much of what we see from the White House this isn’t change we can count on and today David Sirota exposes Obama for being a Bush acolyte.  We expect Republicans to put foxes in charge of the hen houses but not Democrats.  The phony “socialist” accusations against the President simply illustrate how stupid many people are and how they’ve become divorced from reality.  Liz Fowler is someone who has been an executive in the health insurance industry and whom Sen. Max Baucus hired from the industry to write the health insurance reform bill.  She came to Baucus’ staff from the industry, crafted a bill which forces people to buy insurance and was nothing more than a give away to corporate business interests then joined Wellpoint afterwards.  Now she is coming back to government as Obama’s point person for implementing the law she wrote.

Change we can count on?  Unfortunately this is exactly what we can count on from a government controlled by corporate interests regardless of party affiliation.

House Passes Historic Health Insurance Reforms

The House of Representatives last night did what they had to do following a year of intense negotiations, town halls, demonstrations and a huge expenditure of political capital:  it passed a health insurance reform bill with 219 votes.  This is NOT health CARE reform, rather it is a law which mandates that everyone without health insurance buy it on the market from one of seven huge insurance companies known for exploiting and cheating clients for private profit.  If you do not purchase insurance you are subject to an additional 2% federal income tax as a penalty.  If you are poor or middle class the government will subsidize your payment.  There are NO controls on costs and No limits on premiums these corporations can charge.  There are no strict requirements to guarantee everyone gets full coverage and anyone whose current benefit package from an employer exceeds $28,000 in value will pay a 40% tax on that amount.

This is a horrendous bill which will not cover everyone (in fact it will still leave about 24 million Americans uninsured), will not reduce the number of those underinsured (it will, in fact, increase this amount), does not prevent companies from continuing to discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions (not only must you purchase coverage now they can charge you up to four times more than healthy people), and will force those with “Cadillac” plans to reduce their coverage and, therefore, expose them further to financial catastrophe.

Congress and the Administration had to pass something.  Too much time, effort and political capital were expended to walk away with nothing and having been forced to compromise within their own Party Democrats crafted a bill which will go down in infamy.  Conservative, corporate Democrats were the primary opposition here, not Republicans.  This is, in fact, the very bill the corporations wished for and drafted.  It is a very Republican bill because it is, essentially, one which requires that everyone without health care from the government or private industry buy it from a private, for profit company.  It is a huge public welfare program for the insurance industry which is why their stocks have been soaring.

 

Let’s take an example.  Say we’re back in the bad old days of the auto industry.  Back when the Japanese automakers were first gaining a significant hold on the market.  Ford was making Pintos, GM Chevettes and Vegas.  Terrible, horrible cars which resulted in millions of Americans to turn to Honda, Datsun and Toyota for quality products.  Say the government decided to protect the American car makers by requiring everyone buy an American car.  Everyone had to buy one regardless of your need.  Then they said you can only drive it 10,000 miles per year.  If you were poor and couldn’t afford a car you got help with the payments by taxing everyone who bought a Lincoln or Cadillac.  If you lived in an urban area and had no need for a car you still had to buy one.  There would be no caps on prices of these cars and Detroit could now charge whatever they wanted because you are forced to buy.  There are also no requirements for standard equipment.  

This is basically what Congress did last night with health insurance and why the tea baggers are so upset.  Liberals should be upset too because not only will their cars be defective but if you go over 10,000 miles per year the company will shut down your car and you’ll have to walk.  Urban residents with no need for a car will simply garage theirs.  Those in rural regions will get a lot of exercise even if they cannot walk.

The government is forcing everyone without health insurance to buy it from companies who have abused us in the past and will continue to do so for their own private profit.  If you aren’t willing to subsidize them the government will penalize you by 2% of your annual income.  Do you understand why so many people are screaming?  Of course they don’t really understand much but they do understand this.  It’s bad bill and Democrats will pay dearly for it at the polls as voters realize what the corporate Democrats foisted upon them.

Health Insurance Reform Moving to Vote

As Nancy Pelosi has dreams of vote counts running through her head every day brings us closer to a vote on the President’s signature bill.  Unfortunately he outsourced it to Congress and the result is a shambles.  This is nothing more than a huge public welfare program for an industry which seems to fix markets and prices, denies benefits, kills people who might cost them money and has bought most of Congress.  The few provisions of any value are offset by the bad parts.  The lack of a public option is what makes this a terrible bill.  I was disappointed to watch Dennis Kucinich capitulate today after being vilified by fellow Democrats for supporting real reform.

Meanwhile in Pennsylvania rates for the Governor’s favorite solution to the problem almost doubled.  Those on Adult Basic Care (ABC) are seeing their premiums go from $313/month to $600.  This will result in more people going uninsured.  I thought Ed Rendell was going to expand ABC instead of contracting the numbers covered?  This is the result of bad policy decisions.  

ObamaCare won’t be any better.  Tax rates of 40% on good plans will either bankrupt those covered or the plans coverage will be gutted to remain below the tax threshold.  Yes, the ceiling was raised but in four years at 39%/year rate increases by the time the plan goes into effect they’ll be taxable.  Rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the rich was supposed to pay for this.  Instead working people will and that’s a travesty.  

Stupid, ignorant and rude protesters confronted a man with Parkinson’s and openly abused him on camera outside Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s office in Ohio.  I warn you, this is ugly:

The insurance industry and morons in the Tea Party and militia movements killed real reform with the aid of the likes of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.  The federal bill, should it pass, must allow states to implement their own reform programs so ones like Adult Basic Care can be replaced with ones which work, which cover everyone.

President to Visit Philadelphia Monday

The President will visit Philadelphia’s Arcadia College Monday morning to discuss his health insurance reform bill.  Obama is scheduled to speak at 11 AM and tickets can be acquired for free beginning tomorrow (Saturday) at 3:30 PM in the hospitality room of the Kuch Recreation and Athletic Center at Arcadia.  Air Force One will arrive and depart at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station.

Sestak Backs Use of Reconciliation For Health Insurance Reform

Congressman Joseph Sestak has sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid supporting the use of reconciliation, if necessary, to enact reform for health insurance.  Sestak has been a staunch supporter of a robust public option and voted for the House bill:  “I feel strongly enough in my support for increasing competition in the insurance market that I support the passage of the public option and repeal of the anti-trust trust exemption, using whatever means is necessary, including reconciliation.”

I’m concerned that organized labor may be leaning towards Sen. Specter in spite of his questionable record on labor issues.  Last June Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Bill George introduced the Senator at a meeting of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.  Then last Saturday Specter was brought into the ballroom to meet with George and Leo Gerard.  The crowd, consisting of hundreds of people from organized labor, then sat on their hands while Specter blatantly lied to their faces about his record.  Their was little accountability aside from UFCW’s John Meyerson calling him out on his opposition to card check.  Where’s the accountability here?  When Bill George introduces Sen. Specter at major events it creates an appearance of endorsement.

PA AFL-CIO Calls Out Dems on Taxing Health Benefits

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO held a round table discussion on health insurance reform at noon today in Harrisburg.   Michael Fedor and Jake Long of the Central PA Area Labor Federation called out Democrats who are voting to tax union benefit plans and those Members of Congress for whom Labor supported, for voting against workers.  Citing candidate Barack Obama’s opposition to taxing health care benefits during the presidential campaign Labor is upset that now the Senate bill would tax these plans once their value reaches $23,000/year.  Jake Long cited the benefits at Hershey Foods where he led that union for many years.  The family plans there cost Hershey $17,000 per year.  Assuming no future cost controls (since the bill is sorely lacking them) and a 10% annual increase in premiums they will meet this tax threshold in just four years.  These aren’t “Cadillac” plans being affected but average worker’s plans which were negotiated at the cost of wage increases over many years.

The AFL-CIO sees this as a betrayal by Democrats whom they worked hard to elect.  They told their members to support, vote for and volunteer for Obama because John McCain was going to tax their benefits.  Now it appears President Obama will if he signs this Senate bill.

Remember that candidate Obama campaigned on rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the rich to fund health care reform.  Now all we’re left with is health insurance reform and instead of taxing the rich he would tax working people.  Unions negotiated contracts centered on health care benefits for decades and conceded wage increases in order to gain good plans.  Working families surrendered wages for these benefits and now they face being taxed on their value.  Labor, rightly so, feels betrayed.  “This violates the social pact agreed with over the course of negotiations” said Long.  “Now they are being asked to bear the brunt of health care reform.  Obama is making the wrong choice by making workers pay for this reform.  We won’t be silent on this and we won’t roll over.”  Mr. Fedor said “This is the watershed moment, if you do this on the backs of workers and don’t hold the insurance companies accountable then they’re doing it wrong and we’ll hold them accountable.”

Those are strong statements and officials, especially Democrats, must seriously consider what they’re doing with this legislation.  We already saw an abysmal turnout in November from Democrats angered and frustrated by the gutting of real health care reform.  Now, if Labor opts to withhold support and funds from Democrats there could be very serious consequences come November 2010.

I asked specifically about two Democratic Congressmen from Pennsylvania who voted against the House bill.  They are Tim Holden and Jason Altmire.  Some of that conversation was off the record but suffice it to say the AFL-CIO was instrumental in both Districts and they may opt to sit out those campaigns in 2010.  For Altmire and Holden this could be disastrous.

Another anomaly of the Senate bill which was pointed out by Jake Long was the contradiction of the funds for Nebraska negotiated by Sen. Ben Nelson.  In return for his vote the public option was discarded but he also obtained hundreds of millions in federal funds for his state’s Medicare and Medicaid recipients.  Both are publicly funded government plans.  If Sen. Nelson is so against public plans isn’t this gross hypocrisy?

Real health care reform is at the top of Labor’s legislative agenda along with the Employee Free Choice Act.  If Democrats pass a bill taxing union health benefits it can be assumed that the AFL-CIO will stop supporting their candidates.  If you’ve ever worked on a campaign in Pennsylvania you understand how critical their assistance is for winning.  I asked if Labor would recruit or fund primary opponents to Holden and Altmire.  That’s when the conversation went “off the record.”

I’m calling for the stripping of the mandate from this bill.  Nothing about it is good.  It simply is a massive transfer of public funds to private industry with few safeguards.  Serious health care reform is paramount because we face catastrophic economic paralysis if we do not.  Currently premiums are rising at about a 20% annual clip.  Some are less, many far more.  For now let’s go with the 20% figure.  This means in five years (or so) your health insurance premium will double.  If you are paying $1200/month now (the average) this means in 2014 you’ll be paying $2400.  In another five years (actually more like 3 with compounding) $4800.  These types of increases have been happening all along which is why we are where we are.  Now imagine what happens economically when Americans no longer have any discretionary income.  No money for anything but housing, food, energy, clothing and health care.

Imagine.  No consumer economy, few new cars, no new TV’s, video games, computers, iPods, toys or anything else.  All your discretionary income and, probably, much of your other income, will go towards government mandated health insurance.  Going to private, for profit companies whose consultants and lawyers will continue imagining creative new methods to deny you care.  That’s our future.  Stripping this mandate the same way we stripped the public option and/or Medicare buy in makes this a Patients Bill of Rights bill and then we can begin from scratch on a real solution.

Health Insurance Reform Slogs Onward

As I learn more and more about the health insurance bills working through the House and Senate the less I like them.  I’m beginning to think they’ve been bastardized to such an extent to be more harmful than beneficial.  With little or no cost controls they have the potential, because they are so misguided in purpose, to cause skyrocketing costs to continue while forcing all of us to buy insurance at these unsustainable levels.  At that point Democrats will be blamed for the bad bill rather than the Republicans who forced the bad policy.  Democrats are walking into a major trap.

I’ve always been a strong supporter of single payer.  I also realize votes don’t exist, as yet, to pass such a bill.  These proposals are bad however and would set reform back for a long period of time (just what the insurance industry wants).  Forcing Americans to do business with firms which have a sordid history of screwing us is bad policy.  The only way such a bill can work is with a robust public option, something which won’t get passed.

Meanwhile Pennsylvanians continue getting hurt by the broken system.  

Under reform in Pennsylvania:

   * 1.3 million residents who do not currently have insurance and 683,000 residents who have nongroup insurance could get affordable coverage through the health insurance exchange.

   * 904,000 residents could qualify for premium tax credits to help them purchase health coverage.

   * 2.2 million seniors would receive free preventive services.

   * 393,000 seniors would have their brand-name drug costs in the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” halved.

   * 151,000 small businesses could be helped by a small business tax credit to make premiums more affordable.

I’m amused by all the commercials on TV fighting this battle, especially the ones using scare tactics against seniors.  Medicare is NOT being cut.  Medicare Advantage, the privatized insurance industry plans developed by Republicans under George W. Bush to further enrich their industry benefactors, is being cut.  It’s being cut because it is 9% more expensive.  Your tax dollars shouldn’t be used to enrich private health insurers.

I’m also curious about the attack ad scaring people about “hundreds of billions in new spending.” There is no new spending on health insurance.  The proposals are about redistributing what is currently being spent and spending it in smarter, wiser, more effective ways.  Fear mongering by spinning is reprehensible.

The solutions are twofold.  Amend the House and Senate bills so they control costs and provide everyone access to a robust public option.  The other solution is allowing the states to pass their own health care reforms including single payer.  If states can opt out of the public option they should be able to form their own solutions to the crisis.

The debate begins and upcoming votes will be difficult because industry owns too many of our legislators.  The solution to that lies at the ballot box next year.  If your Member of Congress or Senator isn’t with you on this issue don’t give them money, don’t give to the DCCC or DSCC or run against them.