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Screw Your Neighbor
by Michael I. Niman
Let’s begin here with the understanding that I’m no fan of the Affordable Care Act, what we now term ObamaCare™. What we got is essentially the same plan proposed by Republicans in the 1990s as an alternative to Bill Clinton’s healthcare proposal. Where this plan deviates from the global norm for universal healthcare is in its maintenance of a private insurance industry bureaucracy, which essentially exists to give Wall Street a skim on healthcare expenditures. The Republicans, ironically, but effectively, have labeled this enshrining of the for-profit insurance model a “government takeover” of healthcare.
Paying the ransom
One aspect of ObamaCare™ that irks the insurance industry and the investment bankers that back it is the mandate that 80 to 85 percent of healthcare premiums, depending on the policy, actually be spent directly on healthcare—limiting the insurance industry skim to 15 or 20 percent. This 15 or 20 percent not only amounts to a social waste but adds a crippling financial burden to a system that is already the costliest in the world. Still, this skim limit is unacceptable to a plutocracy that sees an unlimited economic plunder as its entitlement.
The current healthcare plan is also fatally flawed, since it doesn’t effectively control the runaway costs that have made our healthcare system the most expensive in the world. In particular, it doesn’t stop pharmaceutical conglomerates from essentially blackmailing sick folks or their families into paying a ransom to stay healthy. Of course we never use the “blackmail” analogy here, because Big Pharma’s plunders are protected by the grace of law. Yet the ransoms people must pay are real, with such medical expenses now standing as the major cause of bankruptcy in America. They’re also the reason why private health insurance is prohibitively expensive, and why insurance companies demand the right to discriminate against the sick.
I’m familiar with the industry argument here: Profits pay for research, hence we owe society’s medical breakthroughs to industry greed. The only reason, such an argument presumes, that we cure diseases, is to get rich. No riches, no cures. But let’s look at Cuba for a moment. The Cuban political model certainly isn’t one I’d like to emulate, but Cuban society is illuminating nonetheless. Think of it as an experimental constant by which we can measure outcomes to test hypotheses. In Cuba, researchers typically earn less per year than a tourism industry bellhop can earn in tips in one month. Yet, poor as the nation is, Cuba is a world leader in medical research and has more physicians per capita than any other country in the world.
It appears that something other than pure material greed seems to motivate people to help each other. Whether you call it patriotism, communalism, tribalism, Christianity, or whatever, it’s a historic constant that predates civilization. Big Pharma’s quest to monetize and monopolize such a societal legacy typifies their sociopathological greed and market-based depravity.
They’re also thieves. Most of the intellectual property claimed by Big Pharma is built upon a foundation of prior research—an intellectual legacy that’s been established over generations. Much of this foundational research was conducted at government-funded universities, or by researchers trained, at least in part, on the government dime, funded by a plethora of student aid programs, many of which, incidentally, are now dead or under attack. Put simply, you don’t invent a new car unless someone invented an engine, and you don’t invent an engine unless someone invented steel. And you don’t pull a wonder drug out of thin air. All but the last stages of the process belong to society.
Moving the ball
Now let’s look once again at the Affordable Care Act. Yes, it’s flawed. But it does have merit. It will eventually provide health insurance for tens of millions of people who don’t currently have it. For them, my argument about Big Pharma’s greed is irrelevant at best. Soon they’ll be able to take their kids to a pediatrician, which at the moment is still, shamefully, a privilege and not a right in this country. Under the new law, people with preexisting conditions will also be able to get health insurance, which is a step forward from the barbarism of 2010. The law forces insurance companies to pay for preventative care and prohibits them from rescinding coverage after folks get sick. It eliminates lifetime limits on coverage, meaning your lifetime ends when your body, instead of your insurance, gives out.
The bill still sucks, however, especially with its provision to force the uninsured to buy insurance from private insurers, while not allowing the general public to opt for the public option Congress reserves for itself. But the Affordable Care Act does move the ball in the right direction. From here on in, our healthcare debate will start with the basic premise that everyone, including sick folks, have a right to healthcare. Given the limits to democracy enacted by the Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision, which allows Big Pharma and the Health Insurance industry to essentially buy members of Congress on the auction block, the Affordable Care Act represents nothing less than a political miracle.
This movement of the ball is also the reason why the new bought-and-paid-for, Republican-controlled Congress is making the repeal of this law its number one priority—to move the ball back into the dark ages. To fully understand how determined the new Republican members of Congress are to serve their corporate masters, we need to look at the financial audit performed by the Congress’s own nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
An expensive screwing
According to the CBO, repealing the law will add $230 billion to the national deficit over the next 10 years, with that figuring ballooning much larger if Republicans can maintain the status quo into the next decade. At the same time, repeal would result in 32 million Americans, who would otherwise be insured, not having any health insurance. Elected on a deficit reduction platform, both as Republicans and Tea Partyers, the new Congressional majority is wasting no time in getting down to the business of betraying their own voters now that their usefulness has past. This bears repetition: The new Congress wants to, by their own measure, add over $230 billion to the deficit while denying health insurance to 32 million Americans. That’s a cost to taxpayers of more than $7,000 for the joy of screwing each poor bastard out of healthcare. It’s not always cheap to be a sociopath.
Interestingly, the new Republican majority also created an informal rule for themselves: They will not enact any legislation that will add to the national deficit. They seem willing, however, to make an exception in this case to their one-week-old rule, which hasn’t lasted the test of even one vote.
The new Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, dismissed the CBO audit in his first press conference as Speaker, explaining that they’re “entitled to their opinion.” According to Boehner, however, “I don’t think anybody in this town believes that repealing Obamacare is going to increase the deficit.” The CBO, he explains, was apparently duped by “accounting gimmicks.” That’s pretty much it—an unsupported hypothesis floating as a soundbite without any empirical argument behind it.
For the record, this audit doesn’t come from a Marxist or even a Keynesian economist or think tank. It comes from the auditing arm of the Congress, which Boehner now represents as its Speaker. The CBO is a bipartisan commission created and controlled by Congress to provide objective cost analyses for implementing legislation. And since their inception in 1974, there really haven’t been any sustainable attacks on their impartiality or competence.
As part of their charge, the CBO analyzed the bill that Republicans identified as their first piece of legislation—what they call the “Repealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act.” Using computer models to crunch the cost of enacting the bill, the CBO’s four-eyed, eggheaded brainiacs came up with the aforementioned cost estimate. In his wholesale dismissal of the CBO’s findings, Boehner has created some interesting obstacles for his party. With their own in-house auditors now marginalized as a socialist fifth column, perhaps the Republican majority will turn to Ouija boards or Fox News for cost estimates on subsequent bills.
The current Republican healthcare plan, at this point, just involves the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, with no alternative to replace it with. This is the same strategy they used in the 1990s to kill the Clinton healthcare initiatives. Ultimately, they thwarted the Clinton plan by forcing the administration into crippling compromises, then dismissed the bill wholesale, while providing vague promises to develop something better, which almost a generation later, they never produced. Now the only Republican health plan on the table is a two paragraph repeal of the few crumbs we got from the Affordable Care Act.
Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Buffalo State College. His previous columns are at www.artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.blog comments powered by Disqus
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