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The Wall Street-Health Care Connection

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Posted on Jul 23, 2009
Wall St.
Flickr / David Paul Ohmer

By Mike Elk

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on AlterNet.

When I heard Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., floating the idea of a tax on health benefits in order to raise revenue for health-care reform, I was baffled; how could this be?

Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential campaign was due, in part, to his promise to never tax health care benefits. And even as tax schemes on benefits for ordinary American workers gain traction in the Senate, many conservative House Democrats—the so-called Blue Dogs—balk at a tax increase on the country’s wealthiest citizens to help pay for a much-needed health care fix. 

That puts conservative Democrats in line with the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, which in a May editorial, embraced the tax on benefits for regular people (calling the exclusion of taxes of employer-based health care benefits "a huge money pot"), but just this week railed against the tax on the wealthy proposed in the current House bill.

On July 21, seven members of the Blue Dog Coalition forced House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to cancel debate and a vote on a health care bill already passed by two other House committees. The Blue Dogs cited their objections to the cost of the program, and Blue Dog spokesman Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., questioned the wisdom of taxing the wealthy to pay for it.

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A June survey by Lake Research Partners for the Health Care for American Now coalition found that 80 percent of likely voters opposed a tax on health care benefits.  Many health care advocates argue that taxing health care benefits could actually turn the country against the public health insurance option, which a Wall Street Journal poll shows shows that 76 percent of Americans support. If you tell people that to pay for that public option, you have to tax the benefits of those who have private insurance, that support would likely drop off a cliff.

Political concerns aside, there’s also the probability of unintended consequences if the health care benefits provided by employers are taxed—even if, as currently proposed, the tax would only kick in after a certain level of benefits. A report by the Commonwealth Fund shows that working people with employer-provided benefits could see their tax liability increase by 20 to 28 percent if a cap on tax-free health care benefits was imposed.

Yet, despite the burden that would be felt by many regular people resulting from a cap on tax-excluded benefits, some conservative Democrats are upset about a proposed surtax on the wealthy included in the House bill as a revenue-generator for health care.

The legislation proposed by leaders of three House committees would set a 1 percent surtax on couples with more than $350,000 in annual income, with higher rates taking effect for those earning $500,000 and $1 million.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said the surtax would raise $540 billion over the next decade, according to Bloomberg News. Still, Ross reportedly objects to the measure.

"I don’t like the idea of raising taxes in the worst economic crisis since World War II," he told Politico. In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is reportedly floating the idea of setting the bar higher—adding the surtax to the incomes of only those who earn more than $1 million per year.

And that’s just one way to go. The Center for Tax Justice, a progressive think tank, laid out a variety of options [PDF] for paying for health care reform. One suggestion is a 1.45 percent Medicare tax on the capital gains and other non-wage income of millionaires—a measure that could raise billions of dollars.


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By cat, July 29, 2009 at 12:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I dont know why we the American people are footing the bill for the congress and the senate health care plans? and if they dont get their act together and pass a health care plan for all americans. one social plan amougst the 100s of capitalist plans will not hurt our country, a plan that will cover the people that the capitalist plans will not cover. and provide us with a fair price to pay. Not a free health care but one we can afford and still be able to meet the cost of living raising price without paying the little cost of living price we get to the insurance company but use it for the raising prices of food gas rent with everything constantly going up we do not need the already high price of health care to steal our wage increases.

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By MarthaA, July 27, 2009 at 10:47 pm Link to this comment

David,

Obama didn’t lie.  It is not Obama that is causing the problem with health care, it is the CONSERVATIVE BLUE DOG DEMOCRATS.  If we don’t get health care, every possible Blue Dog Democrat and NEW DEMOCRAT in the House must be voted out no matter how long it takes.  As soon as they come up for vote, they must be voted out, there must not be left any CONSERVATIVE BLUE DOGS or CONSERVATIVE NEW DEMOCRATS on the Left representing the Republican Right against the Left to disable the President’s ability to represent all the people and the majority of doctors in favor of BIG business, insurance and the elite.

Political CONSERVATIVES in the House going against the President is the problem with health care, not President Obama.

Hopefully God will guide Obama through the maze that has been set for him by the Bush administration, so that he will be able to pull our country out of economic trouble, so that all the people will be able to prosper, instead of only an elite few at the top of the food chain.

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By David, July 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama lied.  It’s what he call campaigning.  The implicit understanding was ‘I’m just talkin’ bullshit to get elected.  You can’t hold me to these silly promises once I gain power’.  Besides, now he’s The Unitary Executive(holy be his name), he doesn’t have to answer to ANYONE about ANYTHING.  Ah, it’s good to be KING!

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By cat, July 27, 2009 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It WILL NOT be Obama’s fault if Health care reform does not pass it is our fault ENTIRELY. It we do not raise our voices and excising our votes we will never take back the power of the people if the lobbyist have any control it is our fault who are you electing into office.  I think we the people should stand up and be counted. 2010 provide to each state a vote on a ballot for or against a social health care plan to be inserted amongst the 100s of capitalistic health care plans that already exist so that the 40 million or so who are being discrimated against because of the high cost or a pre—exiting condition will be able to purchase. And be insured. And a plan that will allow the small business man not to have to shoulder the continuing rising price of providing it. And will allow the Middle class wage earners the benefit of see the cost of living wage not being absorbed by the rising price of their premiums going up. A non-profit plan will help to insure that all the dollars taken in will go back into the plan and each and every person who wants it can join. Let us take a vote so that our voices can not be denied for our numbers are great when every voice has a vote that is counted. If we are allowed this vote everyone Black, White, Brown, Yellow, and Red find ACORN office you can go to register. DO NOT BELIEVE THE LYES that have been thrown around about this group. ACORN is for the people to make sure all people can be heard in our country.  It is not in their authority to throw away even one registration. Only a higher official can do that. So don’t believe the lies that say they turn in fraudulent registrations it is not on them to judge a registration only to turn all of the registration in to their officials that is it that is all they are allowed to do.
We THE PEOPLE must not let anything distract us from what we elected Obama to do. Let us not be fooled again by the same caricatures again. They say OH it is us who want what’s best for the American People all the while standing on the shoulders of the insurance companies who lobbyist hold their feet to the fire (Money, Power, Greed)

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By felicity, July 27, 2009 at 8:40 am Link to this comment

Don Emilio - “...most profitable medical interventions…have no meaningful scientific evidence to support their use,”  AND something’s killing 30,000 medicare patients/year when they die from OVER-treatment.

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By catlady628, July 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm Link to this comment

Let’s face it, Republican’s, including the ones pretending to be Democrats, will sell their votes to the highest bidder. And we all know who that will be…

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By MarthaA, July 26, 2009 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

Democrats aren’t suppose to represent the wealthiest Americans, that is what Republicans do.  Political Conservative Blue Dog Republicrats have chosen to go against the President, and currently health care in the United States is needed more than ever.  This documentary by Michael Moore is evidence of the overwhelming need for citizens to get away from the oppressive tyranny of private insurance moguls who according to a whistle blower make a 425% profit, while denying health care to United States Citizens. 

Obama said he would not raise taxes on Americans making less than $250,000. per year.  Obama from the beginning has been trying to represent the people who earn less than $250,000. per year, since for the past eight (8) years, and even still, only the wealthiest Americans have been receiving money from the government. The $250,000. and less Americans have been footing the economy, it is time for the wealthiest Americans to foot public health care; instead of just to take everything from the $250,000. and less Americans and run, as if no one in America matters other than the wealthiest Americans. President Obama has assured us that all citizens matter and we the people must not allow the Blue Dogs that stand for the wealthiest in America to continue in their positions if they do not allow all United States citizens to have public health care whether they have insurance or not.

Also, watch this documentary made by Michael Moore.  It is outrageous how the firefighters were treated when they needed health care in the United States after so bravely standing for citizens on 9/11/01, but were turned down for health care, as Michael Moore documents.  Watch this documentary, America doesn’t deserve to be treated like a 3rd world country: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6646340600856118396&ei=9wjmSb3OMp2wqAOL_o25Dw&q=sicko

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By Cathy, July 26, 2009 at 5:52 pm Link to this comment

tropicgirl:  “If you want to know more about the writers of the health care legislation, look up the writings of Ezekiel Emmanuel, brother of Rahm, who is the presidents advisor. He has some very strange, (to me) ideas on health care.”

http://www.global-elite.org/node/965

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By DougTheCoder, July 26, 2009 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment

I agree with the article on the point that a tax on health care benefits will hurt small businesses and employers with older workers. But I also think it will hurt any employee that gets health insurance from their employer.

Employers know exactly how much their employees are costing them in health insurance. Any increase in those costs (including a tax) will prompt employers to either cut benefits or raise premiums or both to neutralize the cost to them…which means, of course, that the tax gets passed to the employee.

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By Rodger Lemonde, July 26, 2009 at 8:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

More taxes = less deaths from preventable or treatable conditions. What is the problem with understanding that?

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By richfam, July 26, 2009 at 5:57 am Link to this comment

The article has it right on the tax sur-charge, it taxes the wrong people. The 1.45% on cap gains makes some sense but be aware that 1. most rich people have plenty of realized loses to offset gains for the next few years and 2. financial advisors to these same people are in the business of tax avoidance - THERE S NO BETTER INVESTMENT than avoiding 30-50% taxes.

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By KDelphi, July 25, 2009 at 10:16 pm Link to this comment

felicity is right—what product or service do insurance companies provide?

there are very few people with private insutance in countries where the health care is so much better than ours

As long as it is for profit, everybody knows who will get the best.

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By Don Emilio, July 25, 2009 at 1:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m surprised that anyone is surprised by the flim-flam about health care reform. Now, I do believe Obambi’s rhetoric about the current muddle being “nonsustainable”. What I don’t believe is that, whatever brand of toilet paper the toadies in Washington cover the corpse with, ordinary Americans will be any better off because of whatever bill the corporate “players” all endorse passes.

If you really want a sustainable and affordable health care system for anybody beyond the rich, You’ve got to confront the fact that most profitable medical interventions, including most of the poisons peddled by “Big Pharma” have no meaningful scientific evidence to support their use. Simply insisting that medicine only do that which is proven to work would solve the problem.

The difficulty, of course, is that you would have to convince the insured, but anxiety ridden, yearning to live forever that maybe that nice young doctor actually doesn’t know what s/he is talking about. But if you tried, legions of well spoken corporate PR flacks would gobble up far more advertising space than you could ever afford and you would become about as popular in the US as, well, a socialist.

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By felicity, July 25, 2009 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

We really must get over the belief that the health insurance syndicate ‘provides’ us with health care.  (When I’m sick I go to the doctor, maybe the hospital but never my health insurance agent.)

Granted, the health insurance industry would like us to believe that were it not for it we would be deprived of medical care. Once we get how really useless the entire consortia are, we can throw the bastards out and get down to the real business of health care.

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By KDelphi, July 25, 2009 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

This plan, as it is, is not worth passing…

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By Howie Bledsoe, July 25, 2009 at 5:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This smells like the Big Boys again. Lets think back to the “credit crash,” “housing crisis,” “oil price spikes,” “stimulous plan” now they have grabbed up the next exploitable resource, seeing as their little cap and trade scam didnt work out they way they wanted.

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By oldhip, July 25, 2009 at 4:22 am Link to this comment

To understand what “the allowing” is all about…

See this link , and maybe gain a better understanding?

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By michael brenner, July 24, 2009 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Only a President with an IQ of 150 and the U.S. Congress could concoct a plan that makes Rube Goldberg look like a minimalist.

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By MarthaA, July 24, 2009 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment

Blue Dogs and New Democrats are not fiscal conservatives, they are political conservatives, Right-Wing political conservatives that protect the wealth of the right-wing, but for some reason they are misplaced in the Democratic Party.  It is passed time for we the people to clip the Blue Dogs and New Democrats wings and vote them out of the Democratic Party, because it is impossible for any Democrat to do anything responsible for the greater majority as long as the Blue Dogs and the New Democrats are in the party going against the leadership.

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By hippie4ever, July 24, 2009 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment

Harry Reid is a Mormon, a closet homophobe and an outed conservative—he’s so corrupt he leaves a trail of slime as he slithers towards the media cameras to grace us with his impression of a human being. That’s entertaining but hardly reassuring.

We’ve all been sold out. Better prepare to become your own doctors; the U.S. is finished.

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By harold the good, July 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The answer is simple: ALL US citizens will be afforded insurance options identical to those the US Senate has provided for itself. I asked Senator Dodd’s assistant once why it is that Senators are receiving government-sponsored health-care while their employers (you) are not. She got all puffed-up over the insolence of my very sensible question. Obviously I did not receive an answer. I did not even bother to call Leiberman. This old fart would not even reply to my letter requesting that he cease his efforts to raise the retirement age for Social Security. This while he has guaranteed his own pension, health-care and pay level.

One final note is that President Obama’s Presidency will surely fail if Senator Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, is allowed by Democrats to remain in that position. He is weak to the extent that any other Senator, Democrat or Republican, can walk all over him at will. He showed no spine during the Cheney Presidency and is showing none during this health-care debate.

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By tropicgirl, July 24, 2009 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

This article exemplified a scheme that is so confusing that no one understands it and it is not even written yet. So all this arguing is for nothing.

But, there are more serious concerns to me that are being raised. If this reform is NOTHING MORE THAN HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM, then why raise money at all? It seems all that needs to be done is enact legislation to give the moral guidelines to insurers, no patient dumping, no pre-existing, no non-payment or cancellation, etc.

And based upon the hocus-pocus of the bailouts and the TARP, which we are still not allowed to know where “the money went”, it is not surprising that all thinking people are suspicious of this, and well, Obama in general. Lately he doesn’t think that transparence and honesty will suit him.

When you couple that with the massive cuts that seems to be coming in Medicare (Obama keeps saying, we “have to reduce costs” and in that, could only be talking about Medicare because the govt, is not involved in other health costs), you wonder really what is going on here.

I have come to the conclusion that this is simply a bailout for the health insurance companies, who want to make more money. (They were conspicuously missing from the other Tom, Dick and Harry’s who asked for money).  I think it is dangerous to funnel money into a supposedly solvent industry, with no elected officials overseeing the money DIRECTLY. And for what? So they could be a sort of private Medicare? It spells trouble. And the kind of cuts happening to Medicare, by Obama, are Reagans dream.

If you want to know more about the writers of the health care legislation, look up the writings of Ezekiel Emmanuel, brother of Rahm, who is the presidents advisor. He has some very strange, (to me) ideas on health care.

Why can’t we just study the single payer system that the rest of the world seems to have a variation of, and stop fee for service and profits?

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By Shangrila Downnout, July 24, 2009 at 9:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Connection? As if it’s hidden somewhere and only stellar investigative muckraking is going to open peoples eyes?
Good lord! The mafia on Wall Street controls how much money you and I make, they are controllling the Health Care “Debate” Festival.

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By G.Anderson, July 24, 2009 at 8:28 am Link to this comment

At this point in time it should be clear to everyone, that government is powerless against the, the corporations.

What the people want and need is irrelevant to Mr. Baucus. That the tiny little population of his state should have so much say over what happens in this so called health care reform debate is ridiculous and absurd.

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By Lola Flores, July 24, 2009 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yeah, this article started very promising and, after the first paragraph, it went downhill.  I thought it was actually going to expose the connection between Wall Street (via the insurance companies) and Congress but nope, no such luck!

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By bogi666, July 24, 2009 at 6:15 am Link to this comment

Baucus only wants health insurance reform, not health care reform. Their is no health care industry. Their are health care professionals, providers and workers who work at the behest of the health insurers. The morphing of health care with health insurance confuses the issue and the issue is health care.

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