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Truthdiggers of the Week: Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese

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Posted on Nov 3, 2013
Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

By Alexander Reed Kelly

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating. Nominate our next Truthdigger here.

In the months and years ahead, Americans will at long last have the chance to discover whether the health insurance law touted as President Obama’s greatest achievement to date is anything like the historical, humanitarian event his supporters claim it to be. The proposition, of course, is mistaken from the start. The callously named Affordable Care Act is not and never was Obama’s law. He didn’t write it. Insurance companies did, the very same that by a wide margin favored him financially over every other presidential candidate in 2008, and a close look at the measure’s products suggests that Obama was merely the health industry’s defender and salesman of choice against an increasingly agitated public.

Think back to the years leading up to 2008. Concern for America’s dismal health care was approaching a critical mass. Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko,” which grossed $24.5 million at the box office, had laid the malignant and metastasizing tumors of private health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry on the examination table for all to see. It was known that 50 million Americans, nearly one in six of our neighbors, ran the risks of daily life without the safety net of insurance; 18,000 of them (a number that would be revised upward to 45,000 a few years later) were estimated to be dying in consequence; the quality of American health care had been ranked 37th in a study of 191 nations by the World Health Organization, despite the fact that the U.S. spent a greater portion of its GDP on services than any other country, or nearly $7,000 per person (compared with Cuba’s $251). Health-related expenses were found to be the primary cause of roughly half of all personal bankruptcies. Americans were getting righteously pissed, and their elected leaders knew they had to do something about it.

Now, enter marketing and media magazine Advertising Age’s 2008 “Marketer of the Year.” For two kinds of Americans—those suffering either poor health and finances or a bruised partisan ego—Barack Obama appeared as a blessed savior come to heal their wounds. His speeches showed that he understood what was wrong and was committed to a solution. “I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer universal health care plan,” he told attendants at a meeting of the AFL-CIO in 2003, as a senator. There is no reason why “the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, is spending 14 percent of its gross national product on health care and not providing basic health insurance to everybody. … Everybody in. Nobody out. … That’s what I’d like to see.” (As Truthdig reader Bruce added in the comments section below, Obama then listed what needed to be done to make this a reality: a Democratic re-capture of the White House and both chambers of Congress. We delivered it to him, Bruce correctly said, but when he had his chance to use them, Obama reneged.)

During his quest for the presidency, he doubled down. Months before he was elected, Obama said to a crowd in Albuquerque, N.M., “If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system.” Combined with his minority appeal, constitutional law background and reputation as a community organizer, to many of his listeners, these public statements made him a believable leader of a crusade to fix health care in the name of social justice. As a frontman for Change, Obama was uniquely suited to placate the public.

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A case for the view of our president-as-salesman was effectively made in an article published last week by pediatrician Margaret Flowers and lawyer and longtime activist Kevin Zeese. Flowers serves as a national board adviser for Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for universal, comprehensive single-payer health care. Along with Flowers, Zeese organized the Occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and now operates PopularResistance.org. Both Flowers and Zeese have campaigned for years for a need-based rather than a profit-based health system.

Zeese and Flowers’ criticism of the Affordable Care Act centers on the fact that it “is based on continuing our complicated private health insurance or market-based system. Despite their advertising slogans, private insurers primarily exist to create profit for their investors or, in the case of ‘nonprofit insurers,’ to pay exorbitant salaries to their executives. They care about health as much as Big Oil cares about the environment.”

They continue: “Health insurers make their profits from charging the highest premiums they can and by restricting and denying payment for care. They want to take in as much money as they can, while paying out as little on health care as possible. They have many tools with which to do this, and they’ve successfully skirted regulations for decades. When they can’t make a profit, they simply pull that product from the shelf and create new products.”


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