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Obama’s Health Care Bill Is Enough to Make You Sick
Posted on Jul 11, 2010
By Chris Hedges
Obama’s numerous betrayals—from his failure to implement serious environmental reform at Copenhagen, to his expansion of the current wars, to his refusal to create jobs for our desperate class of unemployed and underemployed, to his gutting of public education, to his callous disregard for the rights of workers and funneling of trillions in taxpayer money to banks—is a shameful list. Passing universal, single-payer nonprofit health care for all Americans might have delivered to Obama, who may well be a one-term president, at least one worthwhile achievement. Single-payer nonprofit health care has widespread popular support, with nearly two-thirds of the public behind it. It is backed by 59 percent of doctors. And it would have helped roll back, at least a bit, the corporate assault on the citizenry.
Medical bills lead to 62 percent of personal bankruptcies, and nearly 80 percent of these people had insurance. The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on health care, $8,160 per capita. Private insurance bureaucracy and paperwork consume 31 percent of every health care dollar. Streamlining payment through a single nonprofit payer would save more than $400 billion per year—enough, PNHP estimates, to provide comprehensive, high-quality coverage for all Americans.
Candidate Obama promised to protect women’s rights under Roe. v. Wade, something this legislation does not do. He told voters he would create a public option and then refused to consider it. The health care reform bill, to quote a statement released by PNHP, has instead “saddled Americans with an expensive package of onerous individual mandates, new taxes on workers’ health plans, countless sweetheart deals with the insurers and Big Pharma, and a perpetuation of the fragmented, dysfunctional, and unsustainable system that is taking such a heavy toll on our health and economy today.”
“Obama said he was going to have everybody at the table,” Redmond said, “but that was a lie. Our voice was not allowed to be there. There was a blackout on our movement. We did not get media attention. We did actions all over the country but we could not get coverage. We had the ‘Mad as Hell Doctors’ go across the country in a caravan, and they had rallies and meetings. If that had been a bunch of AMA Republican doctors, Anderson Cooper would have been on the caravan reporting live. NPR would have done a series. Instead, they did not get much coverage. And neither did the sit-ins and arrests at insurance companies, although we have never seen that level of activity. They turned us into a fringe movement, although poll after poll shows that the majority of people want some kind of single-payer system.”
Our for-profit health system is driven by insurance companies whose goal is to avoid covering the elderly and the sick. These groups, most in need of medical care, diminish profits. Medicare, paid for by the government, removes responsibility for many of the old. Medicaid, also paid for by the government, removes the poor people, who have a greater tendency to have chronic health problems. Hefty premiums, which those who are seriously ill and lose their jobs often cannot pay, remove the very sick. If you are healthy and employed, which means you are less likely to need expensive or complex treatment, the insurance companies swoop down like birds of prey. These corporations need to control our perceptions of health care. Patients must be viewed as consumers. Doctors, identified as “health care providers,” must be seen as salespeople.
Insurance companies, which will soon be able to use billions in taxpayer dollars to bolster their lobbying efforts and campaign contributions, know that single-payer nonprofit insurance means their extinction. And they will employ considerable resources to make sure single-payer nonprofit coverage is denied to the public. They correctly see this as a battle for their lives. And if human beings have to die so they can survive, they are willing to make us pay this price.
The for-profit health care industry, along with the Democratic Party, consciously set out to confuse the public debate. It created Health Care for America NOW! in 2008 and provided it with tens of millions of dollars to supposedly build a public campaign for a public option. But the organization had no intention of permitting a public option. The organization was, as Dr. Flowers said, “a very clever way to distract members of the single-payer movement and co-op some of them. They told them that the public option would become single payer, that it was a back door to single payer, although there was no evidence that was true.”
Physicians for a National Health Plan attempted to fight back. It worked with a number of organizations under a coalition called the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care. The group, which included the National Nurse’s Union and Health Care Now, sought meetings with members of Congress. Flowers and other advocates asked Congress members to include them in committee debates about the health care bill. But when the first debate on the health care reform took place in the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, a politician who gets over 80 percent of his campaign contributions from outside his home state of Montana, they were locked out. Baucus invited 41 people to testify. None backed single payer.
The Leadership Conference, which represents more than 20 million people, again requested that one of their members testify. Baucus again refused. When the second committee meeting took place, Flowers and seven other activists stood one by one in the room and asked why the voices of the patients and the health care providers were not being heard. The eight were arrested and removed from the committee hearing.
Single-payer advocates were eventually heard on a few of the House and Senate committees. But the hearings were a charade, part of Washington’s cynical political theater. It was the insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists who were in charge. They dominated the public debate. They wrote the legislation. They determined who received lavish campaign contributions and who did not. And they won.
“We are talking about life and death, about the difference between living your life and dying,” Redmond said. “And once again it came down to the Democratic Party trumping the needs of the people.”
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