McCain: Economic Warfare Through Healthcare

mccain_bush_hug Yesterday Arizona Sen. John McCain delivered what his handlers were hyping as a major address on health care. McCain’s plan is a dangerous fraud.

He wants voters to think he is going after health care cost inflation. In reality, he wants to dismantle the employer-provided system that now covers over 60 percent (or about 158 million) of non-elderly Americans, forcing millions of us who now get fairly decent health insurance on the job to instead buy whatever they can find on the individual market controlled by unregulated and predatory insurance companies. And he would drive health care costs upward, not downward.

This is truly amazing: McCain and his handlers knew they had to say something about health care.

So they turned to their friends (and financial supporters) in the health care industry and the conservative think tanks. And they have adopted the most extreme right-wing ideological approach, premised on the idea that the big problem in health care is that Americans have too much insurance – in their words, we don’t have enough “skin in the game” – and that only when we have to buy health care with money that comes directly out of our own pockets will consumers force doctors, hospitals and insurance companies to become more efficient.

So that’s the theory. But it is contradicted by the facts. Most of us already pay part of our premiums out of our own pockets, and we increasingly have to shell out for co-pays in order to get to see a doctor. The result–in practice–is that most people, even those with good insurance, now think twice or three times about even getting regular preventive health checkups. Having lots of “skin in the game” has meant that millions of Americans don’t get health care they need–and that’s one of the big problems in U.S. health care driving costs up, not down.

But McCain, like George Bush, pays more attention to ultra-conservative theory than he does to the facts. So McCain wants to tax workers’ health care premiums that are paid for by employers. Ask any expert, conservative or liberal, and they will tell you the result will be companies will stop providing health care as an employee benefit. Fortune Magazine quotes one of their experts on the impact of McCain’s plan: “I predict that most companies would stop paying for health care in three to four years,” says Robert Laszewski, a consultant who works with corporate benefits managers.

Now keep this in mind: McCain and his corporate advisers don’t dispute this. The massive upheaval that would result – millions of families losing their health coverage on the job and then having to try to find an insurance company that would sell them a new policy that would cover their families–that’s not an unintended consequence of his proposal. That chaotic loss of health security is exactly what McCain intends to happen. He wants us all to buy insurance not as part of a group–like an employee group or a co-op–that can negotiate for better coverage at lower premiums, but as individuals, at the mercy of the private insurance companies.

And get this: McCain wants to abolish the regulations that currently exist in most states that require companies to insure people with pre-existing conditions, provide benefits that don’t exclude some medical conditions, and prevent them from charging huge premiums for crumby benefits. How would he do this? By “giving people the freedom” to buy insurance in other states with weaker regulations. You can bet that most of the big insurance companies are now shopping around for the state that wants to become the corporate headquarters state for the new deregulated health insurance industry – if President McCain wins. Delaware? Mississippi? Arizona?

But, but, but . . . I can hear some people saying, McCain does give people refundable tax credits to help pay for health insurance. And that is part of his package. But his whole philosophy is that too many millions of American’s are getting health care benefits that are too rich, and you certainly can’t say that about the level of tax subsidy he would provide–$2,500 per year for individuals and $5,000 for a family, according to the McCain for President website. Last year the average yearly cost of the most popular type of insurance plan offered by employers hit $11,765, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. So the average person with a family would end up paying $11,765 minus the $5,000 tax credit, or $6,765–about double the $3,226 Kaiser tells us the average employee paid for his or her share of premiums.

Again, this is NOT unintentional. McCain and his corporate advisers think it is good for individuals and families to pay more because it makes them think twice before seeking health care, and–in theory–they will shop around for cheaper care. And if they can’t cover the costs of real health insurance with McCain’s tax credit, the insurance industry will sell you lower-cost plans with big holes in coverage or costly co-pays–that is, if you are not already sick and you aren’t too old for them to see you as profitable… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <TPM>

Add to this that in order to get the full tax credit a family would need to have an adjusted gross income of $33,333.33 or more. which works out to about $45,000 – $50,000 in wages. Families at or near the poverty line would get virtually nothing. That’s fine with McConJob and the GOP. So the net effect of this plan is for those without health coverage now to stay without, for millions more with health coverage through work to lose their coverage, and for those who retain it to pay twice as much for less coverage. Is this a McConJob or what?

All articles cross-posted from Politics Plus

They’re After Me!

Tom12-2007-200 It had to happen sooner or later, and yesterday afternoon it did. I received my first campaign call in which a human, not a machine, was on the other end of the line, so I spent about forty five minutes chatting with a lady who was urging me to support Hillary Clinton. Except for interrupting me several times early on, once she got her planned talking points out of the way she was polite, respectful, and willing to settle down and talk issues.

I told her that I am an undecided voter, but that I will support whichever Democrat wins the nomination in the general election. I also told her that I am a B-list political blogger, but she did not seem to know what a blogger is.

I asked her why Hillary has not supported a single-payer health care system. She said that her brother has had problems with the VA and that she thinks it may be because government health care isn’t that good. I explained that we can leave the care private, but make the coverage public, cutting the insurance industry out of their obscene profits and coverage decisions. I told her that health care decisions should not be left to greedy corporations for whom profit trumps care. She agreed that was a better idea, and suggested that Hillary might switch to such a plan after she was elected. She went on to stress that Clinton’s plan was superior to Obama’s. I asked her in what ways it was superior. She didn’t know the details but knew that it was.

I asked her whether or not Hillary would pursue criminal charges against Bush and his minions for war crimes and other crimes while in office. She did not know. I pointed out that Obama had committed to have DOJ investigate them. She said she hopes that Clinton will too, and suggested that, although they should be tried for their crimes, it might take a long time, like it did with Pinochet. I pointed out that Pinochet had been charged, but never tried.

I asked her why Hillary had never admitted her error in voting for the Iraq war. She said that was Bush’s fault, because Clinton was going on what she thought was reliable intelligence. I told her that I knew and had documented, before the war, that the intelligence was was flawed with far less resources than a Senator enjoys. If I could find that out, why couldn’t Clinton. She didn’t know.

I told her that I was displeased with some of Hillary’s campaign tactics. She said that politics is a dirty business, and I should be glad to have a candidate who can do that well, because those skills will be needed against McCain.

At the end of each of these discussions, she kept coming back to one central theme. The party needs a candidate that can win in November, and that although Obama is a wonderful person, Clinton is the candidate who can win. After ignoring that several times, I rose to the bait. I brought up the last debate, and asked her if Clinton had not said that Obama could win too. She replied that Clinton had to say “Yes, yes, yes”, because she was on the spot, and the media would have roasted her, if she had said anything else. She repeated that Clinton really is the electable candidate, and Obama is not. So I asked, “So are you telling me that Clinton lied when she said that?” Dead silence. Then she said that it wasn’t really lying, it was just saying what she had to say at the time, and asked what she was supposed to do when put on the spot like that? I said, “Well I’d hope she would have realized that the American people deserve the truth, even if that truth is not what we want to hear.”

That undid the poor lady. I could almost hear her thinking that she wished she had never called me, as she said she had to get on to the next person she had to call. She asked me if I would vote for Clinton, and I told her I am still not committed.

I was not impressed with her knowledge of the issues, and frankly, turned off by her insistence that Obama is not electable. After Clinton committed herself publicly that both are electable, that issue should be off the table.

In fairness, I have not yet received a similar call from the Obama campaign, and when I do, I will be just as hard on that person as I was on this poor lady, who remained personable and respectful throughout my inquisition.

On the other hand, if McConJob’s people call, the crapola is going to hit the fan… big time!! smile_tongue

All articles cross-posted from Politics Plus

Pushing the Single Payer Solution

25singlepayer As the media coverage of the Democratic presidential race continues to focus on lapel pins and pastors, America is ailing. As I travel around the country, I find people are angry and motivated. Like Dr. Rocky White, a physician from a conservative, evangelical background who practices in rural Alamosa, Colo. A tall, gray-haired Westerner in black jeans, a crisp white shirt and a bolo tie, Dr. White is a leading advocate for single-payer health care. He wasn’t always.

He told me in a recent interview: “Here I am, a Republican, thinking about nationalizing health care. It just went against the grain of everything that I stood for. But you have to remember: I didn’t come to those conclusions with lofty ideals of social justice.”

In the early 1990s, his medical group started falling apart. White, a keen student of economics and the business of medicine, determined that it wasn’t just his practice but the system that was broken.

“You’re seeing an ever-increasing number of people starting to support a national health program. In fact, 59 percent of practicing physicians today believe that we need to have a national health program. I mean, that’s unheard of, even 10 years ago. It’s amazing to see a new generation of physicians coming up who are disgusted with our current health-care system. You know, we’re trained to be advocates of patients, we’re trained to save lives, we’re trained to practice medicine. And instead, what we’re doing is we’re practicing Wall Street economics.”

Single-payer is not to be confused with universal coverage, which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both support. In fact, in a recent debate, when Clinton raised the issue of single-payer, the audience interrupted with applause. She immediately countered, “I know a lot of people favor [it], but for many reasons [it] is difficult to achieve.”

Why? One of the most powerful industries in the country opposes it — the insurance industry. Under universal coverage, insurance profits are preserved. Under single-payer, they are not. Dr. Rocky White, who now sits on the board of the nonprofit Health Care for All Colorado, has switched his political affiliation. He also has updated and reissued Dr. Robert LeBow’s book on single-payer called Health Care Meltdown: Confronting the Myths and Fixing Our Failing System.

He described possible solutions: “There are a lot of different types of single-payer systems — you could have purely socialized medicine. That’s kind of like what England has. The government owns the hospitals, the government owns the clinics, the government finances all the health care, and all the doctors work for the government. That is truly socialized medicine, as opposed to the Canadian system, where the financing comes through their Medicare program, but all the doctors are in private practice.”

The economics are complex, but this plain-spoken country doctor explains it clearly:

“You know, this industry is a $2-trillion industry, and the profits in the for-profit insurance industry are so huge and it’s so deeply entrenched into Wall Street … but until we move to a single-payer system and get rid of the profit motive in financing of health care, we will not be able to fix the problems that we have.”

What would it take? Dr. White has spent his life dealing with the high winds on the high plains, from Nebraska to Colorado, and describes the challenge the country faces in familiar terms:

“I think that our current presidential candidates understand that ideally single-payer would be the best, but they don’t have the political will to move that forward. Their job is to feel which way the wind is blowing. Our job is to turn that wind.” [emphasis added]

Inserted from <AlterNet>

About $0.31 cents of every health care dollar spent in the US goes to insurance company profit. Another $0.10 goes to the administrative costs of the struggle between health care providers and insurance companies over whether the insurance companies will pay or deny the claims. A single payer system would therefore eliminate about 41% of healthcare costs, and that difference would more than pay for covering the 50 million Americans who have no coverage, 18,000 of whom die every year because of it. As much of a tragedy as 9/11 was, our current health care system kills through exclusion six times as many people every year.

Because we all need police, we have single payer police services. Because we all need a fire department, we have single payer fire fighting service. Because we all need health coverage, we need single payer health care service. Health care is far to important to leave its life and death decisions in the hands of greedy corporations for whom profit trumps care.

Although McMillionaire is far worse, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both wrong on health care. Tell them so!

All articles cross-posted from Politics Plus

Gordon Smith: Payback

Smith-Gordon That’s what Tax Day is for Gordon Smith’s special interest contributors. It’s the day they can tally up how many billions Gordon Smith is saving them in return for the millions they have contributed to his campaigns.

A couple examples. In each example, Smith cancelled out the vote of Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Senator, Ron Wyden.

Smith Helped Protect $5 Billion In Big Oil Tax Breaks.

Tax loopholes that save the oil industry $5 billion were removed from the original Senate version of the GOP tax reconciliation bill in February 2006, but after heavy lobbying by the industry, Congressional negotiators reinserted them into the final bill. The $5 billion tax break for Big-Oil could have been used instead to partially offset the increase in middle class taxes. Gordon Smith voted for the final tax bill with the Big-Oil tax breaks.

[Republican Policy Committee, 2/7/06; Washington Post, 4/26/06; Joint Tax Committee, 5/9/06; Vote 118, 5/11/06]

Smith Opposed Efforts To Lower Drug Prices For Seniors.

Smith voted against an amendment to allow the federal government to negotiate volume discounts for seniors the way it does for military personnel and veterans.

[Senate vote #60, 3/17/05]

How did these industries earn Smith’s votes?

With checks to his campaigns.

The Say Anything Senator has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Pharmaceutical and Health Products Industry over the last several years.

Smith has raised nearly $1.5 million from Big Oil and the other special interests who control his reckless environmental votes against reducing greenhouse gases and lowering fuel standards.

“Gordon Smith’s record clearly shows he’s a vending machine for votes,” DPO Chair Meredith Wood Smith said. “Special interests insert money and Gordon Smith produces corporate tax breaks, overpriced prescription drugs and anything else they want.”… [emphasis original]

Inserted from <Stop Gordon Smith>

When Smith pretends to be a progressive moderate, don’t believe his lies. He is go-to Gordon for GOP goose-stepping.

Cross-posted from Politics Plus

Signs of the Times: Class Warfare

The New York Times is a gold mind this morning with three good articles on the economy. In the first, here’s the latest trend in health coverage:

14signs-copay Health insurance companies are rapidly adopting a new pricing system for very expensive drugs, asking patients to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars for prescriptions for medications that may save their lives or slow the progress of serious diseases.

With the new pricing system, insurers abandoned the traditional arrangement that has patients pay a fixed amount, like $10, $20 or $30 for a prescription, no matter what the drug’s actual cost. Instead, they are charging patients a percentage of the cost of certain high-priced drugs, usually 20 to 33 percent, which can amount to thousands of dollars a month.

The system means that the burden of expensive health care can now affect insured people, too.

No one knows how many patients are affected, but hundreds of drugs are priced this new way. They are used to treat diseases that may be fairly common, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, hepatitis C and some cancers. There are no cheaper equivalents for these drugs, so patients are forced to pay the price or do without.

Insurers say the new system keeps everyone’s premiums down at a time when some of the most innovative and promising new treatments for conditions like cancer and rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis can cost $100,000 and more a year.

But the result is that patients may have to spend more for a drug than they pay for their mortgages, more, in some cases, than their monthly incomes.

The system, often called Tier 4, began in earnest with Medicare drug plans and spread rapidly. It is now incorporated into 86 percent of those plans. Some have even higher co-payments for certain drugs, a Tier 5.

Now Tier 4 is also showing up in insurance that people buy on their own or acquire through employers, said Dan Mendelson of Avalere Health, a research organization in Washington. It is the fastest-growing segment in private insurance, Mr. Mendelson said. Five years ago it was virtually nonexistent in private plans, he said. Now 10 percent of them have Tier 4 drug categories.

Private insurers began offering Tier 4 plans in response to employers who were looking for ways to keep costs down, said Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents most of the nation’s health insurers. When people who need Tier 4 drugs pay more for them, other subscribers in the plan pay less for their coverage.

But the new system sticks seriously ill people with huge bills, said James Robinson, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It is very unfortunate social policy,” Dr. Robinson said. “The more the sick person pays, the less the healthy person pays.”

Traditionally, the idea of insurance was to spread the costs of paying for the sick.

“This is an erosion of the traditional concept of insurance,” Mr. Mendelson said. “Those beneficiaries who bear the burden of illness are also bearing the burden of cost.”

And often, patients say, they had no idea that they would be faced with such a situation… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

You can bet that Big Insurance is not talking about this in those glossy brochures they use to sell their product, especially to seniors. The language will be deeply buried in the most obtuse legalese in the policies. This highlights the need for universal, single-payer health care, because more and more, Big Insurance has stacked the deck against the most needy and the most vulnerable. This new system leaves two choices… Be rich, or be screwed.

Next, Paul Krugman has some insight into why consumers have lost confidence in the economy:

rich-poor The Survey Research Center of the University of Michigan has been tracking American economic perceptions since the 1950s. On Friday the center released its latest estimate of the consumer sentiment index — and it was a stunner. Americans are more pessimistic about their situation than they have been for more than a quarter century.

Meanwhile, a recent Pew report found that the percentage of Americans saying that they’re better off than they were five years ago is at its lowest level in 44 years of polling.

What’s striking about this bleak mood is that by the usual measures the economy isn’t doing that badly — at least not yet. In particular, the official unemployment rate of 5.1 percent, though rising, is still fairly low by historical standards. Yet economic attitudes are worse now than they were in 1992, when the average unemployment rate was 7.5 percent.

Why are we feeling so down?

Our bleakness partly reflects the fact that most Americans are doing considerably worse than the usual economic measures let on. The official unemployment rate may be relatively low — but the percentage of prime-working-age Americans without jobs, which isn’t the same thing, is historically high. Gross domestic product is up, but the inflation-adjusted income of the median family is probably lower than it was in 2000.

Beyond that, perceptions of the current economy are strongly influenced by the public’s sense of the larger pattern.

When Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?,” the correct answer was “Yes.” Median household income, adjusted for inflation, was higher in 1980 than it had been in 1976. But gas lines and double-digit inflation made people feel that things were falling apart.

Conversely, unemployment was still historically high when Reagan proclaimed “Morning in America.” But people were ready to hear an upbeat message, because the economic storm seemed to have passed.

More recently, economic confidence held up relatively well during the 2001 recession, maybe because people were willing to see it as no more than a temporary interruption of the great 1990s boom.

A major reason we’re feeling so down now is that for working Americans the boom never did come back. Job creation in the post-2001 recovery was pathetic by Clinton-era standards; wages barely kept up with inflation. Instead, corporate profits and the incomes of a tiny elite surged — sucking up so much of the economy’s growth that only crumbs were left for everyone else.

Now the boom that wasn’t has gone bust — and Americans, understandably, have lost confidence in the prospects for a return to real prosperity… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

Bush/McConJob/GOP economics succeed only at shifting wealth from the pockets of the poor and middle classes into those of the super rich and huge greedy corporations.

Now here’s how the super rich are enjoying those gains:

14signs-ultrarich Who said anything about a recession? Sometime between the government bailout of Bear Stearns and the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that America lost 80,000 jobs in March, Lee Tachman spent roughly $50,000 last month on a four-day jaunt to Miami for himself and three close friends.

Karen Kennedy with her designer, Richard W. Gold. Ms. Kennedy is combining two apartments on the Upper West Side.

The trip was an exercise in luxuriant male bonding. Mr. Tachman, who is 38, and his friends got around by private jet, helicopter, Hummer limousine, Ferraris and Lamborghinis; stayed in V.I.P. rooms at Casa Casuarina, the South Beach hotel that was formerly Gianni Versace’s mansion; and played “extreme adventure paintball” with former agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Mr. Tachman, a manager for a company that executes trades for hedge funds and the owner of “a handful” of buildings in New York, said he has not felt the need to cut back.

“I always feel like there’s a sword of Damocles over my head, like it could all come crashing down at any time,” he said. “But there’s always going to be people who are trading, and there’s always going to be a demand for real estate in New York.”

He is hardly alone in his eagerness to keep spending. Some businesses that cater to the superrich report that clients — many of them traders and private equity investors whose work is tied to Wall Street — are still splurging on multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartments, custom-built yachts, contemporary art and lavish parties.

Buyers this year have already closed on 71 Manhattan apartments that each cost more than $10 million, compared with 17 apartments in that price range during all of 2007. Last week, a New York art dealer paid a record $1.6 million for an Edward Weston photograph at Sotheby’s. And the GoldBar, a downtown lounge, reports that bankers continue to order $3,000 bottles of Rémy Martin Louis XIII Cognac.

“When times get tough, the smart spend money,” said David Monn, an event planner who is organizing a black-tie party on May 10 for dignitaries and recent purchasers of apartments at the Plaza Hotel; the average price there was $7 million. “Short of our country going on food stamps, I don’t think we’re doing anything differently.”

Some extreme spenders say they have not cut back on their impulse Bentley or apartment purchases because they have made so much money in the good times from the Internet, stock market and real estate. Some have been able to move their money into investments like private equity that are available only to those with extensive capital. Some rationalize cars and home renovations as “investments.” And some simply don’t want to skimp on the weddings and anniversary parties that they see as milestone events… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <NY Times>

Personally, I feel angry to see such obscene conspicuous consumption at a time when so many have to do without so much. These are the people who received over 90% of the benefit from the Bush/GOP tax cuts.

Seven years of GOP tyranny have transformed the US into two societies. There is free enterprise for the poor. They may help themselves in any way they can, on their own, as long as they can find some way to circumvent a system designed to transfer what little they have to the rich. There is socialism for the rich, as they often pay far less in taxes than middle class taxpayers. The GOP has aided the super rich in class warfare against the rest of us. They have created an economic pyramid that is so top heavy that the capstone is crushing the base.

McConJob supports the economic policies of the Bush Reich. I don’t care how angry you are at Clinton. I don’t care how much you dislike Obama. Given the certainty that a McConJob victory will collapse our economy, a vote in November for anyone other that the winner between Clinton and Obama is an act of economic suicide.

Cross-posted from Politics Plus

Smith: 8 Million Questions

Smith-Gordon Yes, we know he’s got money.

But who is it from and how does it affect his votes?

As journalists report on the millions of dollars Gordon Smith will have for his re-election campaign, they’ve unearthed the most important questions about his fundraising.

Where are Gordon Smith’s contributions coming from and how do they shape his votes in Washington, D.C.?

Smith Fundraising In The News

“The race is being closely watched nationally. Smith, the only Republican in the Senate who represents a West Coast state, is considered vulnerable. But he has a big campaign finance advantage over all of the candidates.”

(AP, 4-5-08)

After the May 20 primary, Gordon Smith will “…face the morning with at least $8 million.”

(David Sarasohn Column, The Oregonian, 4-6-08)

“The Pendleton Republican far outpaces any of the Democrats in fund-raising and name recognition.”

(OPB, 4-4-08)

Special Interests And Smith

The special interests have gotten what they paid for out of Smith. He has taken millions of dollars from special interests and repaid their contributions with a voting record that favors Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.

While cashing in more than a quarter million dollars from pharmaceutical and health care special interests, Smith has voted to ban the federal government from negotiating lower drug prices for seniors, opposed improving Medicare and left rural seniors medically stranded. In all these votes he cancelled out Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s vote.

Smith has raised nearly $1.5 million from Big Oil and the other special interests who control his vote on climate change. He has heeded his special interest bosses and opposed Wyden’s bill combating climate change.

Gordon Smith has learned that when you deliver votes for the special interests, they deliver checks for your re-election,” DPO Chair Meredith Wood Smith said. “From ignoring climate change to neglecting seniors, the special interests have gotten their money’s worth out of Gordon Smith.”

Inserted from <Stop Gordon Smith>

Whenever Gordon Smith pretends to be a progressive moderate, it is a lie. He does not represent Oregon. He represents the GOP party line. Oregon needs to elect whichever Democrat wins the nomination to oppose him.

Cross-posted from Politics Plus

Elizabeth Edwards Joins Center for American Progress

8elizabeth_edwards Former senator John Edwards (N.C.) remains on the political sidelines but that isn’t stopping his wife, Elizabeth, from rejoining the fray as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Elizabeth Edwards will be dealing with health care issues at the progressive think tank founded by John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. In her new role, Edwards, who has gained a considerable following in the liberal blogosphere thanks to her willingness to vocally oppose conservative politicos from Sen. John McCain to commentator Ann Coulter, will also be contributing to CAP’s blog.

“As many can attest, I have an opinion on everything,” Edwards said tonight about her new role. “But I am particularly concerned about the state of health care in America and I am grateful to CAP for giving me the chance to continue to advocate for universal and quality health care coverage for all.”…

Inserted from <Washington Post Blog>

I wish her every success in her goals at CAP. Perhaps we put up the wrong Edwards. smile_wink

Cross-posted from Politics Plus