The Big Healthcare Con Job

Amid smiles and much back patting, the Democrats, it appears, have finally been able to get the 60 votes they need to pass healthcare reform in the Senate.   It’s a big win for President Obama who will now now be able to sign the bill into law before Christmas.  That’s what he said he wanted.  But what’s in the bill?

The New York Times is calling it a “partial win” for the president.   It has yet to go to conference committee but reports coming out of Washington are troubling to anyone who believes adequate healthcare is a right and not a privilege.

It appeared as though the Democrats started this process with the best of intentions.  With their majority they should have been able to dictate terms.  Most, wanted to expand healthcare coverage to more Americans while reigning in the escalating cost due to excessive fees charged by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.   At one point, the push for healthcare reform had the backing of the AARP,  the Council of Catholic Bishops, the AMA and a majority of the American people.   Most Americans in fact, said they were in favor of the so-called “public option.” 

But then, as the legislative process moved forward everything fell apart.    There was opposition from Republicans and from Independent Joe Lieberman.  That was expected.  The “party of no” is, well, the party of no.  And Lieberman’s home state Connecticut, is home to a number of big health insurance companies.   Smilin’ Joe Lieberman, is clearly their guy in the Senate.  The real problem is the Democrats themselves.  Many have accepted large campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries.  All that money bought big business the loyalty it paid for as Democrats caved and came down on the side of corporate profits.

Key elements in the original bill included a so-called  “public option” that would have created competition for private insurance companies by letting the federal government sell insurance coverage directly to the American people, and an extension of Medicare benefits to people age 60 to 65.  It’s important to know that the administrative costs of the  Medicare program are estimated at around 5-6% while the same costs for private insurers can run as high as 30%.

Those two provisions wouldn’t bring healthcare standards in the U.S. up to the rest of the industrialized world, but it was a start.  And yet, in order to get the 60 votes they need for passage, the Democrats agreed to kill some of the bills most important provisions.

-The final version of the Senate bill contains no public option, so there is no competition for private health insurance companies, and consequently no incentive for them to lower their prices.   In addition, it appears to contain no adequate control over health insurance pricing.  The fox will continue to guard the hen house.  So you can expect the cost of insurance to keep rising even though healthcare costs currently eat up a full 16% of the U.S. economy.

-The provision to extend Medicare to Americans age 60-65 has been eliminated, at a time when more and more older Americans are facing unemployment and losing their insurance coverage in the process.   The older you are, the greater the difficulty in finding a new job, and it’s those older Americans who are more likely to face serious illness.  Connect the dots.

Topping it all off is a provision that feels downright fascist.    All of America will be legally obligated to buy into this lousy plan.  That’s right, we will now be forced to buy health insurance from one of the same companies that are now being broadly criticized for ravaging the land with their excessive fees or we will be breaking the law.   Home of the free and land of the brave?   Buy health insurance from a private company or what?   Be fined or go to jail?  In America?  What’s next?  A misdemeanor penalty for failing to visit the dentist every six months?

They can talk all they want but basically that’s what the bill your U.S. Senate and President are calling their big victory.  But a victory for who?  The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries that continue to bribe the Senate into doing their bidding, that’s who.  For the American people it’s nothing but a big  healthcare con job that will funnel more business than ever to the health insurance industry.  At the same time, the Democrats will be able to claim they have accomplished healthcare reform as they head into the mid-term elections in 2010.  They have not.  The Senate has failed in its obligation to the American people.

The bill still must go to conference committee where the House and Senate will hammer out the differences between their two versions of the bill.  The House version still contains a public option.  Odds are, it will be stripped from the bill before coming back out of committee.  They’ll have to take it out or the Republicans, Joe Lieberman and the bribery-prone Democrats in the Senate will refuse to send it along to the President for his signature.

The common wisdom at this point appears to be that any health care reform bill is better than no bill at all.  Maybe not.

The Senate has failed in it’s obligation to the American people.   It is likely that the bill that comes out of conference committee will be stripped of both the public option and a provision extending Medicare to more of the nation’s elderly.

President Obama’s only real option at this point is to make it known that he will veto any health care reform bill that comes to his desk without those two provisions.  If he does that, if he finally starts playing hardball, he might get not both, but one or the other.  That would be real change.  That’s what he ran on and it’s time for him to stand up for it.  It’s time for him to stop trying to compromise with people who have no interest in being reasonable.   It is not working.  It’s time for him to get tough and cut a real deal for the American people.

This president must take a stand for real reform following his party’s abject failure in their responsibility to put the interest of millions of Americans above the interest of a handful of private insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  If he does not,  his image will suffer over the short term and his party will suffer at the polls in 2010.  The winners will be the insurance and pharmaceutical companies and the Republican Party.

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