No, We Can’t?
In the closing days of the campaign of 2008, the mood of the people was upbeat. When the victory was handily won in November by Barack Obama over John McCain, a lot of people felt that the country had made a shift in direction similar to the election of 1932 of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Healthcare and jumpstarting the economy were items high on the list of the new president-elect. Perhaps, the continued bailout of the banks and financial houses that caused the crisis in 2008 by Obama should have been a warning sign to those of us who felt that it was imperative for the country to turn its focus on the needs of the people and away from the 28 year love affair with the richest 1%. Then the healthcare debate started, and from the onset, it was seemingly a no-brainer, our health care system needed serious reform, the most expensive system in the world and number 37 in quality just behind our arch enemy, Cuba, and right ahead of that other economic powerhouse, Slovenia. Everyone was saying that the Harry and Louise TV ad campaign of 1993-4, that 44 million dollar disinformation program by for-profit insurance corporations, would not work in the 2009. That the people were too aware of the need for reform of healthcare to ever allow the wool to pulled over their eyes again.
Well, the wool was not pulled over the health consumers’ eyes; but rather they were scared to death by the crowds of white middle and upper class folks who jammed town-hall meetings to scream their enmity at elected officials over fears of creeping socialism and a government takeover of healthcare. These tactics were adapted from the right wing talking head shows on cable TV and radio, where the hosts, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, ad nauseam, substitute invective and name calling for civil discourse with their target of the evening. The “dittoheads” taking their cues from these purveyors of misinformation, raised this attack rhetoric to new lows. Aided by those who know better like Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa; ideas like “death panels” and euthanasia became part of the debate, even though they are not and will never be part of a US healthcare system. It was so ridiculous that old ladies were raging against the Public Option for fear that it would harm their “Medicare,” which is the last time I checked, a Public Health Insurance plan.
Pretty soon, even people (like the 50 million uninsured) who would benefit from the Public Option, an insurance plan offered by the government at a lower cost than the for-profits, were questioning it. What seemed to as powerful as the tides of the ocean, the passage of a healthcare reform plan that addresses the inequities in our system, is now according to the “experts,” DOA. If there is a bill passed, the Public Option will not be in it, and for the for-profit insurance corporations that is good news. They knew and complained very loudly that they could not compete against a Public Option plan.
These are the same people who believe in the marketplace and free trade. But only if you can take 20 cents out of every dollar for profit and 15 to 18 cents for administration out of that same dollar; which leaves about 63 cents to be fought over by the people who actually provide the healthcare: hospitals, and doctors. What the Public Option plan was not a takeover of providing healthcare, but paying for those services. It makes sense if you can reduce the number of payors, which is what an Insurance corporation is after all; you reduce the costs (administration costs which includes denying care to the insured and paying claims after weeks or months of haggling, business costs that included, executive bonuses, Lear Jets, CEO salaries and dividends paid to stockholders, i.e., profit) that are not directed towards the actual delivery of healthcare.
For the Public Option would not need to make a profit, and would not be paying out executive bonuses, outrageous CEO salaries, and buying Lear Jets, but just paying the bills that were sent into them by hospitals and doctors. That is not to say that there would not be some negotiations over how much and for what, that is done right now by the for-profit insurance corporations. What would happen is the increase of what actually gets spent out of that much abused healthcare dollar for healthcare. If you subtract the 20 cents average for profit, that alone increases the amount to 83 cents, and if you factor in other efficiencies achieved, administration costs could be reduced to 4 or 5 cents, increasing it to around 94 cents from every dollar. This does not sound like Socialism, but more like smart business.
Business is the entity that would have benefited from a public option, for they could enroll their employees in it at a cost below the for-profits, helping them to lower their expenses. Our country competes against the other so-called developed nations, all of whom have some form of single payor health care. This has for decades left us at a disadvantage in competing. In Canada, their single payor health plan costs the auto makers about $268 per car, in the US, the for-profit cost is around $1,600 per car. So you can see that a public option plan would have given businesses an edge in negotiating with the for-profit Insurance corporations. An edge, that the for-profits did not want to exist, for they are concerned with one thing, and that is not the delivery of healthcare, but the continued outrageous profitability of their part of the economy. So the lesson learned in this civics exercise, is that Big Money moves the agenda and the needs of the people take a walk.