Ass kissing liberal apologists' for failed health reform

Michael Collins

The myth that the Democratic plans for health reform will produce anything by the target date of 2014 is only exceeded in absurdity by the myth that the world will end on December 21, 2012.

“New media” pundit Eric Alterman is down on his knees, genuflecting before the graven idol of Democratic Party interests. He wrote a full fledged justification supporting the current idol with feet of clay, the Democratic health care reform effort ongoing in the United States Senate. The article looks like talking points hot off the press from the White House Office of Disinformation since he’s giving the president credit for all the good things which have materialized as if by magic in the latest Senate’s efforts.

To begin with, he failed to note these very real issues in the health care debate: the immediate need by tens of millions for adequate health care and financial relief from exorbitant prices; the preservation of insurance companies at the center of public health care, companies with no interest in or obligation for the public welfare; and, the gross hypocrisy of the president demanding that health reform not add one penny to the deficit while he spends hundreds of billions for the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq – pure deficit operations with no discernible benefit to citizens.

Alterman starts out with this catchy header:

“The health-care bill had a list of enemies thicker than Tiger Woods’ little black book. Despite it all, the majority of Americans who favor reform just might get their wish.” A Jaw Dropping Political Deal, Eric Alterman, Dec. 9

What wish would that wish be Eric?

“Somehow the 10 Democrats evenly divided between pro-and anti-public option going in””came out without a public option but still managed to make people who insisted on the need for one happy. (If Paul Krugman is happy, I’m happy.)” Alterman

What are Eric and Paul so happy about?

“According to the terms of the Senate compromise hammered out by Harry Reid and his friends Tuesday night, nobody’s going to get a ”œpublic option” but people over 55 are going to get a chance to buy into Medicare. … Or something. Really, if you’re not a professional policy wonk, it’s enough to send you to a private, no-insurance-taken headache clinic just to think about it.

“What’s important about it is less the details than the fact that it is happening at all.” Alterman

Let’s allow the details to intrude.

Reports on the great compromise (read sell out) by the Democrats indicate that the whittled-down-to-nothing public option was traded for the ability of those 55 to 65 years old to buy into Medicare. Glory days, right?

The New York Times, Dec 10 reported that “some people” 55 to 65 would be able to buy into Medicare but that the premiums would be $7,600 per person or $15,200 per couple. You can buy some private plans like that today. In fact many 55 to 65 who buy solo plans from private insurance companies pay about that much right now.

But wait, the apologists might say, you’re leaving out the subsidies planned for this age group. That’s fine but they don’t start until 2014. But if you don’t have the money now, what use is a Medicare buy in? You can just tough it out until 2014 or go looking for that mythical social safety net. And who knows if you’ll get a subsidy to make the plan affordable in 2014.

Basically, the Democrats traded a meaningless public option for a meaningless Medicare buy in.

Then there’s that other great opportunity Alterman mentioned, those nonprofit federal health plans created by insurance companies.

“And other people will be able to buy health insurance from nonprofit entities formed by for-profit companies tightly regulated by the Office of Personnel Management.” Alterman

Eric should have had less faith in Paul and paid more attention to the TPM write up. He might have been less enthusiastic.

“As has been widely reported, one of the trade-offs will be to extend a version of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to consumers in the exchanges. Insurance companies will have the option of creating nationally-based non-profit insurance plans that would (be) offered on the exchanges in every state. However, according to the aide, if insurance companies don’t step up to the plate to offer such plans, that will trigger a national public option.” TPM, Dec 8

Fasten your sea belts! We have entered full disinformation mode. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHB) can’t be extended if it has just nonprofit health providers. The current FEHB program has quite a few for-profit health insurance companies.

More importantly, FEHB is a plan funded by the employer (self-funded). That means that companies like Anthem (Blue Cross/Blue Shield), CIGNA, and others simply administer the benefits, most of which are paid for by the employer, the federal government (with a much smaller percentage covered through employee contributions).

How on earth can they say that they’re extending a plan paid for by the federal government when they have new member premiums funding the majority of member care? In this regard, the Senate compromise is the exact opposite of the FEHB. These people are just making it up as they go along.

The program Alterman mentions gives insurance companies the right of first refusal to create the nonprofits themselves. How likely is that? It’s about as likely as Dick Cheney turning himself into the FBI for war crimes.

If the for-profits fail to create the nonprofits, the Democrats new version of a “trigger” would lead to a national public option. None of this would benefit anybody until 2014 when the insurance “exchanges” are rolled out, if that ever happens.

But Eric doesn’t care. He’s a man of action who is in a faith based bond with his main man Paul Krugman: “(If Paul Krugman is happy, I’m happy.)” Let’s see what the main man has to say:

“The Health Care Compromise

Here’s what’s being reported. No public option, but a trigger which is unlikely to be pulled. But some good stuff in exchange: nonprofit plans available through the exchanges, plus Medicare buy-ins for the 55-65 set (me! me! me!).

“If this is the final plan, it’s better than most of us were expecting ”” and definitely good enough to go with.” Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal, Dec 9

So Alterman is happy because his friend Krugman is happy. Krugman is happy because he read a report in TPM (quote above) that shows that the Senate compromise produces a high cost Medicare buy in that is manifestly unaffordable by those in need and absent any subsidies until 2014 (presuming the subsidies are “deficit neutral”).

If this quip by Paul Krugman is all that Eric Alterman needs to support the Senate compromise on health reform, it should come as no surprise that he could utter the following:

“Remember, nothing is easier than stopping something in our political system and doing something is always riskier than doing nothing.” Alterman

Is this some new law of social science? Was it better to abolish Glass-Steagall Act than doing nothing? Was it better to enact the legislation enabling the Wall Street casino from 2000 on than doing nothing? Was it better to invade Iraq than doing nothing? This is the most vapid logic imaginable.

In all fairness, I must confess that I agree entirely with Alterman’s statement below.

“Barack Obama took a helluva risk when he decided to make health-care reform the centerpiece of his administration’s first two years.” Alterman

The president, his liberal flacks, and the Democrats in Congress have no idea the risk they’ve taken.

When you’re sick, you know it.

When you find out that you have a chronic illness or life threatening disease, you know it.

When you can’t get the health care you need, you know it.

When you, family members, and friends suffer because you can’t get health care, you know it.

And when you look for those who caused your suffering and sickness and that of your family and friends, you will most assuredly know who they are.


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Michael Collins

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  • enough to pull your hair out:

    House scales back proposed Wall Street rules

    WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats head into the final stretch on a long-awaited Wall Street regulation bill with two crucial and contentious votes looming before they can declare victory on one of President Barack Obama’s legislative priorities.

    The sweeping regulatory overhaul aims to address the myriad conditions that led to last year’s financial crisis.

    Test votes during two days of debate indicate that Democratic support for the underlying legislation will hold in final passage. Prodded by moderates, however, nearly half the Democrats teamed up with Republicans late Thursday to loosen restrictions on derivatives and reject tougher regulations.


  • Posted on: Thursday, December 10, 2009

    The following radio interview with Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program and professor at Harvard Medical School, took place on Dec. 9, with an affiliate of Los Angeles-based KPFK Pacifica.

    Click here to listen to the interview.

    Is it accurate to say that, even though this version of the Senate bill is still using the term “public option,” it’s really now going to be run by private health insurance companies?

    That’s true. What the “public option” is going to be for folks under the age of 55 is just a menu, a menu of private plans that they can buy. It’s similar to the menu that is offered to federal workers, but of course federal workers actually get money to buy the health insurance. They don’t just get the menu, they get the money. So other folks under the age of 55, if you’re uninsured, you will be offered this menu of nonprofit plans.

    The issue about the folks over the age of 55 being able to buy into Medicare is actually quite bad as well. One of the better provisions of the reform legislation was that there was a prohibition against charging older people more than twice as much as you charge younger people in the individual market. But by saying everyone over the age of 55 in the individual market can be picked up by Medicare, you’ve really let the insurance industry off the hook.

    That is, the highest cost patients in the individual market will be taken off their hands and paid for by the taxpayers; and private insurance will remain the only option for people under the age of 55 and for anyone who gets their insurance through their employer. Another way of saying that is that if you now have private health insurance and you don’t like it, you’re forced to keep it.

    The buy-in to Medicare is only for those over 55 and it’s only for people who are not offered private health insurance through an employer. So it’s turning into just a subsidy to private health insurance: the taxpayers will pay for the high-cost patients and the health insurance industry can take care of the lower-cost patients.
    I want to remind people that at its core, this bill takes $450 billion in new taxes from the taxpayers, and hands it over to the private health insurance as a subsidy. So, the core of the bill is a financial strengthening of the private health insurance industry, and even this measure that many people liked – it was one of the small things that was good about the plan, that is, forcing the insurance industry to lower the prices for older enrollees – that’s been taken out of the bill, essentially.


  • too pissed to comment

    LA Times

    from dday:

    What you have is a federal agency saying that they cannot carry out their mission of allowing the safe passage of prescription drugs into this country. I would argue that drugs of this type is the last worry of an FDA working to get to market pet food and toothpaste from China and contaminated spinach and produce from all over the country. These drugs are manufactured and bottled in the same exact facilities as domestic drugs, with the exact same labeling. It’s honestly incredible for the FDA to involve themselves in this, especially on the issue of safety.

    see here for letter and more commentary

  • With friends like the Democratic Party it’s hard to conceptualize what an enemy might do to us.

    I don’t want to start a generational mudslinging match, but this looks written to take care of Boomers (or as i call them “The Duck and Cover Generation”). That’s good. I don’t want to see even a significant portion of 75 million people heading into the time in life where medical costs are highest without coverage. But i’m more than a little perturbed by the idea that the young will be, at this late date, forced to fund it through mandated purchase of private policies.

    There’s also the question of people having the spare change sitting around to purchase the buy-in; the impression i’m getting that it isn’t really a Medicare buy-in so much as a helping hand to insurance companies that looks like a Medicare buy-in; and the rumors i hear that many doctors try to avoid Medicare patients.

    I could be wrong about anything in the above list, because i haven’t followed the proceedings with the most rapt attention. Please correct me if that’s the case. My rule of thumb is that when major industries head into Congress for “reform” they generally come out in better shape than they went in.

  • So much better to do nothing for the NEXT 70 years. I read stuff like this and it really makes me angry. Every solution in your columns has to include some kind of visceral punishment of the private sector. It reminds of the 1999 Agreement that almost occurred between Israel and Palestine and then Arafat just could not bring himself to agree – because he NEVER HAD. Opposition was just too much in his blood, and then we got the next twenty years of nothing. I am tired of the knee jerk opposition of the right AND left.

    Thankfully your views represent only about 3% of democrats, where the right wing obstructionists make up 50% of their party.

    I’ve had great insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield for 35 years, for me and my family. In my State they have done a great job and I am in no opinion that these groups need to be punished. Regulated yes, but in the context of needed reform. The problem is that there are 15% of Americans that are uninsured and need to be. This is not a blow it up and rebuild problem by any stretch of the imagination. Congress has been doing a robust and careful and messy job of figuring the problem out without going overboard. I do NOT want my situation changing to solve a 15% problem.

  • … to start a generational war, then why did you?

    * * *

    Versailles is about serving the interests of finance. Period. And that includes both legacy parties (as institutions*). This bill isn’t about policy, or generations, or Boomers, many of whom support single payer devotedly. It’s about bailing out the insurance companies with $450 billion dollars in taxpayer money. A focus on generational politics obfuscates and distracts from that reality, which is why there are factions in Versailles devoted to encouraging it.

    * Although there are some good individual Democrats, like Bernie Sanders. Oh, wait…

  • Why the focus on “punishment”?

    The United States spends twice as much per capita than any other country for worse health outcomes. So anybody who thinks this is a problem for only 15% of the country either hasn’t done their homework or is blowing smoke.

    The other OECD countries that are doing so much better than us are either single payer, national health service, or have insurance companies so tightly regulated that they might as well be public utilities. And the bill on offer bails out these insurance companies with $450 billion in taxpayer money, while making not being insured a Federal crime, and forcing us to buy junk insurance with the IRS acting as a collection agent.

    I can accept your anecdotal data on BC/BS. I’m not sure what it has to do with the public policy issue?

    If you want to use the punishment frame, who’s being punished here?

  • It shows how much out of touch you are if you think that the problem is only the 15%, but don’t apparently think that an increase in premiums for my small business (25 employees) of over $150,000 in the last two years while massively increasing deductibles etc. is a problem, when you don’t think that the inordinate percentage of GDP that goes to health care is a problem, when you make up percentages about who wants what.

    No one that I know wants to do nothing. There are a lot of good proposals and ideas circulating. But when the Democrats and Obama abandon almost all of those good ideas for the sake of expediency and a fairly obvious cave to certain moneyed special interests some small protest is in order.

  • Total spending on health care, per person, 2007
    France $3601
    United Kingdom: $2992
    Italy: $2686
    Spain: $2671
    Japan: $2581 (2006)

    Medicare buy-in for those between 55 and 64:

    $7,600 a year

    Punishment? Don’t bogart that pipe, Holmes.

  • By the by I appreciate your courage in trying to defend the Dems and Obama at every turn but it would help if you tried a little honesty in doing so.

  • I know that the design of the policy isn’t about generational issues, and i realize that it’s only about serving the needs of DC’s true constituency. I also noted that i’m not fully up to snuff on the in’s and out’s of the issue.

    But i’m talking about the net effect. Is the “public option” going to be whittled down to forcing me (under threat of imprisonment) to buy a shitty insurance policy that i can’t afford and allowing a Medicare buy-in (which looks badly designed) for people over 55? There’s about 75 million adults in America who are a long, long way from 55.

    Assuming i have the details correct, i don’t see how this will not provoke generational ill-will. And i know that plenty of Boomers support single-payer…just not the right ones (i.e. the ones in elected office).

  • $2,800 per year and everyone in my company is basically at this same level. Rates in our area range from $2,500 to $3,000 a year. I’m 55 years old.

    The comparison made above is spurious because the numbers used reflect revenues within the healthcare industry. Because of the much more significant health infrastructure within the US – that invents new procedures for care – a lot of those revenues are ‘exports’ and also transactions that are between and among healthcare companies, educational institutions, providers and technology businesses. As far as the buyin amount for the Medicare expansion it is unknown at present but unlikely to be $7,500 a year.

  • You are living with the fruit of doing nothing. You think it will be better if everyone shuts this thing down. I will tell you this. If this thing goes down because of the ‘progressives’ I am done with giving two cents about uninsured folk, or those with pre existing conditions. I have come on board because it is the right thing to do, and if those folks don’t care, and people who ‘call themselves’ progressives don’t care I am so done with the issue. I will never want anyone to take it up again.

  • I am in the company of Howard Dean on the Health issue (does that make me MORE progressive than the folks here?)

    I am in the company of those who awarded Obama a Nobel Peace Prize

    I am in the company of the public markets that are currently showing a positive 58% gain from the market low in March (the best historic predictor of future economic performance by the way)

    I think I have been in pretty good company and can support Dem efforts with my integrity in tact.

  • FireDogLake, By Jane Hamsher, December 11

    When President Obama gave his speech on health care on September 10, he promised that there would be no limit on lifetime benefits under the health care bill:

    They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick.

    Harry Reid didn’t agree evidently. Reid, who is solely responsible for crafting the bill that he introduced in the Senate, decided that there should be a limit on lifetime benefits. So when people get sick and have huge bills for things like biologic drugs that cost $50,000 or $100,000 a year, whose bills could become “unreasonable” because Congress is granting drug manufacturers “indefinite monopolies” (per Henry Waxman) that prevent generics from coming to market to compete with them, Harry Reid thinks they should eventually be cut off:

    They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.

  • if ‘progressives’ shut down this bill, you’ll decide that uninsured people and those with pre-existing conditions are not worth your consideration? Could you explain the logic of that? And if the current bill doesn’t go through, you don’t want anyone to take it up again? Honestly, it sounds to me like your motivation is not to improve healthcare–your punitive statements completely contradict such a motive.

    It sounds a bit like saying “if this increase in welfare benefits doesn’t go through then I’m just going to stop caring about the poor.” Does not compute.

  • The “boomer friendly” appearance of the “compromise” is an illusion (maybe to foment trouble right here!;) This is how they do it on health – we have a “public option” to buy government health insurance because we know it will keep costs down. OK, that’s fine but then we find out that the “public option” is only for the uninsured and it doesn’t start until 2014 (Obama’s speech) or 2019 (some earlier versions of the bills) AND it only covers six million people. But the illusion was created with the marketing ploy – “public option” – which allows enough people to think that they might be included. The outcome of using that term was that enough people thought it would be like “single payer” to cause them to support the Democrats efforts rather than see that those efforts were based on a bait-and-switch sham.

    As for the boomer friendly nature of the current effort, it’s nonsense when you look at it. It is NOT Medicare extended to the 55-65 crowd as I pointed out. It’s a private insurance priced program offered up under the name of Medicare. When I first listened to the sound byte I thought, “Great.” Then, unlike Mr. Krugman, I bothered to read the accounts of the compromise and realized it was not going to do for me or just about anyone else. The “nonprofit” corporations as a substitute “public option” are equally flawed. These will cost about the same as self-funded insurance costs employers (covering 54% of the employed). The difference is that those buying into them will pay the full cost for the insurance rather than 10-20% paid by employees working for employers who self-fund. It will be $15,000 on up annually.

    If this were a boomer biased program, at least it would help one group of the population, albeit at the expense of the others. But it’s not even that. The cynicism here is reaching new levels, even for this Congress. At least when Nixon appeared to buy off the 65 plus segment of the population he delivered. This package is empty.

    The Republican proposals are nonexistent. The Democratic proposals are purely cosmetic. What a choice!

  • Unfortunately, you’re responding to the wrong column. In this one, I clearly point out that the government has abandoned a public welfare issue, health care, to the private sector that has no obligation to look out for the public welfare. That’s not a criticism, that’s a fact. I never write about Israel or Palestine to any extent. What wre you talking about?

    My views won’t change based on their popularity. However, my views on health insurance – favoring single payer – are shared by 65% of citizens (I’ll be back with link later, I’m working very hard to pay my solo purchased health insurance).

    Who said “these groups” need to be “punished.” That’s not the point of this commentary. The point is very obvious – I’m sick and tired of so called liberals who support plans without even understanding the impact. They’re supporting the Democratic Party establishment (as opposed to the people who comprise the party) and they’re doing it in ways that pay not attention to facts, just like you responded to my post without paying attention the main point or the particulars.

    You don’t need to read anything I write but if you respond, it would be helpful if you knew what your were responding to.

    I’m glad your insurance works for you.

  • There’s a lot flying around but this is highly pertinent. It also provides an explanation for the inadequacies of the effort:

    “Reid, who is solely responsible for crafting the bill that he introduced in the Senate, ”

    “The Horror” as Conrad said.

  • You left out a key factor in your example. What does your company pay? If you have a company provided play, they pay quite a bit more than you. Therefore, your critique of the costs is wrong since you leave out the key pricing factor, the cost of insurance paid for by your company.

    You company may be self funded, in which case they pay for all health costs and have Blue Cross administer the plan and cut the checks. Or the company may buy from Blue Cross with some benefit for volume. In either case, your company absorbs 70-80% of the costs (at least) and you contribute the rest in monthly payments.

  • I’m self employed and your age. My wife has a pre-existing medical condition and we cannot therefore find any insurance other than the last ditch plan offered by the state for such cases. I pay $22,000 a year in premiums (it was $12,000 a year about six years ago when we were admitted to the program). I also paid last year $23,000 in out of pocket expenses for her treatment that stabilizes her chronic condition. I am going rapidly broke at this rate. We have friends who are both doctors (opthamologist and oncologist) and they are privately employed. The best insurance they could get for themselves and their two children – all healthy – costs them $30,000 a year in premiums.

    Whatever you do, DO NOT quit your job and/or become laid off or self-employed. You are living out the American fantasy regarding health care.

  • I’m in graduate school and have student health insurance, but when I graduate I’ll need to have a job lined up immediately or else pay a lot of money out-of-pocket for COBRA. I had cancer in 2005 and it is not yet a pre-existing condition because I’ve managed to keep continuous coverage up until now, but I’m essentially trapped as far as future jobs go. I don’t have the money to pay for insurance if I ever tried to set out on my own, start my own business, or even join a small startup (unless they’re good enough to get insurance for their employees). I have to join a decent sized company and I cannot get laid off for too long. I’m essentially stuck serving whatever corporation will hire me.

    It’s a form of slavery–I’d love to take a part-time job for a while and work on both writing fiction and programming some side-projects/hobbies of mine, but then I won’t have insurance and won’t have the money to buy a plan.

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