The Nabobs are committed to original content. We don’t understand how so many blogs–popular ones at that–can use so much unoriginal content and yet still be popular.
But we digress. Sometimes a piece of work comes out that is so important, no summary could do it justice. With that, we give you the link to Matt Taibbi’s article in the new issue of Rolling Stone magazine entitled Sick and Wrong.
Reader discretion advised: Taibbi does balk conventional wisdom by insulting Senator Charles Schumer.
Here’s an excerpt:
Heading into the health care debate, there was only ever one genuinely dangerous idea out there, and that was a single-payer system. Used by every single developed country outside the United States (with the partial exceptions of Holland and Switzerland, which offer limited and highly regulated private-insurance options), single-payer allows doctors and hospitals to bill and be reimbursed by a single government entity. In America, the system would eliminate private insurance, while allowing doctors to continue operating privately.
In the real world, nothing except a single-payer system makes any sense. There are currently more than 1,300 private insurers in this country, forcing doctors to fill out different forms and follow different reimbursement procedures for each and every one. This drowns medical facilities in idiotic paperwork and jacks up prices: Nearly a third of all health care costs in America are associated with wasteful administration. Fully $350 billion a year could be saved on paperwork alone if the U.S. went to a single-payer system — more than enough to pay for the whole goddamned thing, if anyone had the balls to stand up and say so.
Everyone knows this, including the president. Last spring, when he met with Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Obama openly said so. “He said if he were starting from scratch, he would have a single-payer system,” says Woolsey. “But he thought it wasn’t possible, because it would disrupt the health care industry.”
Huh? This isn’t a small point: The president and the Democrats decided not to press for the only plan that makes sense for everyone, in order to preserve an industry that is not only cruel and stupid and dysfunctional, but through its rank inefficiency has necessitated the very reforms now being debated. Even though the Democrats enjoy a political monopoly and could have started from a very strong bargaining position, they chose instead to concede at least half the battle before it even began.
Obama wasn’t the only big Democrat to mysteriously abandon his position on single-payer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Henry Waxman, the influential chair of the House commerce committee, have both backed away from their longtime support of single-payer. Hell, even Max-freaking-Baucus once conceded the logic of single-payer, saying only that it isn’t feasible politically. “There may come a time when we can push for single-payer,” he said in February. “At this time, it’s not going to get to first base in Congress.”
And helping it not get to first base was … Max Baucus. It was Baucus’ own committee that held the first round-table discussions on reform. In three days of hearings last May, he invited no fewer than 41 people to speak. The list featured all the usual industry hacks, including big insurers like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), Blue Cross and Aetna. It’s worth noting that several of the organizations invited — including AHIP and Amgen — employ several former Baucus staffers as lobbyists, including two of his ex-chiefs of staff.
Not one of the 41 witnesses, however, was in favor of single-payer — even though eliminating the insurance companies enjoys broad public support. Leading advocates of single-payer, including doctors from the Physicians for a National Health Program, implored Baucus to allow them to testify. When he refused, a group of eight single-payer activists, including three doctors, stood up during the hearings and asked to be included in the discussion. One of the all-time classic moments in the health care reform movement came when the second protester to stand up, Katie Robbins of Health Care Now, declared, “We need single-payer health care!”
To which Baucus, who looked genuinely frightened, replied, “We need more police!”
The eight protesters were led away in handcuffs and spent about seven hours in jail. “It’s funny, the policemen were all telling us their horror stories about health care,” recalls Dr. Margaret Flowers, one of the physicians who was jailed. “One was telling us about his mother who was 62 and lost her job and was uninsured, waiting to get Medicare when she was 65.” The protesters were sentenced to six months’ probation. Baucus later met with them and conceded that not including single-payer advocates in the discussion had been a mistake, although it was “too late” to change that.
Single-payer advocates have had an equally tough time getting a hearing with the president. In March, the White House refused to allow Rep. John Conyers to invite two physicians who support single-payer to the health care summit that Obama was holding to kick off the reform effort. Three months later, a single-payer advocate named David Scheiner, who served as Obama’s physician for 22 years, was mysteriously bumped from a prime-time forum on health care, where he had been invited to ask the president a question.
Many of the health care advisers in Obama’s inner circle, meanwhile, are industry hacks — people like Nancy-Ann DeParle, the president’s health care czar, who has served on the boards of for-profit companies like Medco Health Solutions and Triad Hospitals. DeParle is so unthreatening to the status quo that Karen Ignagni, the insurance industry’s leading lobbyist-gorgon, praised her “extensive experience” and “strong track record.”
Behind closed doors, Obama also moved to cut a deal with the drug industry. “It’s a dirty deal,” says Russell Mokhiber, one of the protesters whom Baucus had arrested. “The administration told them, ‘Single-payer is off the table. In exchange, we want you on board.'” In August, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America announced that the industry would contribute an estimated $150 million to campaign for Obamacare.
Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose 80-plus members have overwhelmingly supported single-payer legislation in the past, decided not to draw a line in the sand. They agreed to back down on single-payer, seemingly with the understanding that Pelosi would push for a strong public option — a sort of miniversion of single-payer, a modest, government-run insurance plan that would serve as a test model for the real thing. But one of the immutable laws of politics in the U.S. Congress is that progressives will always be screwed by their own leaders, as soon as the opportunity presents itself. And with a bill the size and scope of health care, there was plenty of opportunity.