Category Archives: Health Care

How NOT to finance health care

Bob Herbert talks today in the New York Times about how the Senate Health Reform Bill finances reform in about the dumbest possible way i.e taxing generous health care plans instead of an overall tax increase on everybody.

It should be obvious, but a 40% tax on generous health care benefits will simply discourage employers from proving good health care, and will make health consumption fall without increasing quality in any way.

This compromised health care bill may make things better in some ways, but it should be a textbook lesson on how not to build a nation’s health care system.

Family Research Council push polls The Nabobs

At around 12:10 pm today we received an interesting phone call at Nabob Headquarters. It began as a recored ‘robo-call’ from something called “ABBC Research.” It asked us to agree or disagree to several questions.

The first asked: would we support health care reform even if it allowed the government to pay for abortions?

Though this is a suspicious question (to the best of our knowledge the the reform bill does not look to change the current law by allowing federal funds to pay for abortion) we emphatically said, “yes!”

The next question confirmed our suspicion that this was a ‘push-poll’ by asking: would we support the health care reform bill even though it will raise our premiums, create a government run health care system, use federal money to pay for abortions, create panels run by unelected officials to deny coverage, start rationing care, raise taxes, dig up the graves of 9/11 victims and use their remains to club babies to death, ban christianity and burn the bible?

Though we aren’t sure about the accuracy of the last few questions, the poll was clearly meant to mislead and implant ideas in the heads of the poll’s respondents. We waited through the rest of the poll’s dubious questions our suspicions were confirmed; the ‘poll’ was actually sponsored by a conservative organization, namely the Family Research Council, the anti obscenity, anti-abortion conservative holy-holler christian right group founded by James Dobson.

Nuff said?

Obama: Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good

Remember back in July when Obama spoke about what he would do to help the health care bill along once we got to this point, when the bill got to conference comity?

The House bills and the Senate bills will not be identical. We know this. The politics are different, because the makeup of the Senate and the House are different and they operate on different rules. I am not interested in making the best the enemy of the good. There will be a conference committee where the House and Senate bills will be reconciled, and that will be a tough, lengthy and serious negotiation process.

I am less interested in making sure there’s a litmus test of perfection on every committee than I am in going ahead and getting a bill off the floor of the House and off the floor of the Senate. Eighty percent of those two bills will overlap. There’s going to be 20 percent that will be different in terms of how it will be funded, its approach to the public plan, its pay-or-play provisions. We shouldn’t automatically assume that if any of the bills coming out of the committees don’t meet our test, that there is a betrayal or failure. I think it’s an honest process of trying to reconcile a lot of different interests in a very big bill.

Conference is where these differences will get ironed out. And that’s where my bottom lines will remain: Does this bill cover all Americans? Does it drive down costs both in the public sector and the private sector over the long-term. Does it improve quality? Does it emphasize prevention and wellness? Does it have a serious package of insurance reforms so people aren’t losing health care over a preexisting condition? Does it have a serious public option in place? Those are the kind of benchmarks I’ll be using. But I’m not assuming either the House and Senate bills will match up perfectly with where I want to end up. But I am going to be insisting we get something done.

Now that we are at the point of reconciling (not to be confused with reconciliation) the House and Senate bills, it is important to hold Obama to the promises that he made to progressives back in July.

Hey Barack, what if you DON’T LIKE THE HEALTH INSURANCE YOU HAVE?

Barack Obama has often said, as a means to quiet the doubters of his health reform plan, that “if you have insurance and you like it you can keep it.”

We wonder in what way he plans on helping those who have extremely expensive health insurance that they don’t like.

Several people we know have received letters from their health insurance companies informing them of increases on their premiums.  A family member received a 16% rate increase on an already gougalicious insurance plan through Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. She is a few years away from Single-Payer Medicare but has too many assets to qualify for Medicaid. She is in that precarious place in the middle which the health reform bill does not even address.

As far as we can tell, the health reform plan will help cover up to 50 million more people, which will end up covering around 94% of the population. But it won’t help reverse the high cost of insurance. As far as we can tell it doesn’t even try to.

We wonder what the hell the Democrats are thinking. It’s wonderful to cover everybody in the U.S, and this reform plan will basically do this. But how will this plan help in any way if it does not create a government run Public Option to really compete with private insurance companies? Or absent that, put a limit on insurance company profits or limit the percentage that insurance companies can spend on administrative costs.

These seem like obvious questions to us. We would like some answers.

Just in time for the holidays: Aetna raises rates in order to drop 600,000 customer’s health insurance

Anti-trust laws exist to protect consumers from this very industry practice because Price-fixing is often a result of industry collusion. Both Coca Cola and Pepsi, for example, cannot get together and decide to raise their prices at exactly the same time.If the heads of Pepsi and coke got together and decided that they would jack-up their prices by $1 at the same time, then consumers would have no recourse other than to stop buying soft-drinks all together. Either that or consumers would have to pay exorbitant prices for soft-drinks. But the soft-drinks are very important to us, and so we have Anti-trust laws in this countrty which makes this practice–which can be described as collusion-illegal.

If coke were to raise its price by $1 and Pepsi stayed the same price, many people would leave Coke and buy Pepsi instead. And so Coke and Pepsi are both inexpensive.

In the United States, logically, the insurance industry is exempt from antitrust laws under the McCarran-Furgeson Act, and so your health insurance company may collude with other insurance companies and discuss raising prices at the same time. This appears to be what they did. Only it seems that Aetna was more candid about the effect of these rate hikes on the customers.

Aetna’s president explains:

“The pricing we put in place for 2009 turned out to not really be what we needed to achieve the results and margins that we had historically been delivering,” said chairman and CEO Ron Williams. “We view 2010 as a repositioning year, a year that does not fully reflect the earnings potential of our business. Our pricing actions should have a noticeable effect beginning in the first quarter of 2010, with additional financial impact realized during the remaining three quarters of the year.

Aetna estimates that their New Years rate hikes will effect “between 300,000 and 350,000 members next year from its national account as well as another 300,000 from smaller group accounts.” Merry Christman.

This is just one more reason to support health reform that has a strong Public Option, especially if you are one of those Aetna customers who must forgo health insurance because of the companies obligation to it’s shareholders and the bottom line. If health reform does not have a Public Option than these rate hikes will still happen, but you will be MANDATED TO STILL HAVE EXPENSIVE INSURANCE.

Lest you think that there is little recourse right now, especially if you are sick and can’t get new insurance because you have a preexisting condition, take some comfort: You can always go and fucking DIE.

It’s Simple: Medicare for All

We just started a new piece on the simple idea of extending Medicare coverage to all U.S Citizens and Permanent Residents, but in researching for the article we ran into an opinion piece by George McGovern in the WaPo  that makes our point more elegantly than we could do ourselves. Enjoy:

 

It’s Simple: Medicare for All

By George S. McGovern
Sunday, September 13, 2009

 

For many years, a handful of American political leaders — including the late senator Ted Kennedy and now President Obama — have been trying to gain passage of comprehensive health care for all Americans. As far back as President Harry S. Truman, they have urged Congress to act on this national need. In a presentation before a joint session of Congress last week, Obamaoffered his view of the best way forward.

But what seems missing in the current battle is a single proposal that everyone can understand and that does not lend itself to demagoguery. If we want comprehensive health care for all our citizens, we can achieve it with a single sentence: Congress hereby extends Medicare to all Americans.

Those of us over 65 have been enjoying this program for years. I go to the doctor or hospital of my choice, and my taxes pay all the bills. It’s wonderful. But I would have appreciated it even more if my wife and children and I had had such health-care coverage when we were younger. I want every American, from birth to death, to get the kind of health care I now receive. Removing the payments now going to the insurance corporations would considerably offset the tax increase necessary to cover all Americans.

I don’t feel as though the government is meddling in my life when it pays my doctor and hospital fees. There are some things the government does that I don’t like — most notably getting us into needless wars that cost many times what health care for all Americans would cost. Investing in the health of our citizens will enhance the well-being and security of the nation.

We know that Medicare has worked well for half a century for those of us over 65. Why does it become “socialized medicine” when we extend it to younger Americans?

Taking such a shortsighted view would leave nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance and without the means to buy it. It would leave other Americans struggling to pay the rising cost of insurance premiums. These private insurance plans are frequently terminated if the holder contracts a serious long-term ailment. And some people lose their insurance if they lose their jobs or if the plant where they work moves to another location — perhaps overseas.

We recently bailed out the finance houses and banks to the tune of $700 billion. A country that can afford such an outlay while paying for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can afford to do what every other advanced democracy has done: underwrite quality health care for all its citizens.

If Medicare needs a few modifications in order to serve all Americans, we can make such adjustments now or later. But let’s make sure Congress has an up or down vote on Medicare for all before it adjourns this year. Let’s not waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. We all know what Medicare is. Do we want health care for all, or only for those over 65?

If the roll is called and it goes against those of us who favor national health care, so be it. If it is approved, the entire nation can applaud.

Many people familiar with politics in America will tell you that this idea can’t pass Congress, in part because the insurance lobby is too powerful for lawmakers to resist.

As matters now stand, the insurance companies claim $450 billion a year of our health-care dollars. They will fight hard to hold on to this bonanza. This is a major reason Americans pay morefor health care per capita than any other people in the world. The insurance executives didn’t cry “socialism” when their buddies in banking and finance were bailed out. But to them it is socialism if the government underwrites the cost of health care.

Consider the campaign funds given to the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health-care legislation. Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, a Democrat, and his political action committee have received nearly $4 million from the health-care lobby since 2003. The ranking Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa, has received more than $2 million. It’s a mistake for one politician to judge the personal motives of another. But Sens. Baucus and Grassley are firm opponents of the single-payer system, as are other highly placed members of Congress who have been generously rewarded by the insurance lobby.

In the past, doctors and their national association opposed Medicare and efforts to extend such benefits. But in recent years, many doctors have changed their views.

In December 2007, the 124,000-member American College of Physicians endorsed for the first time a single-payer national health insurance program. And a March 2008 study by Indiana University — the largest survey ever of doctors’ opinions on financing health-care reform — concluded that 59 percent of doctors support national health insurance.

To have the doctors with us favoring government health insurance is good news. As Obama said: “We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.”

George S. McGovern, a former senator from South Dakota, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972

 

Huffington Post reports on insurance company abuses; Anthem advertises on Huffington Post!

Huffingon Post is an excellent website with lot’s of incredible original content and interesting, up to date news. Huffpo does a lot of reporting on insurance reform, and they have documented the immoral and oftentimes illegal actions of private insurance companies.

Of course Hufpo also has advertisements on the sides and in the middle of its pages that change every time you change or reload a page. One of Huffington Post’s advertisements right now is for Tonik Health Insurance, which is owned by Anthem, the insurance company that owns Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Huffpo has documented abuses by Anthem in the past, and we think that Anthem is overall representative of the insurance industry (full disclosure: BC/BS did reject one of the Nabobs for having a ‘pre existing condition’).

Today Huffpo has an unfortunate story about a law school student who couldn’t get health insurance (and therefor health care) after he found out that he had cancer. After begging for his life, the young man was treated for his cancer by the hospital’s “charity” program.

The subject of the article sums up his experience:

“I’m a pretty humble guy, but it’s really demoralizing to have to beg a hospital for your life, to be to be able to be treated for this thing you just found out that you had,” he said. “I don’t just have a right to be healthy? I have to beg for it? I have to show that I am poor? It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing. It’s really unacceptable.”

Ironically, the advertisement for Anthem’s insurance program for young people (like the subject of Huffpo’s article) Tonik’s appeared on this unfortunate stories page. The screenshots are below.
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And when you mouse over the part that says “Legal,” this appears.
Screen shot 2009-10-02 at 9.32.26 PM

Since Huffington Post reports (very well) on insurance reform, and has documented the industries immoral and sometimes illegal practices, it shouldn’t allow Anthem to advertise on their website. But given the subject matter of this story, it is especially inappropriate.

UPDATE

Salon.com, another Nabob favorite, has the same Tonik ad on the page of a (excellent) story that is critical about  the health care industry.

Screen shot 2009-10-04 at 11.51.20 AM