Shills, suckers, shareholders and the sorry state of healthcare in Obama’s America
Sunday September 06th 2009, 10:11 am

I’ve enjoyed single-payer universal healthcare coverage since I was granted permanent residency in Australia in 1997. If I visit a ‘bulk-billing’ GP or an emergency room, I plunk down my Medicare card and it’s all done & dusted.

The last time I used healthcare services in the USA, they demanded either health insurance information, a cash bond or a credit card before they even wanted to hear why I was seeking treatment. That’s reprehensible. Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege affordable only by the wealthy.

Everyone uses electricity and roads and everybody uses healthcare services. We don’t build a separate power grid for every electricity subscriber nor a private road for every road user- why have a private insurer or healthcare provider for every healthcare user?

Yes, you can get private health insurance or be treated in a private hospital in Australia… but why? A parallel private healthcare system simply undermines the public system by diverting participants out of it. The short answer as to why private healthcare even exists in Australia is that right-wing, pro-business politicians and their health industry supporters have wanted to undermine Australia’s public system since its inception- because it doesn’t generate profit for the private healthcare providers and insurers.

Capitalism may work in certain business arenas but it’s got no place in the provision of essential community services which are necessarily used by all citizens.

The completely off-the-rails opposition to single-payer universal healthcare in the USA clearly indicates the threat level to the profitability of private healthcare insurers and providers. Providers and insurers will fight to protect their profits with a million times the effort they’ll put in to providing competent healthcare. This opposition has now devolved into truly batshit-crazy rumourmongering PR campaigns, including ‘astroturfing,’ the formation of industry-funded fake grassroots groups which push the industry’s agenda.

Truly, the wackiest claim of all the right-wing anti-universal healthcare loopiness is that healthcare services will be somehow limited to people ‘worth saving.’ They want people to believe that Obama’s universal care reforms will kill your grandma. This nuttery was morphed from a provision which pays GPs to consult with aged patients regarding their treatment desires in a ‘living will’ into the ‘death panel‘ myth by a healthcare industry shill by the name of Betsy McCaughey, who resigned from her position with a healthcare industry company a day before her appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, to (unsuccesfully) avoid claims of conflict of interest. McCaughey was fully demolished and her lies laid bare by Stewart. (NB: For non-US browsers to view full episodes of The Daily Show on Comedy Central’s website, users must install the X-Forwarded-for IP spoofer plugin to their Firefox browser and input a US-based IP address.)

Australian readers should know that most Americans’ healthcare is paid for by their employers as part of their compensation package. If you lose your job, you lose your health insurance. In such a case, under the provisions of the COBRA statute, the former employee can purchase health insurance at hugely inflated rates for a limited period of time post their separation from the employer. Also, unlike in Australia, where private health insurance companies are required to base premiums on ‘community risk’ rather than individual risk, one’s health insurance can be cancelled for the causes of ‘pre-existing conditions’ or for simply lodging claims against one’s coverage.

If there’s any ‘death panels’ in US healthcare, they already exist in private health insurance companies, which frequently deny coverage to unprofitable individual clients, negating the entire reason for the business model of insurance, that being the spreading of the high cost of a few participants across the entire body of insured persons, most of whom make few or no claims. Insurance companies clearly want to have their cake and to eat it, too. Insurers obviously only want to cover people who make no claims, because income without outgo equals pure profit. The only way to stop profiteering is to legislate against the practise.

Right-wing nuts in the US have opposed universal healthcare since Ronald Reagan was still working as an actor. Universal healthcare has been demonised with the moniker ‘socialised medicine,’ playing upon the Cold War conflation of the term ‘socialism’ with communism. In actual fact, the vast majority of Americans don’t have any clue of the meaning of the term ‘socialism’. Even if they do know what socialism is, they have no idea of the actual costs to all Americans when 47 million of them cannot afford or do not qualify for health insurance. Insured Americans are already informally paying the way for the uninsured whether they like it or not because physicians and hospitals inflate their billing to cover costs incurred by those who cannot pay. If everyone were insured, medical costs would drop as overbilling would no longer be justified.

If you’re an aged or indigent American, you already can get single-payer universal health coverage under the federal Medicare program. If you’re a veteran, your healthcare is covered by the Veterans Administration (VA), another single-payer, government operated universal healthcare system, one which in fact owns and operates its own hospitals. Seniors and vets would scream bloody murder if Medicare or VA services were discontinued, but many of them have been completely fooled by the extreme right into believing that Obama’s healthcare reforms are somehow different from these programs or that reforms would deny them coverage.

If you’re an American who is opposed to universal healthcare, you’re either a sucker for the lies of the pro-business right-wing, a shareholder in health insurance and/or related companies or are being paid by industry related businesses to voice your opinion. You certainly don’t have an interest in the general state of healthcare in America.

Now, here’s the part which FULLY whacks me out. American voters booted the Republicans out of control of the US Congress in 2006. In 2008, American voters elected Obama and the Democrats made further gains in Congressional representation. The Democrats now have an unassailable, filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. Even so, Obama is attempting to negotiate healthcare reform on a bipartisan basis, acting as if the Republicans’ opinion actually matters, when it simply doesn’t. Obama can enact reform in any shape he likes, over the dead bodies of Republicans… but what the hell is he doing? He’s actually negotiating against himself, at one point actually taking the ‘public option’ out of the reform proposal. A single payer system was taken off the table, even before negotiations began. WHY?

Barack Obama won office promising healthcare reform. Obama’s got the numbers in Congress to enact reforms, with or without the support of Republicans.

It’s now long past due time for Obama to grow a pair and start acting like the President of the United States of America.


4 Comments so far
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Well done! It is not easy living with so many people that seem to be unable to make informed decisions on their own. The new beginning is tarnished by the way this issue in playing out in the U.S. A real head scratcher. I think the real culprit is the media. If they desired a different outcome, health insurance for all, they would patiently explain the differences as you have above. And they would hammer the message until everyone, or at least until a sufficient number of people got the message. But no, here as in other locales, the general public gets only what is fed by the news services, the press and TV wants the public to know. End of story.

Comment by Macduff 09.07.09 @ 2:17 am

Thanks for the note, Macduff.

While a few US media outlets are certainly to blame for carrying GOP talking points whilst ignoring the truth, Rachel Maddow over on MSNBC is certainly fighting the good fight.

When it comes to the person-on-the-street, though, the number of individual Americans who have been persuaded to oppose their own interests is amazing.

Healthcare for all can’t possibly be a bad thing, unless of course, you’re a shill, a sucker or a shareholder. I’ve lived in a country which has single-payer universal healthcare for about 13 years. It has not managed to kill off all the grandmas in Australia (nor Canada, the UK, etc) and it’s unlikely to do so in the USA.

If Obama would just get his shit together and start giving Repuglicans all the respect they deserve, this issue would be solved.

Comment by weez 09.07.09 @ 7:01 am

One thing I didn’t cover in this post was Health Management Organisations (HMOs) in the US. These are plans organised by an insurance company where enrollees may only use services provided by GPs and health facilities which have cut a discount deal with the HMO. Surgical procedures must be pre-aproved by the HMO or they either won’t pay or significantly reduce the benefit payout. The nut is the HMO makes more profit than your average policy issuer and limits the patient’s choice of carer and care.

Obama’s plans so far for a ‘public option’ don’t even include this level of restriction, yet the nutbags are still going nuts over ‘Obamacare’.

Getting people to oppose their own interests is a neat political trick if you can pull it off.

Comment by weez 09.12.09 @ 11:04 pm

If everyone were insured, medical costs would drop as overbilling would no longer be justified.

While you are right in every other point of your post, I believe that’s still the case in Australia. A doctor friend of mine (a specialist, too) was recently talking about how he is trying his best to avoid the patient paying out of pocket expenses, and rejecting the idea of charging a ‘gap’ fee, because he can claim enough from both Medicare and private insurers. When I asked him why all doctors don’t do that, he looked at me and said simply, “Greed”.

I agree that they are not justified, and I agree with him that doctors (specialists, in particular) should just live with the $500 they receive for a 1 hour procedure without gap billing, but other greedy bastards don’t. If there’s one thing capitalism takes into account, it’s the greed of individuals.

Comment by Chasy 09.20.09 @ 2:36 pm

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