Archive for the ‘Health Care’ Category

The Washington Times
Stephen Dinan
August 5, 2010

Social Security will pay out more this year than it gets in payroll taxes, marking the first time since the program will be in the red since it was overhauled in 1983, according to the annual authoritative report released Thursday by the program’s actuary.

Meanwhile President Obama‘s health care overhaul has givenMedicare‘s basic Hospital Insurance an extra 12 years of financial stability, though it did not solve all of the program’s long-term challenges.

“The financial status of the HI trust fund is substantially improved by the lower expenditures and additional tax revenues instituted by the Affordable Care Act,” the program’s actuary said in its annual report. “These changes are estimated to postpone the exhaustion of HI trust fund assets from 2017 under the prior law to 2029 under current law and to 2028 under the alternative scenario.”

But the actuary said the programs’ finances are still troubled in the near and long terms, and warned that Congress is making things worse by putting off scheduled doctor fee cuts.

The Obama administration said the report shows the success of the health care overhaul, which passed earlier this year on the strength of Democratic votes.

“The impact of health care reform is made clear by the Trustees Reports, which show some very positive developments for Social Security and especially Medicare,” said Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. “But they also remind us that we must continue to make progress addressing the financing challenges facing the long-term solvency of these programs.”

Some of the grimmest immediate news comes in Social Security, where benefit payouts will exceed revenues this year for the first time since Democrats and Republicans came together to overhaul it in the 1980s.

The deficit will last through 2011, then an improving economy will put it back into balance for three years, then it will dip back into the red in 2015, the actuary said. The program has enough money in its trust fund to cover the annual deficit for two decades beyond that.

Ellen Brown
Debt of Debt
December 24, 2009

Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is quoted as warning two centuries ago:

“Unless we put medical freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into an underground dictatorship. . . . The Constitution of this republic should make special privilege for medical freedom as well as religious freedom.”

That time seems to have come, but the dictatorship we are facing is not the sort that Dr. Rush was apparently envisioning. It is not a dictatorship by medical doctors, who are as distressed by the proposed legislation as the squeezed middle class is. (For a withering analysis by an outraged M.D. of the nearly 2000 – page House bill, see here.) The new dictatorship is not by doctors but by Wall Street — the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) sector that now claims 40% of corporate profits.

Economist L. Randall Wray observes that ever since Congress threw out the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from investment banking, insurance and Wall Street finance have been “two peas in a pod.” He writes:

“[T] here is a huge untapped market of some 50 million people who are not paying insurance premiums—and the number grows every year because employers drop coverage and people can’t afford premiums. Solution? Health insurance ‘reform’ that requires everyone to turn over their pay to Wall Street. . . . This is just another bailout of the financial system, because the tens of trillions of dollars already committed are not nearly enough.”

The health reform bills now coming through Congress are not focused on how to make health care cheaper or more effective, how to eliminate waste and fraud, or how to cut out expensive middlemen. As originally envisioned, the public option would have pursued those goals. But the public option has been dropped from the Senate bill and radically watered down in the House bill.

Rather than focusing on making health care affordable, the bills focus on how to force people either to buy health insurance if they don’t have it, or to pay more for it if they do. If you don’t have insurance and don’t purchase it, you will be subject to a hefty fine. And if you do purchase it, premiums, co-pays, co-insurance payments and deductibles are liable to keep health care cripplingly expensive. Most of the people who don’t have health care can’t afford to pay the deductibles, so they will never use the plans they are forced to buy.

To subsidize those who can’t pay, the Senate bill would make families earning two to four times the poverty level who don’t have employer-sponsored insurance surrender 8% to 12% of their income to insurance payments, or pay a fine. In another effort to make the insurance payments “affordable,” the Senate bill calls for the lowest cost plan to cover only sixty percent of health care costs.

“In other words,” writes Dr. Andrew Coates in a November 23 article, “a guarantee of insurance industry dominance and the continued privatization of health care in every arena.”

Compulsory health insurance is like compulsory selective military service (the draft), except that all of our numbers have come up. The argument has been made that auto insurance is compulsory, so why not health insurance? But the obvious response is that you can choose to drive a car. The only way to escape the vehicle we call a body is to give up the ghost.

The Right to Sovereignty Over Our Own Bodies

And that brings up another issue alluded to by Dr. Rush: the matter of freedom of choice in health care. Some people would equate it with freedom of religion. Not everyone believes in Modern Medicine. If we the people have a right to choose what we believe about life after death, we should have the right to choose what we believe about life before death, by choosing how to maintain our own bodies.

The conventional treatment promoted by the medical/pharmaceutical complex is an aggressive approach that can wind up killing the patient as collateral damage in its war on the disease. Among other researchers questioning the wisdom of this approach is Gary Null, who reported the results of an exhaustive independent review by the Nutrition Institute of America in 2004. The reviewers concluded that the number one killer is not heart disease or cancer but conventional medicine itself. Conventional medicine was found to be responsible for an estimated 783,936 deaths annually, including 106,000 deaths from adverse drug reactions, 98,000 from medical errors, and 88,000 from infection; and those figures were conservative, since no more than 20 percent of iatrogenic (doctor- or drug-caused) mishaps are ever reported.

There are more natural, less invasive alternatives, but most are not covered by insurance; and even such simple remedies as healthy organic food may be too expensive for people forced to use a major portion of their incomes for medical insurance. A true public option of the Medicare-for-all variety could have solved the problem by keeping health care affordable. If other industrialized countries can find the money for a national health service, we could too. For a model, we could follow the lead of Canada, which originally obtained the funds for its national health service from its own publicly-owned central bank. But that will be the subject of another article. Stay tuned.

Posted: November 10, 2009 in Health, Health Care, Law
Tags: , ,

Dennis Kucinich
Common Dreams
November 9, 2009

We have been led to believe that we must make our health care choices only within the current structure of a predatory, for-profit insurance system which makes money not providing health care. We cannot fault the insurance companies for being what they are. But we can fault legislation in which the government incentivizes the perpetuation, indeed the strengthening, of the for-profit health insurance industry, the very source of the problem. When health insurance companies deny care or raise premiums, co-pays and deductibles they are simply trying to make a profit. That is our system.

Clearly, the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution. They are driving up the cost of health care. Because their massive bureaucracy avoids paying bills so effectively, they force hospitals and doctors to hire their own bureaucracy to fight the insurance companies to avoid getting stuck with an unfair share of the bills. The result is that since 1970, the number of physicians has increased by less than 200% while the number of administrators has increased by 3000%. It is no wonder that 31 cents of every health care dollar goes to administrative costs, not toward providing care. Even those with insurance are at risk. The single biggest cause of bankruptcies in the U.S. is health insurance policies that do not cover you when you get sick.

But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies – a bailout under a blue cross.

By incurring only a new requirement to cover pre-existing conditions, a weakened public option, and a few other important but limited concessions, the health insurance companies are getting quite a deal. The Center for American Progress’ blog, Think Progress, states, ’since the President signaled that he is backing away from the public option, health insurance stocks have been on the rise.’ Similarly, healthcare stocks rallied when Senator Max Baucus introduced a bill without a public option. Bloomberg reports that Curtis Lane, a prominent health industry investor, predicted a few weeks ago that ‘money will start flowing in again’ to health insurance stocks after passage of the legislation. Investors.com last month reported that pharmacy benefit managers share prices are hitting all-time highs, with the only industry worry that the Administration would reverse its decision not to negotiate Medicare Part D drug prices, leaving in place a Bush Administration policy.

During the debate, when the interests of insurance companies would have been effectively challenged, that challenge was turned back. The ‘robust public option’ which would have offered a modicum of competition to a monopolistic industry was whittled down from an initial potential enrollment of 129 million Americans to 6 million. An amendment which would have protected the rights of states to pursue single-payer health care was stripped from the bill at the request of the Administration. Looking ahead, we cringe at the prospect of even greater favors for insurance companies.

Recent rises in unemployment indicate a widening separation between the finance economy and the real economy. The finance economy considers the health of Wall Street, rising corporate profits, and banks’ hoarding of cash, much of it from taxpayers, as sign of an economic recovery. However in the real economy – in which most Americans live – the recession is not over. Rising unemployment, business failures, bankruptcies and foreclosures are still hammering Main Street.

This health care bill continues the redistribution of wealth to Wall Street at the expense of America’s manufacturing and service economies which suffer from costs other countries do not have to bear, especially the cost of health care. America continues to stand out among all industrialized nations for its privatized health care system. As a result, we are less competitive in steel, automotive, aerospace and shipping while other countries subsidize their exports in these areas through socializing the cost of health care.

Notwithstanding the fate of H.R. 3962, America will someday come to recognize the broad social and economic benefits of a not-for-profit, single-payer health care system, which is good for the American people and good for America’s businesses, with of course the notable exceptions being insurance and pharmaceuticals.