United States: Corporate deal kills health reform

Issue 

The "transparent government" that President Barack Obama guaranteed during his electoral campaign has become yet another broken promise. The August 14 Huffington Post revealed a memo containing details of "the deal" Obama cut with health care mega-corporations in secret White House meetings.

Although the White House denied the authenticity of the memo, the details were consistent with earlier reports from other national media outlets.

The White House deal essentially reduces some of the more outrageous health care corporation swindling — estimated to save US$80 billion over 10 years — while Obama shamelessly promised that other irrational vehicles for health care mega-profits will remain untouched.

Any congressional healthcare plan would not attempt to negotiate for cheaper drugs, nor import them from other countries. Medicare will not be altered to affect health care corporations' profits.

Creating new laws by backroom dealing with giant corporations is bad for democracy. Unfortunately, Obama had few other options, since he refused beforehand to directly confront the healthcare industry's power.

He was thus reduced to bargaining with these entities, leaving any leverage at the door. The healthcare companies fully understood this and exploited the situation to the fullest.

The competing healthcare bills in Congress reflect this dynamic, since Congresspeople have been similarly awed — and bought — by the healthcare industry.

The different healthcare bills all agree that health care should be "mandated" — like the car insurance you're required to buy (if you can afford it). All the bills also agree that Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers — many directly affecting the most vulnerable — will be cut drastically.

The August 9 New York Times said this would lead to "savings [that] would pay nearly 40 percent of the [healthcare] bills' cost".

They're giving health care with the left hand and taking it with the right.

One disagreement between the competing plans was the highly controversial "public option". This was what the healthcare corporations hated most, since it was a way to directly take power out of their hands.

Again, the White House backed off. The August 16 NYT said the White House "signal[ed] Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate".

The "cooperative" idea is widely considered by healthcare advocates to be useless.

Such sellouts were the inevitable result of intensified healthcare industry bribery (so-called "lobbying"), which Business Week claimed on August 6 to be "a record $133 million ... in the second quarter of 2009 alone".

The same article, appropriately named "The Health Insurers Have Already Won", examined the health care lobby's successes and noted that no matter what health care bill emerges from Congress, the "insurance industry will emerge more profitable".

The article unsurprisingly revealed that health care corporations were responsible for destroying the public health care option, while "also achieving a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry."

This means taxpayer money used to subsidise any healthcare plan will go straight towards health care company profits, while providing the same shoddy care they've always provided.

Heads they win, tails we lose.

The healthcare industry was so pleased with the deal they struck, they're willing to put up $150 million toward an advertising campaign to ensure its passage.

This servitude to the healthcare corporations has strongly emboldened the right wing, who are using the Democrats' obvious corruption to stir up hysteria and fanaticism through media and town halls meetings

The right-wing attacks have driven many liberals to defend the Democrats, who deserve zero pity, let alone support.

The Republicans are placing safe bets that the Democrats will achieve absolutely nothing progressive in health care — a gamble that will pay off tremendously in the next elections.

The Republicans are also using the situation to massively propagandise against "socialism", a word wrongly attributed to any healthcare bill in Congress.

The purpose, however, is to steer people away from any substitute to capitalism, a system that millions of US people rightfully see as broken as health care.

The right wing is also using the health care crisis to again focus its guns on immigrants. Instead of the giant health care corporations being responsible for the health care crisis, society's most vulnerable are painted as the culprits.

The Wall Street Journal complained on August 15 that health care costs were being driven up because "half of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. don't have health insurance".

Of course, the 6 million undocumented immigrants who lack health insurance have plenty of company: there are at least 47 million US citizens without health insurance, a number that is growing drastically as unemployment skyrockets.

The same article implied that anyone seeking emergency room help should be turned away unless they show proof of citizenship.

Leaving aside the obvious moral issues of denying any human being emergency room medical treatment, a practical issue: millions of working and poor people have no "proof of citizenship", and would also be denied lifesaving emergency health care.

The WSJ would never focus on the fact that a large number of African Americans likewise use the emergency room for their primary source of medical treatment, since such a statement would be obviously racist. Racism against immigrants, however, is widely accepted.

Whipping up racist hysteria is a tactic employed on a broader basis as people rightfully blame mega-corporations for the economic crisis.

Another issue blamed on immigrants is Medicare's economic woes, while the real perpetrators — the healthcare corporations — escape responsibility. Every time Medicare is used to purchase overpriced medications, the pharmaceutical companies rake in huge profits.

Medicare must also pay for overpriced medical procedures, pricey hospital stays, etc. In fact, Medicare Part D was specially inserted by the Bush administration to drive up profits for the healthcare industry.

In Part D's first six months, profits for pharmaceutical companies went up $8 billion, the US House Committee on Government Reform said. Part of Obama's deal with the health care industry said that Part D would remain untouched.

This fiscal ransacking of Medicare is being used as a reason to dump the program in its entirety, something that the Democrats' "healthcare plan" will be the first step towards achieving. (The most profitable parts will likely remain intact.)

Medicare must not only be saved, but extended to everybody. This obvious solution to the US healthcare disaster is "too radical" for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Indeed, under the current system, far too many of society's resources are being used towards the profits of the healthcare industry, bank bailouts, and foreign wars for such truly universal health care to exist.

To create health care for all, the socially-precious health care industry must be completely taken out of the hands of the mega-corporations who've ruined the lives of millions of people while helping bankrupt federal and state governments.

In a March 9 article, Workers Action wrote: "If Obama's health care plan leaves in place the same greedy shareholders and CEOs of the health care mega-corporations, while funneling them billions of taxpayer money, very little is likely to change.

"Likewise, if every American has health insurance, but insurance companies benefit from not paying for expensive surgeries or medications, or drug companies continue to benefit from having monopolies over medications, millions of people will continue to suffer."

Obstacles to change must be removed, not bargained with or pandered to. The healthcare industry — like the big banks — is exerting a stranglehold over society that the Democrats and Republicans are unwilling to break.

This cowardice will hopefully shed light on an old truth for millions of people: the Democrats — like the Republicans — are also a party of big business.

[Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action, . This is abridged from ZNet.]