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Do We Really Want to Enshrine Insurance Monopoly

into Law? This and 5 Other Complaints About the


Health Bill
By John Nichols, The Nation
Posted on November 9, 2009, Printed on November 13, 2009
http://www.alternet.org/story/143842/

The Affordable Health Care for America Act was approved by the U.S. House Saturday
night with overwhelming support from progressive Democrats who serve in the chamber
and from a president who was nominated and elected with the enthusiastic support of
progressive voters.

But that does not mean that informed and engaged progressives are entirely enthusiastic
about the measure.

In fact, some are openly and explicitly opposed to it -- among them former Congressional
Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and CPC member Eric Massa, D-
New York, both of whom broke with the majority of their fellow Democrats to vote "no"
when the House approved the measure by a narrow 220-215 vote Saturday.

How can this be?

Isn't this a fight between Democrats and Republicans? Between reforming liberals and
tea-party conservatives?

How can there possible be any subtlety or nuance to this debate?

Well, of course, the debate over this 1,900-page behemoth of a bill is more complicated
than the easy spin of political insiders -- and media cheering sections -- would have
Americans believe.

Key interest groups, such as the National Organization for Women, and key congressmen
who have been long-term supporters of reform, such as single-payer backers Massa and
Kucinich, argue that the bill is not the cure for what ails the U.S. health care system.

Indeed, they suggest, the bill as it is currently constructed could make a bad situation
worse.

Many sincere progressives in the House, and outside of it, chose to back the bill as the
best that could be gotten. Others supported it on the theory that flaws could be fixed in
the Senate and in the reconciliation of the House and Senate bills.

But those repairs will only be made if activists are conscious of what ails this bill.
For that reason, even supporters of the House legislation would be wise to consider the
criticisms of it by groups that advocate for the rights of women, patient advocates, unions
and some of the most progressive members of the House.

Here are six smart progressive complaints about the House bill:

1. FROM CONGRESSMAN ERIC MASSA: "This Bill Will Enshrine in Law the
Monopolistic Powers of the Private Health Insurance Industry"

At the highest level, this bill will enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the private
health insurance industry, period. There's really no other way to look at it. I believe the
private health insurance industry is part of the problem.

This bill also, I believe, fails to address the fundamental question before the American
people, and that is how do we control the costs of health care. It does not address
interstate portability, as Medicare does. It does not address real medical malpractice
insurance reform. It does not address the incredible waste and fraud that are currently in
the system.

2. FROM THE CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION: This Bill Fails to Control


Costs

While the current bills will provide limited assistance for some, the inconvenient truth is
they fall far short in effective controls on skyrocketing insurance, pharmaceutical and
hospital costs, do little to stop insurance companies from denying needed medical care
recommended by doctors, and provide little relief for Americans with employer-
sponsored insurance worried about health security for themselves and their families.

3. FROM THE NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR WOMEN: "This Bill Obliterates


Women's Fundamental Right to Choose"

The House of Representatives has dealt the worst blow to women's fundamental right to
self-determination in order to buy a few votes for reform of the profit-driven health
insurance industry. We must protect the rights we fought for in Roe v. Wade. We cannot
and will not support a health care bill that strips millions of women of their existing
access to abortion.

Birth control and abortion are integral aspects of women's health care needs. Health care
reform should not be a vehicle to obliterate a woman's fundamental right to choose.

The Stupak Amendment (to the House bill, which was approved and attached on
Saturday) goes far beyond the abusive Hyde Amendment, which has denied federal
funding of abortion since 1976. The Stupak Amendment, if incorporated into the final
version of health insurance reform legislation, will:
• Prevent women receiving tax subsidies from using their own money to purchase private
insurance that covers abortion;

• Prevent women participating in the public health insurance exchange, administered by


private insurance companies, from using 100 percent of their own money to purchase
private insurance that covers abortion;

• Prevent low-income women from accessing abortion entirely, in many cases.

NOW calls on the Senate to pass a health care bill that respects women's constitutionally
protected right to abortion and calls on President Obama to refuse to sign any health care
bill that restricts women's access to affordable, quality reproductive health care.

4. FROM PLANNED PARENTHOOD'S CECILE RICHARDS: This Bill Embraces


Religious-Right Extremes

It is extremely unfortunate that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and
anti-choice opponents were able to hijack the health care reform bill in their dedicated
attempt to ban all legal abortion In the United States.

Most telling is the fact that the vast majority of members of the House who supported the
Stupak/Pitts amendment in today's vote do not support HR 3962, revealing their true
motive, which is to kill the health care reform bill.

These single-issue advocates simply used health care reform to advance their extreme,
ideological agenda at the expense of tens of millions of women.

5. FROM CONGRESSMAN DENNIS KUCINICH,: This Bill Worries About the Health
of Wall Street, Not America

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 percent. 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.

6. FROM "SICKO'S" DONNA SMITH: The Bill Does Not Cure What Ails Us

Passing a healthcare reform bill that does not provide me with better access to care or
protection from bankruptcy and financial ruin is not what I asked you all to do. Stripping
away all reference to a progressively financed, single standard of high quality healthcare
for all – also known as single-payer -- is done only to more deeply ensconce the deep
pocketed interests in healthcare: the private, for-profit insurance giants, the big
pharmaceuticals, the medical equipment companies, the hospital corporations and all the
other making huge profits as thousands die needless deaths.

Healthcare is a basic human right. Granting that right is not something to be calculated
differently in swing Congressional districts, off-year election strategy or second-
Presidential term planning. It is your (members of Congress') duty to me, to my fellow
citizens and to your nation.

And (members of Congress) are marching away from reality when you think all the hard-
working people who counted on you to make this a better healthcare system will not
notice when you deliver insurance purchase mandates and a corporate bail-out that will
dwarf the Wall Street trillions you've already justified.

Watch Smith's video: "American Sickos: Will the Current Bills Help? No"

Follow Smith's organizing for real reform at the website of Progressive Democrats of
America. She is the national co-chair of PDA's Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign.

John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.

© 2009 The Nation All rights reserved.


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