13 06 2009

It’s old news by now, but the utter arrogance of Senator Max Baucus and the rest of the Senate Finance Committee as they had no fewer than thirteen single-payer health-care advocates arrested and removed from the room for protesting the utter arrogance of declaring single-payer health care “off the table” may have been the high water mark of corporatism in the United States.  May have been.

Two of the main foci of the debate so far have been whether to include a “public option”–an expanded version of Medicare for those unable to afford private insurance–or simply require everybody to buy private insurance, and subsidize the purchase.  That leads into the second focus, which centers on how to pay for the whole thing and how to keep costs within bounds.

There’s a lot to chew on here.  The insurance industry is rightfully afraid that a “public option” will shrink their market share, but there is widespread awareness of their greed, so they get little sympathy from the public for that.  In Congress, it’s another matter, unfortunately.   All those insurance premiums buy a lot of Senators and Representatives–like, f’rinstance, Max Baucus.  The last time Baucus ran for re-election, he faced a little-known, sacrificial Republican whom he beat handily.  Baucus, nevertheless, found it necessary to raise eleven million dollars for his campaign–about ten million of it from donors who do not live in Montana, and nearly two million  from “big health”–insurance, pharmaceutical, and health care companies. The other members of the Finance Committee, not all of whom had to run for office in 2008, collectively received over eleven million dollars from big med.  Can you say “campaign finance reform,” boys and girls?

Parenthetically, Baucus, who has received nearly five million dollars in contributions from combined finance, real estate, and insurance interests over the course of his career, was one of the Democrats who helped shoot down Obama’s proposal to give bankruptcy judges the power to lower the value of inflated  home mortgages.  With Democrats like him, who needs Republicans?  Another reason to go Green….

The first rule of politics in this country is, “don’t bite the hands that feed you,” and this scale of feed makes it obvious that we can’t trust Baucus, among others, to really reform our health care system any more than we can trust Tim Geithner to reform Wall Street.  These guys are not part of the solution, they’re part of the problem, foxes guarding the hen house–and you and I are the hens in this situation, folks.

Republicans are, of course, staunchly opposed to “the public option.”  They have declared it prima facie evidence that Obama is engineering a socialist revolution in the US.  Look, people, I really am a socialist, and I’m here to tell you, Obama ain’t one of us.  To use somewhat antiquated rhetoric:  to me, , Mr. Obama looks like a slavering lapdog of the Capitalist system–giving all that money to Wall Street, no strings attached, and you Repuglycans are calling him a socialist!!??  Truly, either your ignorance or your gall, or more likely both, know no bounds!  But, I digress….

Anyway, the Repuglycans’ “right to life” principles appear to apply to insurance companies much more strongly than they do to people who cannot afford medical care, because they are pushing for a plan that will simply, a la Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts, require people to buy private insurance, and provide some level of subsidy for those who can’t afford it out of pocket.  Everybody is being too polite to point out that requiring individuals to support bloated corporations  or face fines is fascism–the marriage of government and big business for their mutual benefit–at its very worst, so I guess I’ll have to do the dirty job of pointing it out myself:  Republicans are fascists…got it?  The sad thing is that many Dimocrats, in the “spirit of bipartisanship,” are thinking about “being reasonable” and capitulating on this, severely limiting the “public option” one way or another, essentially guaranteeing that the alarm in the hen house will only go off when the fox wants to ring it.  It’s enough to make you wish for a strong Green Party presence in Congress.  The GP has never wavered in its support for single-payer, not-for profit health care.

Since Obama’s solution to the piracy on Wall Street has been to throw money at the pirates, it’s not surprising that the knee-jerk reaction of many of our politicians in both major parties has been to try and find a way to subsidize private, for-profit insurance companies so they can offer some kind of coverage to everyone–and let’s not forget that one of the chief causes of bankruptcy and foreclosure is medical expenses–even among people who actually have insurance.

That’s where the plan to “solve” the problem by bloating the insurance business even further is running into difficulties.  There just ain’t enough loose cash left in the system to feed these vampires.  We gave it all to Wall Street and Detroit already.  Some congressmen thought maybe they could tax peoples’ health benefits and give the money to the insurance companies, but Obama campaigned against that, and he’s unlikely to do a U-turn on it.  They thought maybe they could require all employers to provide insurance, but too many people are unemployed and too many employers are already financially stressed.  So, gee, it starts looking like the only excess cash left around is…in the for-profit medical biz!  Gee whiz!  Who woulda thunk it?  So Congress is finally starting to listen to single-payer advocates, although there’s no guarantee of any results.

There certainly is plenty of fat to be cut from the illness care industry. ( Let’s quit calling it “health care,” because they don’t really care about keeping people healthy–it’s  when you’re sick and spending money on it that your contribution to the GNP skyrockets. )  As I detailed three years ago on this show, drug company profit margins are simply insane.  They take pills that cost them pennies to produce and sell them, frequently, for hundreds of times their actual production cost.  These are the people who solemnly promised us that they would shave one and a half percent off their future profit margins over the next decade.   How big of them!

Screw shaving their profits!  Big Pharma executives should shave their heads (or maybe quit shaving), give up their wealth, and walk across America on their knees in sackcloth and ashes, begging our forgiveness, and be pelted with rotten vegetables and the contents of bedpans at every opportunity.

Well, OK, maybe that’s a little extreme.  Maybe having them dump bedpans and other refuse in the proper receptacle  (a flyproof compost pile, imho) would be penance enough.  But, I’m digressing again…revenge fantasies…arrgh.

My point is that there is nearly enough slack to create a universal health care system if we take the slack out of the for-profit illness business and stress prevention and self-care.  Putting higher taxes on gasoline could contribute to this, as well as pushing more people to seek alternatives to driving.  This is one of the ways European countries have paid for their universal health care systems.

There is one other question I’d like to address while I’m talking about health care, and that is the social effects of our private, limited-access system.  It discourages small business startups, such as small farms, for example, because they rise–or fall–on the health of the entrepreneur.  One uninsured accident or illness, and your business is toast.  I cannot help but wonder if this is intentional, a way for big business to discourage outside innovation and competition.  At this time in our history, the old answers no longer make sense, and we need to do everything we can to encourage fresh thinking.  Universal health care will do that.

The various corporations who profit from illness in America, and the individuals who embody those corporations, are, in effect, vampires.   They get us in their clutches and, the sicker we get, the fatter they grow.  They are addicted to our blood, and will not give up their habit easily.  Maybe, just maybe, enough of our legislators will realize the time has come when there is no choice but to pelt the illness biz vampires with garlic and drive a stake through their collective hearts.  Maybe.

music:  William Burroughs/Bill Laswell, “Advice for Young People”




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