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A Banner Week for Big Insurance, Part I: Mandating Profits
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 17 September 2009
This is turning out to be a very good week for the private health insurance companies (or as I like to think of them, the bloodsucking middle-men whose only role in the health care system is to squeeze some profits out of human illness and suffering). Yesterday, AP/Forbes reported on the uptick in insurer stocks, which jumped from 3 to 6 percent in a single day:
It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out why this is great for the insurance industry: If there’s no public alternative to compete with private insurance companies, guess where all those people will have to go to buy their government-mandated insurance? As for the touted co-ops and exchanges, all they are ultimately likely to offer is better access to private insurance. And people of limited means will get government subsidies, mostly in the form of tax breaks, to buy private insurance–which means a transfer of funds from the taxpayers to private insurers. We might as well be writing our checks directly to United Healthcare, Wellpoint, and Humana, instead of the the IRS.
As Mark Karlin pointed out on Buzzflash yesterday, taxpayer subsidies are the only way to solve the ”issue of how for-profit insurance can co-exist with the goal of reducing medical costs.” Karlin continues:
Karlin is right to compare what’s going on now to the Medicare Part D scam, which I’ve written about often. For decades, the drug companies had opposed the idea of a Medicare prescription drug plan. But at a certain point, they realized that if the plan was constructed the right way, it stood to reap them huge rewards in the form of government-subsidized profits, without the onerous burden of too much government control. That’s how we ended up with the convoluted, overpriced, privatized system that is Medicare Part D, instead of the comparatively simple and efficient structure of original Medicare.
The insurance companies also cashed in on Medicare Part D, since the whole program is financed by the government but run through them. So when health care reform came up this time, they were prepared: From the start, they showed a willingness to support health care reform, as long as it was the right kind of health care reform–i.e. one that expanded, rather than threatened, their role in the system, and thus their profits. As Robert Pear wrote in the New York Times last week:
In other words, so what if the law says that private insurers have to accept some people with pre-existing conditions, or stop cutting them off when they get sick, as long as the law also provides them with a huge set of new, government-subsidized customers–and absolutely no competition. It could hardly have worked out better for the insurance industry if they’d written the plan themselves.
Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.
Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.
Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.
This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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Baltimore News Network, Inc., sponsor of this web site, is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed in stories posted on this web site are the authors' own.This story was published on September 18, 2009.