Newspaper logo  
 
 
Local Stories, Events

Ref. : Civic Events

Ref. : Arts & Education Events

Ref. : Public Service Notices

Books, Films, Arts & Education
Letters

Ref. : Letters to the editor

Health Care & Environment

07.21 Greta Thunberg: ‘They see us as a threat because we’re having an impact’ [We love a sane smarty-pants! Trump, you won't understand any of this, so just go off and tweet or chant, or whatever...]

07.20 Until Emissions Drop, Nothing Has Been Accomplished: The Climate Resistance Handbook Is Here. [Trump can't be bothered as the world turns into a large cinder. His laser focus is on personal greed.]

07.20 Cargo ships are emitting boatloads of carbon, and nobody wants to take the blame [1:19 video; Governments must commission to fight deadly shipping emissions, previously omitted in climate summit agreements....]

07.20 Babies Born Near Oil and Gas Wells Are Up to 70% More Likely to Have Congenital Heart Defects, New Study Shows

07.20 Giving 'Upper Hand to Corporate Polluters,' EPA Drops Surprise Inspections

07.20 With Petition to Congress, 100,000+ People Demand Green New Deal 'That Fixes Our Food System' [Realtime proactive response to reality—now and threatening—doesn't get attention in this greed focused administration]

07.19 Trump administration won't ban pesticide tied to childhood brain damage [There is no truth to the persistent rumor that chlorpyrifos pesticide was heavily used at Trump's childhood home in Queens]

07.19 'Unprecedented' Decline of Plants and Animals as Global 'Red List' Reveals Nearly One-Third of Assessed Species Under Threat

07.17 ‘Off-the-charts’ heat to affect millions in U.S. in coming decades

07.17 Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen forced out by board [Given that states have lost abortion rights on political grounds recently, Wen's philosophical approach to protect abortion rights based on ‘health care’ was smarter – therefore it was that smarter strategy that was killed at the secret meeting.]

07.17 Billions of air pollution particles found in hearts of city dwellers

07.17 What is happening in America's Cancertown is tragic, immoral and evil [Niggardly white government policies could change to produce better students, better jobs and net revenue instead of costs. But it seems they enjoy more cruelty—like Trump.]

07.16 US aid cuts to UN agency will hurt vulnerable women and children, critics say

07.16 Trump abortion restrictions in effect for taxpayer-funded clinics

07.15 The response to DRC’s Ebola crisis isn’t working. Here’s what we need to do

07.15 Extinction Rebellion protests block traffic in five UK cities [Non-corporate human animals make their annoying bleating sounds...]

07.14 A Glacier the Size of Florida Is Becoming Unstable. It Has Dire Implications for Global Sea Levels [The willfully ignorant needn't read more, Trump]

News Media Matters

07.19 Fox News’s star names excuse the inexcusable after Trump's latest racist attack

07.18 In Sinclair's New 'Must-Run' Segment, Former Trump Adviser Tries to Defend Racist Attacks on 'the Squad'

Daily: FAIR Blog
The Daily Howler

US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

07.21 Of course Donald Trump is a racist – and his Wall Street enablers know it

07.21 A court ruled it was legal for guards to strip search female inmates and force them to remove their tampons in front of male officers for a 'training exercise' [The frequency and degree of immorality and degradation being reported in the media is very disturbing, as if society has been reprogrammed overnight to be more like the worst behavior of Nazi Germany]

07.21 THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS GETTING CRUSHED IN FUNDRAISING: “THEY NEED TO GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER” [Since so-called moderate Democrats will prostitute themselves in many conceivable ways (offering that special quid pro quo) they have effectively become competitively ANTI-PUBLIC, like Republicans. Whereas progressive Democrats must promise not to take corporate donations at all as an effective litmus-test. The DNC refuses to raise funds for moderate and progressives separately, and thus donations fall short. Which is it to be: 1) Will the DNC change? or 2) Must progressive Democrats become corporate whores too? or 3) Maybe you don't need corporate contributions at all if your policies are fantastic?]

07.21 State and Local Taxes Are Worsening Inequality

07.21 State and Local Taxes Are Worsening Inequality

07.21 We're no longer in Brave New World. We're back in 1984. [1:35 video; Our despicable President is at it again]

07.21 BALTIMORE'S FILTHIEST HOODS [7:38 video. Ask your governments, why are our cities so much worse than Europe's? Why is our healthcare worse and so much more expensive? And why are our Billionaires so much richer? Ask if those results of bad government are all related, and why? Are they all caused by a power-elite with greed-obsessed immorality?]

07.21 Nancy Pelosi's Dem Socialist Challenger Shahid Buttar: "We're Gonna Win" | Full Interview [5:43 video]

07.21 Jon Stewart goes viral excoriating Rand Paul after blocking vote [9:02 video]

07.21 Nicolle Wallace Refuses to Broadcast Trump Live [5:43 video]

07.21 Sassy Bernie Sanders Sh*ts on Jeff Bezos on His Home Turf... Numerous Times [17:22 video]

07.20 Puerto Rico: top US politicians join chorus calling for governor's resignation

07.20 Fact check: Trump says Puerto Rico got $92 billion. They've seen only a fraction [If he opens his mouth, Trump's lying.]

07.20 "Trump Says Go Home, Ilhan's Community Says Welcome Home": Rep. Omar Greeted With Cheers of Love and Support in Return to Minnesota

07.20 WATCH: Amid Extreme Anti-Refugee Push, Trump Displays Neither Interest Nor Knowledge of Asylum Seekers' Plight in Oval Office Meeting

07.20 Trump Denies Being at North Carolina Rally [Not sure if Trump supporters 'get' satire, but here goes....]

07.19 Are progressives working on a climate plan for 2021? You bet.

07.19 House Democrats demand Hope Hicks clarify testimony after Cohen document dump

07.19 The 51 most outrageous lines from Donald Trump's repugnant North Carolina rally

07.19 The Real Meaning of ‘Send Her Back!’

07.18 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Breaking up Homeland Security

Justice Matters

07.19 UN urged to act over 'purge' of Turkey's lawyers by Erdogan

07.19 DOJ Releases Strong Evidence of Trump’s Campaign Finance Violations But No Explanation of No Charges [The statement]

High Crimes vs. Human Rights

07.19 Conscientious objectors of first world war – their untold tales [The record proves they were morally right by avoiding violent early deaths of their cousins and themselves]

Economics & Corrupt Capitalism

07.18 Corporate tax cuts blocked at least 15,000 affordable homes in California. Here’s how

International & Futurism

07.21 Millions face hardship as Zimbabwe comes close to ‘meltdown’

07.21 Spain set for socialist-led government after Iglesias deal [Some loaded drama going on here...]

07.20 US to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia in face of 'credible' regional threats [Working with Osama bin Laden's godfathers, Trump wants to profit like Erik Prince (for-profit education secretary Betsy DeVos' brother) of Blackwater infamy (hurriedly renamed ‘Academi’), the U.S. taxpayer to pay inflated costs while Trump siphons off long-term emolument largesse]

07.20 Iran on 'dangerous path' with seizure of Stena Impero, says UK [Which is this, a tit or a tat?]

07.20 'Dark satanic mills': Tony Abbott continues his crusade against wind turbines [Too much CO2 air pollution makes you stupid, and turns your country into an “Idiocracy” (1:36 video clip)]

07.20 Bolsonaro declares 'the Amazon is ours' and calls deforestation data 'lies' [Lazy and willfully stupid whenever it serves his purpose, just like Trump. “And the rest of you can all go to hell.” Again, just like Trump. Has your country turned into an “Idiocracy”? (1:36 video clip)]

07.19 U.N.'s Bachelet says Congresswomen opposing Trump are 'fantastic'

07.19 Iran makes 'substantial' nuclear offer in return for US lifting sanctions [Was barbaric Saudi Arabia—whose citizens were more involved in the 9-11 attacks—the wrong ally all along?]

07.19 “The Task Ahead Is Enormous, and There Is Not Much Time” [Read this and learn. Or read Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) | Twitter and/or President Trump (@POTUS) | Twitter. Are you serious? Or are you in hideously criminal denial?]

We are a non-profit Internet-only newspaper publication founded in 1973. Your donation is essential to our survival.

You can also mail a check to:
Baltimore News Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 42581
Baltimore, MD 21284-2581
Google
This site Web
  US Health Insurers Up the Ante
Newspaper logo

COMMENTARY:

US Health Insurers Up the Ante

by Robert Parry
Originally published in ConsortiumNews.com earlier today, 21 October 2009

The chutzpah shown by the U.S. health insurance industry in taking aim at the weakest reform bill in Congress – the one approved by the Senate Finance Committee – reflects the insurers’ sense that they have beaten back other proposals that might have represented significant threats.

Not only was a national single-payer approach never allowed on the table – since it would have been the death knell for the private industry – but even the most “robust” public-option bills contain major concessions to the insurers, including sharp limits on who could qualify for a government-run program and delays on when the new program might take effect.

Perhaps the most striking passage in the House Ways and Means Committee’s 1,018-page bill – regarded as one of the most liberal – is the definition of “Y1,” year one when an insurance “exchange” with a public option would become available to individuals and small businesses.

“The terms ‘Y1’, ‘Y2’, ‘Y3’, ‘Y4’, ‘Y5’, and similar subsequently numbered terms, mean 2013 and subsequent years, respectively,” the bill states on page 14.

In other words, even if Congress approves a public option, the health insurance industry gets more than a three-year reprieve before it would have to begin competing and then the competition would be limited to small businesses and to individuals.

It also means that Americans facing a health-care crisis today can’t expect meaningful help on health insurance until 2013. In the meantime, they are to be left to the mercies of private insurers.

The industry also won a major concession when Democrats agreed to exclude large companies as possible enrollees in the public option.

At the start of the congressional debate, Republicans cited an industry-backed study from the Lewin Group warning that if a public option were approved, an estimated 119 million Americans might defect from private plans. That, in turn, might badly damage the profits of the health-insurance industry.

Or as Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, put it in a column for Politico.com, the exodus of so many customers would “put America on the path toward a completely government-run health care system. ... Eventually, the government plan would overtake the entire market.”

So, Democrats made moves to protect the industry. Rather than a public option available to everyone, including large companies that are currently struggling to pay health-insurance premiums for their workers, the public option would be allowed only for individuals and small businesses. Private insurers would get to keep the biggest and most lucrative part of the market, the large companies and their employees.

Based on that concession, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the number of Americans who might sign up for a public option was about 10 million, a much smaller threat to the private insurers.

The time horizon for the public option also began fading into the fairly distant future. To minimize attacks on the 10-year cost of the program, Democrats pushed the starting point for the exchanges, where private insurers supposedly would compete with the public option, back to 2013.

The delayed implementation pushes higher costs for health reform outside the 10-year window (and thus makes the program look cheaper), but it means that Americans can expect little improvement in their health-insurance coverage for the next three-plus years. [To see the expected annual costs of the Ways and Means bill, go to the CBO analysis and look at the table on the last page.]

Political Risk

So, Americans who right now are facing financial crises over health costs or who are going without necessary medical care because they are uninsured or underinsured will be expected to somehow suck it up for several more years.

Politically, the Democrats have put themselves in a position where even if they pass a bill with the public option, they will have to survive the 2010 and 2012 elections based not on what they have done for the American people but what the future might hold – and Americans are notoriously impatient.

Meanwhile, the Republicans will get to pummel Democrats for promising better health-care results – and for delivering nothing of note.

There’s also the prospect that a new Republican Congress in 2011 or a new Republican President in 2013 could move quickly to repeal any public option that might have survived in the legislation. Since the people will not have experienced any benefits from the not-yet-implemented public option, there wouldn’t be a powerful constituency to fight for it.

And, a Republican-controlled Congress and GOP President wouldn’t hesitate to ram revisions of the health-care reform through on a majority vote under the budget “reconciliation” process, as a Republican Congress did with tax cuts during George W. Bush’s presidency.

With these political prospects ahead, the health insurance industry apparently believes it has weathered the worst of the reform storm and can begin zeroing in on a few lesser irritants, like trying to get Congress to ratchet up the coercion on the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans so they will be forced to sign up for private insurance policies.

In a brazen act that took Democrats by surprise, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s lobbying arm, went on the attack against the industry-friendly Senate Finance Committee bill because of relatively weak penalties of only a few hundred dollars a year assessed against people who don’t buy insurance even with government subsidies.

AHIP feared that the fines wouldn’t be coercive enough to force young people to buy insurance. Thus, the worry was that the industry's new sign-ups would be customers the industry doesn’t want, people who need medical attention.

So, industry lobbyists warned that if Congress didn’t raise the fines on the uninsured, the industry would jack up its premiums across the board. "The consequences of this would be an upward spiral; rate shock to everyone who stays in," AHIP president Karen Ignagni said.

A Blunder?

While the White House and congressional Democrats suggested that the industry had committed a blunder and risked a political backlash, the assault on the Finance Committee bill, which already had bent to the industry’s will by excluding a public option, could be read as an act of confidence.

On Tuesday, Ignagni published an op-ed in the Washington Post defending an industry-sponsored study that warned of higher rates if harsher penalties were not included to force Americans to buy insurance. But the article also revealed how modest the industry sees likely cost savings from reform.

Without reform, “the CBO projects that health-care spending will rise at an annual rate of 6.2 percent for the next decade,” Ignagni wrote. “We believe the nation can bend the cost curve by 1.5 percentage points annually if reform includes systemwide efforts to reward best practices, shrink the wide variation in care, expand care coordination, and equip doctors and patients to make decisions based on what works.”

Ignagni then chastised Congress for its supposed unwillingness to address these medical changes. She wrote:

“The shared promise of health-care reform is guaranteeing access to affordable coverage for those outside of the system while ensuring that those who have coverage can keep what they like. That promise can be kept only if Congress puts the nation on a path to universal coverage and confronts what lawmakers have thus far been unwilling to address: the need for tangible, effective steps to reduce the growth in health-care costs and make the system sustainable for generations to come.”

Remarkably, Ignagni’s suggestions for trimming the annual increases in health costs – from 6.2 percent to a still hefty 4.7 percent – rested on restraining costs associated with what doctors and hospitals charge, not on demanding sacrifices from the insurance industry.

Indeed, the industry may believe it has dodged the most dangerous bullet aimed at its administrative expenses and profits, stiff competition from an across-the-board government-run plan.

According to the CBO, the only meaningful way to wrest significant savings from the insurance side of the cost equation is to force private insurers to compete with a public option.

Assessing the five reform bill that have cleared different committees of Congress, the CBO said the nation would get the most savings on health-care costs from a public option tied to Medicare rates. Such a version, which is included in two of the House bills including the one from the House Ways and Means Committee, would save an estimated $110 billion over 10 years.

Those savings presumably would be substantially more if the public option were made available to large employers, not just small businesses and individuals. But the industry appears to have killed that possibility.

An even more modest public option in another House bill, which de-links the rates from Medicare and would require negotiations with health-care providers, would save an estimated $25 billion, the CBO said. By contrast, the co-op idea in the Finance Committee bill would cost $6 billion to set up and would garner few if any savings.

Little to Fear

But even if a “robust” public option, like the one in the House Ways and Means bill, is approved, private insurers apparently sense they have little to fear. Otherwise, industry lobbyists probably would not have taken the risk of criticizing the Finance Committee bill.

Though Democrats have fumed about the industry’s arrogance – and have claimed that chances for some form of public option have improved – the Democrats show no sign that they will up the ante on the industry and provide meaningful relief for hard-pressed Americans now.

Democrats could, for instance, shake the industry up by expanding the availability of the public option to larger businesses and by speeding up the effective date, from 2013 to, say, 2010.

Right now, the Democrats are running a huge political risk by raising expectations of voters and then not delivering anything that helps much until after the next two election cycles. Starting the public option before the 2010 election or at least before the 2012 campaign might go a long way toward persuading voters that the Democrats have done something for the little guy.

By contrast to the three-plus-year delay for starting the health-insurance exchanges, it took less than a year for the Medicare system to be set up from scratch and begin providing health care to seniors. By piggybacking the public option onto the existing Medicare program, the new reform presumably could be put in place even faster.

If that happened, the Democrats might risk sticker shock over the program’s 10-year cost, which President Barack Obama wants to keep at about $900 billion and which could rise by several hundred billion dollars if the start-up was advanced by three years.

But putting a new system in place quickly would address what Obama and other Democrats have called a crisis in health care. It could spare hundreds of thousands of Americans from the devastation of medical bankruptcies and/or untreated illnesses that can lead to premature death.

The medical definition of “crisis” is the point in a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs that can lead to either recovery or death. It is not a moment that calls for a three-plus-year delay.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



Copyright © 2009 The Baltimore News Network. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

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 October 21, 2009.

 

Public Service Ads: