The Baucus Bill 'milestone' obscures the only real solution to the ills of our current health care system...
By Ernest A. Canning on 10/16/2009, 10:34am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

As recounted in a front-page article in The New York Times, on the strength of a single "yes" from a member of the Party of No, President Barack Obama described the 14 to 9 Senate Finance Committee vote in favor of the Baucus health care bill as "a critical milestone," adding, "We are now closer than ever to passing health care reform."

With all due respect, Mr. President, it is nothing of the sort. To the contrary, the Senate Finance Committee has produced nothing less than a legislative obscenity.

After nearly a year of back room deals and unending propaganda, which has included extensive corporate media coverage of insurance industry sponsored, wing-nut assaults on town halls, fabricated issues about "death panels," the exclusion of single-payer advocates from the White House and the Senate Finance Committee, and a deafening corporate media silence about the widespread public support* for a single-payer (Medicare for All) system, the time has come to pierce through the confusion by asking and answering a few simple questions...

What is reform?

According to Webster's, the word "reform" means [emphasis added]:

1 a : to put or change into an improved form or condition b: to amend or improve by change of form or removal of faults or abuses.

2 : to put an end to (an evil) by enforcing or introducing a better method or course of action.

What is the 'evil' in the U.S. health care system that needs 'reform'?

The short answer --- for-profit insurance and an uncontrolled pharmaceutical industry, or, as I so delicately put it in ObamaCare: Right Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription:"

America needs private carriers for health care like a local businessman needs the Mafia for protection.

As noted in "Single-Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit,'" per capita cost of health care in the U.S. is nearly double that of single-payer countries, yet the U.S. ranks 37th in health care delivery. Administrative costs in single-payer countries range from 1% to 2%. In the U.S., private carriers siphon off 31% of health care dollars. That 31% amounts to $350 billion per year.

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) reports "medical bills contribute to half of all personal bankruptcies. Three-fourths of those bankrupted had health insurance at the time they got sick or injured."

Where opponents of single-payer rail against paying taxes toward a single-payer system, the PNHP observed that our taxes already pay for 60% of health care costs in the US. "Americans pay the highest health care taxes in the world. We pay for national health insurance, but don’t get it," they charge.

As I've noted in "Single Payer and the 'Democracy Deficit'", the U.S. health care system is not merely corrupt and dysfunctional but deadly. 47 million Americans are uninsured; a figure that is growing at a rate of 14,000 per day. A Harvard University study which has been released by the American Journal of Public Health revealed that our system kills close to 45,000 each year due to lack of coverage --- 45,000 in addition to the still uncounted numbers who die when carriers refuse to authorize vital procedures.

A system that places greater value on the obscene profits of a handful of already wealthy insurance company CEOs and their Wall Street investors than on the health and very lives of the citizenry is both irrational and immoral.

Is the Baucus bill an obscenity?

The word "obscene" is not applied in the formal legal sense entailing sexual content appealing to the prurient interest that is of no redeeming social value but instead, as applied by Webster's, as an abhorrent act made "repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral or ethical principles (an obscene misuse of power)."

Thus, I previously described the Baucus bill as a "legislative obscenity that Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and a former vice president of WellPoint spent months preparing --- an insurance carrier wish-list that contains no public option, no means for controlling costs or abuse; a measure that does not merely protect but expands the already obscene wealth of the few by mandating that every citizen purchase insurance, with massive subsidies flowing into carrier coffers."

There can be no true "reform" short of either a single-payer system or a public option that would permit everyone to opt out of the private insurance system

As I've noted previously, the President's effort to satisfy both the health needs of our citizens and the greed of the health insurance cartel is a fool's errand.

Per the Congressional Budget Office ("CBO"), Baucus would funnel $461 billion in subsidies into the coffers of private carriers in order to extend coverage "to 18 million people who otherwise would be unable to afford" it. It would force every American (save those who qualify for Medicare, VA benefits, etc.) to purchase coverage or face financial penalties.**

The ostensible rationale for mandating that every American purchase insurance arises from the President's desire to eliminate preexisting conditions as a basis for carrier refusals to authorize and pay for medical care. If there were no exclusions for preexisting conditions, there would be no need to purchase insurance until you get sick. Only sick people would have insurance, and private carriers would go under. Thus, the mandate now being proposed in Baucus' and the other similar proposals supported by Obama.

But, of course, there would be no need to address the issues surrounding preexisting conditions under a single-payer system where no one would have to buy insurance and everyone would be covered by a publicly funded program.

The desire to retain a private, for-profit system to address the public health care needs of our citizens leads to a perversion of the principles on which this nation was founded.

Where this nation's founders declared that each individual is born with certain "inalienable rights" --- "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" --- under Baucus every birth carries with it a lifetime obligation to pay into to the private coffers of the health insurance cartel in order to maintain the obscene wealth of the privileged few, albeit, one that does not apply under Baucus until the age of majority when the $750 penalty for failing to obtain coverage kicks in.**

Where a citizen's obligation to pay taxes is, under the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, reciprocated by the federal government's obligation to provide for the common defense and to promote the general welfare, Baucus imposes taxes on citizens that will do little more, ultimately, than maximize profits for those whose campaign contributions have corrupted the legislative process. So much so, that the public good, as envisioned by the founders, is no longer recognizable.

Indeed, where the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that government exists to "secure" these "inalienable rights," Baucus declares that the government's role is to simply guarantee private carrier profits by making our mere existence a form of indentured servitude to the insurance cartel --- a cartel which remains free to deprive us of our health, our hard-earned savings and even our very lives through creative "utilization reviews" in which, as revealed by health insurance cartel whistle blower Wendell Potter, vital medical procedures give way to the corporate/Wall Street bottom line. (See video below).

And, after all that, Baucus still leaves 29 million uninsured; many of whom would remain at risk of death by reason of non-coverage.

From 'the good' to 'the corrupt'

The CBO asserts Baucus would not add to the federal deficit because the $821 billion price tag would be offset by the penalties and by cuts in Medicare.

Medicare is a single-payer system which, in the eyes of the corrupt, is deficient since money that flows into Medicare cannot be siphoned off by private carriers. So we take money from the good system and put it into the corrupt system, and that's reform?

As Fortune's Shawn Tulley observes, "the Baucus legislation would impose the equivalent of a giant tax hike on middle-class families, who would have far less money left over after buying insurance than they do today."

Baucus does not mandate employer coverage. To the contrary, Tulley argues, Baucus "offers irresistible incentives for America's big employers to dump their coverage" --- a factor that calls into question whether, over the course of decade, the number of individuals incapable of purchasing coverage will be far greater than anticipated by the CBO.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) asserts that an employer mandate would save $200 billion; that a public option would save $100 billion more.

Both the CBO's and Grayson's analysis fail to mention that under the single-payer system envisioned by HR 676 ("Medicare for All" Act), there would be no need for employer mandates. A single-payer system would make U.S. manufacturing competitive with foreign companies which do not include the cost of health care in the price of their products.

President Obama conceded the only system that would provide health care coverage for every American is single-payer --- a system which the PNHP estimates would save between $350 billion to $400 billion per year by eliminating the parasitic middle men --- for-profit carriers.

Of course, the greed of a cartel which --- as documented in the sworn Congressional testimony of Dr. Linda Pino recounted in Michael Moore's Sicko --- is willing to allow patients to die in order to maximize profits, knows no bounds.

On the eve of the Finance Committee Report, the industry advanced a doctored Price-Waterhouse Cooper's study which let the cat out of the bag. As observed by Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's "Countdown," "health care premiums will continue to rise with or without the Baucus bill."

This latest demonstration of unbridled corporate greed prompted Jonathan Cohn, author of Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis --and the People Who Pay the Price to observe that "it comes down to ‘Do you trust the insurance industry?’"

Cohn's question was too narrow. We know we can't trust either the insurance cartel or the Party of No, but can we trust any politician who would attempt to pawn off this legislative obscenity as "a critical milestone" in the effort to achieve meaningful "health care reform?" Can we trust the President of these United States to truly effectuate "change we can believe in?"

While mulling that question, consider the fact that, one day after the Senate Finance Committee approved the Baucus obscenity, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) moved quickly to sequester the question of reconciling Baucus with the somewhat more progressive measure once championed by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA).

Those selected to take part in this new round of back-door deals were Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), whose "wife, Jackie Clegg Dodd, serves on the boards of four health-care companies, receiving more than $200,000 in salary and stock from her service in 2008," Sen. Baucus, the largest recipient of health insurance campaign contributions in Congress, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who was directly involved over many months in the drafting of the Baucus obscenity, and Senator Olympia Snow (R-ME), a member of the Senate Finance Committee's gang of six responsible for crafting this monstrosity.

Does anyone believe that this little clique is meeting behind closed doors to advance the public good? Will progressive Senate Democrats, like their counterparts in the House, be willing to filibuster a bill that emerges from this motley crew if it does not contain a public option? Or will they passively go along, permitting a legislative obscenity to become law? Even as the only real solution, single-payer, is ignored.

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The 10/10/09 'Democracy Now! coverage of Robert Greenwald’s “Sick for Profits” follows below...

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*A June 2009 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 76% of all Americans support a "public option." A Feb. 2009 New York Times/CBS News poll [PDF] revealed that 59% of all Americans favored a national health care system. A Feb. 2009 Grove Insight Opinion Research poll [PDF] found that 60% of all Americans favor Medicare for All, the single-payer concept embodied in H.R. 676.

**The Baucus bill, in its current iteration, imposes a $750/adult penalty --- a reduction from insurance cartel hack Max Baucus' "original figure of $950 per adult or dependent, with a cap of $3,800 per family..."

UPDATE 10/18/09:Referencing the Baucus bill in "Public Health Before Wall Street Wealth," former Los Angeles Times columnist, Robert Scheer, observed:

The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than George W. Bush’s prescription drug coverage initiative.

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968).