Aug 3rd 2009

August Offensive to Define Health Care Debate: Insurance Companies in the Bull’s Eye

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
A potentially decisive battle to define this year's health care debate - and the Obama Presidency - will take place in town hall meetings, little league bleaches, and conversations on door steps near you during the August Congressional recess.

The White House, its Congressional allies, and progressive organizations supporting health care reform have launched a new August offensive to write the narrative of the health care debate. The story line is clear: on the one side are America's health care consumers. On the other are the eight private health insurance companies that dominate the health insurance market, who are doing so much to deep-six the health insurance reform that America so desperately needs.
Americans United for Change (for which I am General Consultant) helps kick off this offensive today with a new TV spot that begins to personalize the private health insurance industry. It asks the question: Why do the health insurance companies and Republicans want to kill President Obama's health insurance reform? It answers with the tale of H. Edward Hanway, the CEO of giant Cigna Insurance.

Hanway made $12.2 million as CEO of Cigna last year. Sometimes that kind of number just rolls off the tongue. But someone who makes $12.2 million is making $5,883 per hour. He makes 30 times more than the CEO of the federal government - the President. He makes more in one day than the average American worker makes all year long.

And that's not all. Hanway just announced he will be retiring at year's end. For his retirement, H. Edward will get a good deal more than a gold watch. He will get a golden parachute worth $73 million. Probably a fair amount more than the guy who runs Medicare, don't you think?

The private insurance industry is pretty crazed about a health insurance reform plan that will require them to compete with a public health insurance option focused on covering everyone and controlling costs, instead of making off with fortunes.

They would love to see a plan that requires the taxpayers to reach into their jeans and plunk down hundreds of billions more dollars as long as they could continue to skim their take off an ever-exploding national health care bill. They would love to have the government require that everyone must buy their health care insurance. But the idea of competing with a public plan that forces efficiency, drives down the industry's growing profit margins and gives consumers an option other than the oligopoly of eight major health insurance firms? They think that is a terrible idea.

They feel the same way towards a public health insurance option that the local mob boss feels about some interloper who tries to cut into the piece of the action he takes from the bookies operating within his turf.

So, like the local mob boss, they will be pulling out all the stops in August to terrorize members of Congress and sow fear and confusion about the Obama Health Insurance Reform plan. They will run ads. They will make copious political contribution s. They will provide ammunition to the right-wing talk show hosts. They will do everything in their power to stop the Obama plan dead in its tracks, because they know that once people have a new health insurance system, there will be no going back.

But this August, Progressives have no intention of being bowled over by the assault of the "insurance gang." Progressives have learned the lesson of 1994, and this time we will go right at them. There are four reasons why we are likely to prevail:

The polling shows clearly that most people agree that the health insurance industry has worn out its welcome with Americans. Since 1994, there have simply been too many people denied coverage for pre-existing conditions, or told that they are no longer covered because they have gotten a serious illness, or gouged so that H. Edward Hanway can have a $73 million retirement package. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that something's wrong with the health insurance industry when premiums go up three times faster than wages and 14,000 people a day are losing their health insurance, yet insurance industry profits still keep going up in the midst of a horrible recession.

Even though the health insurance industry has more resources than we do, it is also true that it costs less to convince people that what is good for them is good for them, than it does to convince people that what is bad for them is good for them.
·
We have a President and Democratic leadership in Congress willing to make the case against the insurance companies in stark, clear terms.Well-organized progressive coalitions like Health Care for America Now (HCAN), and Obama's field operation - Organize for America -- have been preparing for this engagement for months. They have been accumulating resources, testing public opinion, organizing grassroots field operations - all in preparation for this decisive battle.
Now the insurance gang has shown its hand. Of all of the "stakeholders" in the health care industry, it is the one that is prepared to sink health care reform if change threatens its ability to siphon off billions of dollars into the bank accounts of the H. Edward Hanway's of the world.
This month let's all look carefully at the way the H. Edward Hanway's live. Let's contemplate whether the fortunes of a few are worth the continued suffering of 43 million Americans who worry everyday that they might fall seriously ill - or be injured driving home -and be bankrupted by their health care bills.

Let's ponder whether we should protect those fortunes, even though by doing so we continue to pay 50% more per person for health care than any other country on Earth, for outcomes that rank 37th in the world.

Let's put ourselves in the shoes of the woman who testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who had paid her health care premiums for years and had her policy "rescinded" (cancelled) on a technicality after she got cancer. When asked if they could guarantee that their companies would not continue to "rescind" policies in the future, the insurance company representatives refused to do so. Wouldn't want to cut into H. Edward's $5,883 per hour pay check, after all.

During the month of August, let's make sure that the topic of conversation at every bar stool, kitchen table and barber shop is the health insurance industry and the small group of people who profit from its fine print and monopoly practices.

Much of the health insurance industry's power is its ability to pull the strings of politicians from behind the curtain. Like Count Dracula, another famous baron who was good at siphoning off other people's assets, the health insurance industry doe s a lot better if it is not exposed to daylight.

In the next four weeks, let's light up the health insurance industry like Yankee Stadium on an August night.If we all do that, when the game is over, after decades of struggle, America's consumers will finally come out as winners.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "So it could well be that, despite the faster spread of the infection, its ultimate health, social and economic impact proves negligible. We simply do not know at this point. But detecting more uncertainty than before, financial markets have reacted with panic. For example, the S&P500 tumbled 2.3% on Friday November 26 only to rise 1.1% on Monday November 29. Most markets gave up between 2% and 4%, which is a pretty substantial one-day fall."
Nov 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Momentous changes are casting a long shadow on China. The country’s political system will soon undergo a profound reform, pending final approval (a quasi-formality) at next year’s congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). President Xi Jinping, the Party chairman and the “navigator” of the country, has decided on a new course, abandoning the principle of collective leadership. Xi is leading China away from the path taken by Deng Xiaoping after the terror of the Cultural Revolution, and back toward a system of absolute rule by one person without term limits, as under Mao Zedong."
Nov 25th 2021
EXTRACTS: "”The biggest disappointment in Glasgow was the last-minute watering down of the proposed (and widely supported) agreement to “phase out” the use of coal in energy production. With India providing political cover for China in vetoing this language, the final conference proposal was to “phase down” coal”. ---- “China accounts for more than half of the world’s coal consumption, and has the largest amount of coal-fired generating capacity under construction. Pressed about why his country would not do more in Glasgow to help save the planet, China’s chief negotiator pointed to the commitments in the Communist Party of China’s current Five-Year Plan. So, our future now depends on the CPC’s program. The tragedy for the world is that the Party cannot be phased down, much less phased out, despite the fact that it is a huge threat to the future of all of us.” ------ “To save the planet, robust democratic leadership must be phased up – not phased down, let alone phased out. Rather than merely keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best, we should start by calling out the appalling behavior of dictatorships such as China and Russia.”
Nov 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The transitory inflation debate in the United States is over. The upsurge in US inflation has turned into something far worse than the Federal Reserve expected. Perpetually optimistic financial markets are taking this largely in stride. The Fed is widely presumed to have both the wisdom and the firepower to keep underlying inflation in check. That remains to be seen."
Nov 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "S&P projects that companies are planning to install 44 gigawatts of new solar in 2022. The year 2020, despite the onset of the pandemic, saw a record-breaking 19 gigawatts of new solar capacity installed in the U.S. So given the bids out there already, it appears that in 2022 solar installers will more than double their best year ever so far. The U.S. currently has 100 gigawatts of solar electricity-generating capacity, so in just one year we are poised to add nearly 50% of our current total. A gigawatt of power can provide electricity to about 750,000 homes. So the 44 new gigawatts we’ll put in next year have a nameplate capacity that would under ideal conditions allow them to power 33 million homes." ----- "Not only is there a lot of good news on the green energy front but there is good news in the bad news for fossil fuels. S&P finds that coal plants are being retired way before the utilities had expected. Some 29 gigawatts of coal retirements are expected from 2020 through 2025. "
Nov 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Zemmour’s way of thinking stems from a tradition going back to the French Revolution of 1789. Catholic conservatives and right-wing intellectuals, who hated the secular republic that emerged from the revolution, have long fulminated against liberals, cosmopolitans, immigrants, and other enemies of their idea of a society based on ethnic purity, obedience to the church, and family values. They were almost invariably anti-Semitic. When Jewish army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely accused of betraying his country in the notorious scandal of the 1890s, they were on the side of Dreyfus’s accusers. ---- Germany’s invasion of France in 1940 gave reactionaries of this kind the chance to form a French puppet-government in Vichy. Zemmour has had kind things to say about the Vichy regime. He also has expressed some doubt about the innocence of Dreyfus. ---- None of these views would be surprising if they came from a far-right agitator like Jean-Marie Le Pen. But Zemmour is the son of Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Algeria who lived among the Muslim Berbers."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "performed strongly in last month’s parliamentary and regional elections. Officially, Communist Party candidates took 18.9% of the popular vote for the State Duma (parliament), compared to nearly 49.8% for the Kremlin’s United Russia party. But the Communists refused to recognize the results, insisting that the vote was rigged. And, indeed, some experts estimate that they should have gotten around 30% of the vote, with United Russia taking about 35%."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Powell was charismatic in the true sense of the term. Nowadays, this description is too often used to indicate an ability to attract supporters or generate celebrity interest. Internet lists of those who are regarded as charismatic include characters as varied as Adolf Hitler, Bono, Donald Trump, George Clooney, and Rihanna. But the ancient Greeks and Saint Paul used “charisma” to describe values-based leadership infused with a charm capable of inspiring devotion. The Greeks believed that this quality was a gift of grace, while Christian theology regarded it as a power given by the Holy Spirit."
Oct 17th 2021
EXTRACTS: "But property-sector woes are not the only economic danger China faces in 2021-22. The Chinese government’s mounting crackdown on the country’s burgeoning tech sector may pose an even greater threat." ---- "According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the share of Chinese urban employment supported by private enterprises more than quadrupled between 1995 and 2018, from just 18% to 87%. The share of exports generated by the private sector more than doubled over the same period, from 34% to 88%. And private-sector fixed-asset investment jumped from 42% to 65% of the total. The message in the data is clear: clamping down on the private sector and threatening innovators is not the way to ensure sustained rapid growth. Chinese entrepreneurs can read the writing on the wall. They understand that their political and regulatory room to maneuver is shrinking, and that the balance has shifted in favor of state-owned firms and public officials. And they understand that this uneasy atmosphere is likely to persist."
Oct 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "Britain in the 1950s was wedded to the US, acting as a partner rather than leading the charge. Now, while the UK continues to support the US, the influence it has seems negligible. While it may bring comfort to the UK to feel it is a partner to a superpower, being its stooge or subordinate is an unpleasant place to be, no matter how much you tell yourself it values your opinion."
Oct 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "That was then. Now, the Chinese government has doubled down, with President Xi Jinping throwing the full force of his power into a “common prosperity” campaign aimed at addressing inequalities of income and wealth. Moreover, the regulatory net has been broadened, not just to ban cryptocurrencies, but also to become an instrument of social engineering, with the government adding e-cigarettes, business drinking, and celebrity fan culture to its ever-lengthening list of bad social habits. All this only compounds the concerns I raised two months ago. The new dual thrust of Chinese policy – redistribution plus re-regulation – strikes at the heart of the market-based “reform and opening up” that have underpinned China’s growth miracle since the days of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. It will subdue the entrepreneurial activity that has been so important in powering China’s dynamic private sector, with lasting consequences for the next, innovations-driven, phase of Chinese economic development. Without animal spirits, the case for indigenous innovation is in tatters."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Wartime nostalgia plays an important part in Britain’s instinctive fondness for the special relationship. Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, some British politicians might believe that the United Kingdom is the only European country with serious armed forces and the political will to use them. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, like Blair before him, seems to fancy himself a modern-day Churchill. Unfortunately (or not), Britain’s military power is insignificant compared to what Churchill could command in 1944. Wartime nostalgia has drawn Britain into several foolish American wars, which other European countries were wise to avoid."
Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."