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The Myth of 'Free-Market Health Care'

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 11/25/13

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   By coincidence, the day earlier in the same newspaper, the Times, Mark Hulbert headlined "The Share-Price-to-Campaign-Contribution Ratio," and he reported on -- and linked to -- a major new study "providing a "strong circumstantial case' that corporate political contributions were affecting the behavior of Congress, for the clear benefit of the companies. ... On average, the extra return earned by their stocks works out to a total benefit to each firm's stockholders of around $150 million a year, according to the professors." The top ten corporate political contributors were listed there. Although the Republican/Democratic contribution ratios weren't shown, I looked up each company on opensecrets.org, and every one (100%) of these top contributors gave overwhelmingly to the Republican Party

   The first big threat to the continuance of Medicare that resulted from this new legislation occurred in 2008, when President Bush and the Republicans in Congress tried to block Democrats from halting a 10.6% cut, which Bush's plan forced in the rate-schedule that traditional Medicare paid doctors for their services to their patients under Medicare. This pay-cut to doctors was expected to cause so many physicians to abandon traditional Medicare patients, the traditional Medicare program would likely collapse. This pay-cut to doctors was scheduled to start on July 15th, but just days earlier, on 9 July 2008, Bloomberg News bannered "Senate Votes Reversal of Cuts in Medicare Doctor Fees," and reported that, "The Senate voted final passage of legislation that would halt a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors." The cause of the 10.6% cut the Republicans sought was in order to pay for the rising subsidy going to private insurers in Bush's "Medicare Advantage" program -- the Bush-initiated private competitor to Medicare Part B. Democrats wanted to salvage traditional Medicare, not to cut it to add to the high subsidies already being paid to those private insurers, which were such huge financial backers of the Republican Party. "The insurer payment cuts, which would total [cuts of] $12.5 billion over five years, include fees paid to private insurers." The Congressional Budget Office reported to Congress on June 24th that the cuts to private insurers (Medicare Advantage) that were in the Democratic bill would more than pay for abolishing the 10.6% pay-cut to the doctors who participate in the traditional Medicare Program (Part B). This report said: "New spending under the bill would be offset largely by reductions in payments to Medicare Advantage plans" and that "Other savings would come from modifications" to Medicare's astronomically high pay scales for equipment such as "home oxygen therapy" and other medical devices, by introducing "competitive bidding for durable medical equipment." (Medical equipment manufacturers were also huge supporters of Republican candidates, as compared to Democratic candidates.) The only reason enough Republicans voted, July 9th, for the Democratic bill, H.R.6331, was that this was an election year: Millions of seniors would otherwise vote Republicans out of office in November, on account of their physicians dumping them. Because of this electoral danger, President Bush's veto of the Democratic bill was overridden -- but just barely. Traditional Medicare was barely salvaged.

   On 25 July 2008, the Los Angeles Times bannered "Medicare Part D a Boon for Drug Companies, House Report Says: Taxpayers pay up to 30% more for prescriptions under the privately administered program" than under the publicly administered one, and Nicole Gaouette reported there that, "U.S. drug manufacturers are reaping a windfall from taxpayers because Medicare's privately administered prescription drug benefit program pays more than other government programs for the same medicines. ... In the two years Medicare Part D has been in effect, drug manufacturers have taken in $3.7 billion more than they would have through prices under the Medicaid program." For example, "Bristol-Myers made an additional $400 million from higher prices for a single drug, the stroke medication Plavix." I looked up the political-contribution record of Bristol-Myers at opensecrets.org: it was about 75% Republican, an investment that had been returned to B-M hundreds-fold. The Republican minority on the House committee that issued this report objected to it, saying many seniors had "learned to love Part D." No wonder big business loves Republicans. But taxpayers and voters would hate them if only they knew the reality of robbing consumers and taxpayers alike.

   The first study of the cost and efficiency of the "Medicare Advantage" or Part D health insurance plans came from the Congressional Budget Office on 28 June 2007; and, of course, the nation's major "news" media ignored it, because it found that, "Medicare's payments for beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans are higher, on average," than in the traditional government-operated plan ["FFS'] ... so shifts in enrollment out of the FFS program and into private plans increase net Medicare spending." In fact, this increase in Medicare costs was accelerating the fiscal problems that Medicare caused for the Federal Government. This CBO study, "Medicare Advantage: Private Health Plans in Medicare," also found that, "The additional cost to the government for Medicare Advantage plans subsidizes the beneficiaries who enroll in such plans." Those beneficiaries were the people who had responded to the rush of advertisements on television and elsewhere and dumped their existing government-operated Medicare Part B insurance and replaced it with one of these private for-profit "Medicare Advantage" "Part D" alternatives. Basically, these people were Republicans, since Republicans hate government (in a democracy; they loved Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini). Thus, everybody else (non-Republicans) were now paying hefty subsidies to those corporate-operated insurance plans, in order to prevent these for-profit plans from being obviously uncompetitive with the government-operated Medicare Part B insurance. In fact, the CBO study, under the sub-head "Medicare Advantage Plans Cost the Government More Than Traditional Medicare," said: "In 2007, CBO estimates, the average payment to such [Part D] plans is 12 percent above what traditional FFS [Part B] costs." Moreover: "The extra benefits and rebates offered by Medicare Advantage plans attracts enrolees, and the rising proportion of beneficiaries enrolling in the plans will add to the growth in Medicare spending." Consequently, "The higher costs of Medicare Advantage plans add about $2 to the monthly premium for Part B," and this would rise over time as more and more people signed up for Part D. The government was blatantly becoming socialism for the rich (here the stockholders and executives of private insurance corporations and drug companies) increasingly replacing what had previously been democratic socialism for everyone and especially for the poor. In other words: It was fascism replacing progressivism. It was government for the aristocracy, instead of for the public. But no major "news" media covered this report.

   On the 10th anniversary of Medicare Part D, the former Republican economist Bruce Bartlett blogged at The New York Times,  "Medicare Part D: Republican Budget-busting,"  and he explained how this program, which had been pushed and voted for by John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and virtually all other congressional Republicans, had already "added $318 billion to the national debt," and "will add $852 billion to the debt over the next ten years." Moreover: "From the beginning, Republicans decided to forego dedicated financing for Part D. Except for trivial premiums paid by recipients, the entire cost would fall on taxpayers," and it did "fall on taxpayers." So: all people who have signed up for Part D programs are receiving their benefits not from their premiums for it, but instead, overwhelmingly, from the subsidization by other taxpayers, including from the poor ones who are lots needier than those Republicans are. However, while all other Americans keep losing money on it, the drugmakers "earn" vast fortunes from it. In other words: It's a mega-corrupt scam, not at all like the original, Democratic LBJ-instituted, Medicare plan. Instead of being Robin Hood, it is Robin Hood in reverse -- thoroughly Republican.

   In life's necessities such as health care, perhaps "the free market" is oxymoronic, just a catch phrase for fascists to be able to make fools of conservatives, to the ultimate benefit of aristocrats who pocket the change, while future generations must pay the taxes in order to reduce the federal debt that was built up by all this corruption, even as the poor have sunk further into economic desperation.

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... by Eric Zuesse on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 9:33:52 AM
Four points:1) There's no such thing as "crime tha... by Joe Reeser on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:09:17 AM
Congressional Democrats never supported a privatiz... by Eric Zuesse on Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 11:20:37 AM
Well, it appears just about everyone with whom you... by Joe Reeser on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 5:12:18 PM
"In November 2003, a Medicare prescription drug an... by Autumn Cote on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 3:44:21 AM
They voted overwhelmingly against it, but Republic... by Eric Zuesse on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 7:18:49 AM
It would appear we're both right.  Although g... by Autumn Cote on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 1:41:19 PM
Not true at all. I showed the numbers:  Democ... by Eric Zuesse on Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013 at 2:42:22 PM