JB: I'm very interested in the Florence story, Jerry. Maybe you can save that for later on in our conversation. Do you have any speculations on why the WSJ gave just half of the story? But, more importantly, the Journal's distortion of your work has been picked up elsewhere and made its way into the current presidential primary free for all. What can you tell us about that?
GF: While the reporter for the WSJ was very conscientious, I imagine the editors wanted to make a political statement by putting out an alarmist view that Bernie Sanders, and the Left, were going to take everyone's money. I am disappointed but don't expect much better from the Wall Street Journal. I am disappointed that the Clinton campaign is spreading some of the same misinformation!
I think that this is bad politics for Hillary: the public is ready for positive public programs to address our needs for education, infrastructure, social insurance and health care. It is also bad public policy for her because rather than catering to it, she should be countering the anti-government and anti-public service rhetoric from the WSJ and other right-wing sources. I think that her campaign has been panicked by the strength of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
There is a great deal of popular unrest out there. On the GOP side, it is flowing to Trump; on the Democratic side, it is going to Sanders. Both campaigns are drawing on the widespread discontent with the weak economic recovery and with 40 years of stagnant wages and declining living standards for American workers. Trump is giving a negative message: blaming immigrants, blacks, women. Sanders has a positive message: public policies to raise wages and rebuild the middle class. Hillary should get with the positive message rather than undermining it!
JB: What did Hillary do or say? Was it her or her campaign, ostensibly speaking in her name? Obviously, there's a difference. Many of our readers, including myself, may not be aware of exactly what happened.
GF: Campaigning for her mother, Chelsea Clinton said a few days ago: "Sen. Sanders wants to dismantle Obamacare, dismantle the [Children's Health Insurance Program], dismantle Medicare, and dismantle private insurance. I worry if we give Republicans Democratic permission to do that, we'll go back to an era -- before we had the Affordable Care Act -- that would strip millions and millions and millions of people off their health insurance."
This statement is misleading bordering on irresponsible. Of course, single payer, Improved Medicare for All, dismantles these programs because it replaces private insurance with a better and cheaper national insurance. It is ridiculous to say that people would be stripped of their health insurance; under single payer, everyone would be covered.
That is why I wrote a little note to Chelsea.
JB: That's Chelsea, though, Jerry. How about Hillary herself? Did she also misrepresent you?
GF: Hillary also attacked the Sanders single payer plan on really illegitimate grounds*. According to FactCheck.org:
The day before, on Jan. 11, Hillary Clinton said at a campaign stop in Iowa, that Sanders' plan would "take Medicare and Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Affordable Care Act health-care insurance and private employer health insurance and he would take that all together and send health insurance to the states, turning over your and my health insurance to governors." Sanders has proposed having the states implement the single-payer plan, but there would be tight federal oversight and their role would be like that of private insurers who process claims for Medicare. Clinton implies that governors would be free to do whatever they wanted. That's not the case.
In the last presidential debate (January 17), Hillary took a much more responsible posture and criticized Sanders, and single-payer advocates, for campaigning to revolutionize health care, something that will not happen, rather than working to achieve possible reforms by improving existing programs. This is a reasonable position for which I have sympathy. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is saving thousands of lives by extending insurance coverage; it is a great accomplishment. I think that it is also just about the end of the road for reforming the private insurance system. The ACA extends and improves insurance coverage by buying support from the insurance, hospital, and drug industries. They acquiesce in the law's reforms because it does nothing to lower costs or to challenge their inflated incomes. But that means we have health care costs rising at unsustainable rates and no way of bringing them down. To control costs, we have to attack someone's income, precisely the problem facing single payer politics.
Anyway, I helped the Sanders campaign on their numbers. To be sure, if Hillary asked me, I would help her too. Like Hillary and Senator Sanders, I am involved because I want to contribute to making this a better country, not to elect anyone in particular.
JB: Thanks so much for clarifying that. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?
GF: Just one more thing about the purpose of our healthcare system For most people, it is obvious: to provide health care and promote better health! But that isn't the goal of our health insurers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and even many hospitals. For these capitalist businesses, their goal is to make profits and if they can do it by providing health services, great; otherwise they will do it by raising prices and by restricting access to services in ways that undermine health. Consider the term "medical loss ratio." This is the share of insurance premiums that go to health care services. If we want to provide health care, we want this ratio to be high, as it is in traditional Medicare where it stands at about 98%. For most private insurance companies, however, it is well below 90%; on average, health insurers have a medical loss ratio of 87-88% meaning that 12-13% of our premiums go to other activities, such as marketing, administration, CEO pay, and profit. Private for-profit companies want a low medical loss ratio, and when the ratio goes up, their stock price falls! Their attitude, even the use of the term "medical loss" rather than "care delivery", is the exact opposite of how we see things. That is why we need to get the profit motive out of healthcare, and replace for-profit insurance with a national Medicare-for-All system.