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It's Official: Healthcare Reform is Dead

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Message shamus cooke
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The "transparent government" that President Obama guaranteed during his electoral campaign has become yet another broken promise. On August 14th, the Huffington Post revealed a memo containing details of "the deal" that Obama cut with health care mega-corporations in secret White House meetings. And although the White House denies the authenticity of the memo, the details are consistent with earlier reports from other national media outlets.

The White House deal essentially reduces some of the more egregious health care corporation swindling - estimated to save $80 billion over ten years - while Obama shamelessly promised that other irrational vehicles for health care mega-profits will remain untouched: any congressional health care plan will not attempt to negotiate for cheaper drugs, nor import them from other countries, Medicare will not be altered in a way that affects health care corporations' profits.

Creating new laws by backroom dealing with giant corporations is of course bad for democracy. Unfortunately, Obama had few other options, since he refused beforehand to directly confront the health care industry's power. He was thus reduced to bargaining with these entities, leaving any leverage at the door. The health care companies fully understood this and exploited the situation to the fullest.

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The competing health care bills in Congress reflect this dynamic, since Congressmen have been similarly awed - and bought - by the health care industry. The different health care bills all agree that health care should be "mandated" - like the car insurance you're required to buy (if you can afford it). All the bills also agree that Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers - many directly affecting the most vulnerable - will be cut drastically, leading to - savings [that] would pay nearly 40 percent of the [health care] bills' cost." (New York Times, August 9, 2009). They're giving health care with the left hand and taking it with the right.

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One disagreement between the competing plans was the highly controversial "public option." This was what the health care corporations hated most, since it was a way to directly take power out of their hands. Again, the White House backed off, "signal[ing] Sunday that it was willing to compromise and would consider a proposal for a nonprofit health cooperative being developed in the Senate." (New York Times, August 16, 2009). The "cooperative" idea is widely considered by health care advocates to be useless.

Such sellouts were the inevitable result of intensified health care industry bribery (so-called "lobbying"), which Business Week claims to be - a record $133 million "in the second quarter of 2009 alone" (August 6, 2009). The same article - appropriately named The Health Insurers Have Already Won - examines the health care lobby's successes and notes that no matter what health care bill emerges from Congress, the "insurance industry will emerge more profitable."

The same article also reveals - unsurprisingly - that health care corporations were responsible for destroying the public health care option, while "also achieving a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry." This simply means that the taxpayer money that will be used to subsidize any health care plan will go straight towards health care company profits, while providing the same shoddy care they've always provided.

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Heads they win, tails we lose.

The health care industry is so pleased with the deal they've struck with Obama, they're willing to put up $150 million toward an advertising campaign to insure the deal's passage.

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and activist living in Portland Oregon.
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