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Senate Debates Billions for Insurers while Public Demands Medicare for All

By       Message Margaret Flowers       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   4 comments

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Reprinted from healthoverprofit.org By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese

Billions More for Crony Capitalist Insurance or Improved Medicare for All

This week we attended a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee where there was broad bi-partisan support for giving billions more to the insurance industry to "stabilize the market." The government already gives for-profit insurance $300 billion annually and their stock values have risen dramatically since passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), so the rush to give them more was disheartening.

That was contrasted with a meeting with the staff of Senator Bernie Sanders about the improved Medicare for all bill he plans to introduce on September 13. Sanders, along with other Senators, is seriously trying to figure out how to transform health care from being a profit center for big business to being a public good that serves the people. That means doing away with the health insurance industry, not giving them billions of public dollars.

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The contrast reinforced the need to advocate for improved Medicare for all and push for the best healthcare system we can create.

Healthcare a Commodity or a Human Right?

Senators are back from their long summer recess, and they started off with health care back at the top of the agenda. The Senate HELP committee held its first of four hearings on September 6, and Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing to introduce a Medicare for All bill on September 13. The two efforts are a clear example of the underlying dilemma that we have faced in the United States for the past 100 years: Is health care a commodity or a public good? It can't be both.

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The failed efforts to repeal and replace the ACA took up a lot of time and energy this year and left the country in no better position to deal with the ongoing healthcare crisis. Now, time is really short because private health insurers are announcing their rates for 2018, and they are, not surprisingly, screaming for more money because they have to (*gasp*) pay for health care.

A group of us attended the first Senate HELP committee hearing to convey the message that the people are ready to undertake the serious work of creating a National Improved Medicare for All. Typically, before and sometimes during a hearing, attendees are allowed to hold signs as long as they are not disruptive. On that day, the committee chair, Senator Lamar Alexander, ordered that signs be put away before the hearing even began. He told Dr. Carol Paris, a steering committee member of the Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign, that "we are not talking about improved Medicare for All now."

Instead, the entire hearing focused on "stabilizing the insurance market," even though their stock values have quadrupled since 2010. Five health insurance commissioners from different states testified before the senators and answered questions. It appeared that all had been well-prepped by the health insurance industry. The committee members patted each other on the back for being bi-partisan, unfortunately they were working together for the insurance industry, not for the people.

The bi-partisan hearing discussed three main points: making sure that public dollars were available to subsidize insurance costs, reinsuring private health insurers so they would be protected if they had to spend 'too much' money on health care and incentives to entice private insurers back into areas that are not profitable. Coincidentally, these were the same points raised in the bi-partisan proposal published this year by the Center for American Progress, a Democratic Party think tank financed in part by health insurance lobbyists. Both parties are clearly on the side of health care as a commodity.

Not one person participating in the hearing questioned whether health care belonged in the market. At least one Senator, Rand Paul, complained about Big Insurance coming to Washington with their hands out and said he would rather pay directly for health care than give the money to Big Insurance. His ideology is far from supporting Improved Medicare for All, but he did call out the corruption.

Perhaps the most disappointing of the day was Senator Al Franken, who has completely bought into the 'health care is a commodity' camp. Not only did he advocate for subsidizing and reinsuring private insurers, but he called for a federal reinsurance program to cover the costs of people who need health care, at least after Big Insurance takes their cut. And Franken, who tried to make jokes about the hearing, called for more money to advertise and lure youth into the insurance market, which is about as unethical as pushing cigarettes or candy, and wants heavier enforcement of mandates to purchase health insurance. Franken touted a 'virtuous cycle' of giving more money to health insurers so that they lower premiums and more people buy insurance. The problem is that there is nothing very virtuous about spending billions to subsidize an industry that has a greater responsibility to pay its Wall Street investors than to pay for necessary health care. The insurance industry has shown itself to be insatiable, and ready to use their power to extort Congress because they hold people's lives in their hands.

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It was a difficult hearing to attend. The whole time we wanted to stand up and ask whether they could possibly see how ridiculous this all appeared and whether they thought private health insurers added any benefit. But, the Capitol Police made it clear from the start that they would arrest anyone who disrupted without warning, and we had a meeting scheduled with Senator Sanders' staff after the hearing. We did manage to squeeze out a few "Medicare for All's" during the hearing.

Healthcare Without the For-Profit Insurance Industry

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Margaret Flowers, M.D. is a pediatrician from Maryland who is co-director of Popular Resistance and coordinator of Health Over Profit for Everyone Campaign.

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