Saturday, October 31, 2009

The So-Called Public Option

I’ve been hearing and reading some unsettling things about the vaunted “public option” Congressional Democrats have included in the health plan they rolled out on October 29. Since this is the heart of what the Dems have supposedly done to provide “health care for all,” the effect, as has been apparent for many months now, is to vitiate to almost nonentity the idea that the United States of America will have decent coverage for all its people any time soon.

Here’s what the Democrats, under pressure from their conservative wing and the idiotic dregs left of the Republican Party (not to mention that traitorous pig Joe Lieberman), have done. First, in their “public option,” the government would not get to use the lower rates it has long established through the Medicare system already in place. No. The lobbies have raised hell about that, because our devoted “health care providers” (i.e. doctors and hospitals and companies who provide monitors and digital beds and all the other paraphernalia Americans have come to expect in their sick rooms) were worried that their remuneration would be too low. How, after all, could doctors and hospital execs afford a new Mercedes each year, if they had to provide a special rate for massive numbers in a government plan? Only Walmart and Exxon Mobil get to do that kind of bargaining. So the new plan decrees that the government will have to “negotiate rates with doctors and hospitals” individually. And you know what that means. It’ll be like the Pentagon negotiating with Cheney and Halliburton.

Then the second thing these spineless pols have done is reserve the so-called public option for only those individuals who currently do not have insurance. In other words, if you have insurance through your job, you don’t get to choose the public option, no matter how attractive it might be. Nor can your company choose it, unless it’s a very small business. This means that the “competition” Obama and the other Dems have been trumpeting is less than meaningless—because the only people who can opt for the public option are those without insurance (estimates now run at about 6 million people). And most are either too poor, or too jobless, or too sick to get insurance on the private market. What the hell kind of competition is that? The insurance companies don’t want these people. Furthermore, the Congressional Budget Office has already estimated that the public health plan will probably cost MORE than the private plans, because the public option would be insuring those few most likely to be or get sick—so even without the overhead of the private insurers, the public plan, because of its demographics, would spend more covering all those sick people. And, of course, the lobbies all know this because the reason single payer would work, and put them out of business, is that it would cover everyone, with the young and healthy subsidizing the older and more sickly.

So what we’ve got here, as many have noted before (Miles Mogulescu’s Oct. 30 column at contains great details), is little more than a huge bonanza for the existing insurance companies and the doctors and hospitals they collude with. Because the main provision of this 1,000-page plan, is simple: every American has to obtain insurance, or pay a penalty. And most insurance would come, as it does now, from private insurance companies—the ones who are driving this nation towards bankruptcy. The reason? It’s a big business, folks, amounting to something like one-sixth of the entire American economy. That’s many billions of dollars, a nice chunk of which goes into the pockets of the very people who are supposedly “fixing” this system—our fair politicians.

So when you see the Democrats rejoicing on the steps of the Capitol because they’re closer to passing a health reform bill, take a minute to wonder what’s in the bill, and who benefits. And then take a very large pill.

Lawrence DiStasi

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