Obama’s health care reforms worse than nothing
Historic. Unprecedented. Landmark. These are just some of the lies the liberal press are using to describe Barack Obama’s healthcare changes.
But the legislation is a con, a massive transfer of working people’s wealth to private insurers.
Reforms they aren’t. These changes are worse than doing nothing.
The new laws will force the poor who are uninsured into private insurance.
The insurance the poor are to be forced to purchase, under threat of a $US750 fine, will be crap with a capital C.
Their money will go down the drain – or rather into the insurers’ pockets. The US group Physicians for a National Health Program rightly calls the insurance offerings “defective products”.
Falling sick in the US can be a bad wealth move as well as a bad health move, even for the insured. Often the insurance they purchase for exorbitant amounts doesn’t cover all the costs or cuts out after a short time.
At the moment insurers often cut people off when they become sick, and refuse to insure those with pre-existing conditions. It is only profitable to insure the healthy.
Obama’s reforms will only worsen the trend to higher prices for poor products. As Physicians for a National Health Program say:
“Millions of middle-income people will be pressured to buy commercial health insurance policies costing up to 9.5 per cent of their income, but covering an average of only 70 per cent of their medical expenses, potentially leaving them vulnerable to financial ruin if they become seriously ill. Many will find such policies too expensive to afford or, if they do buy them, too expensive to use because of the high co-pays and deductibles.”
The new laws won’t stop increases in premiums. In fact they are likely to encourage an explosion in rubbish products at higher and higher prices since insurers now have a captive consumer audience and no regulation over their offerings and charges.
Obama’s changes, because they are not based on universal coverage but profit, will mean that the premiums on the old, the infirm and the like will be at much higher rates than those for the fit and healthy.
On top of all this Obama will give $447 billion to insurance companies to subsidise their sub-standard products. So how is Obama going to pay for his gifts to the insurers?
He will tax workers currently in so-called Cadillac schemes (or what we might call Rolls Royce schemes). They are no such thing. These are just schemes which provide halfway decent benefits to workers.
Obama will also rip $US500 billion out of the federal government’s current free health scheme – Medicare for over 65-year-olds. And he won’t regulate the pricing or quality of the insurance.
What about the extra 32 million Americans who will be covered? That will take ten years to achieve.
In the richest country in the world, 23 million Americans will still be uninsured in a decade. This translates into an extra 23,000 deaths a year, according to Physicians for a National Health Program.
Abortion has been specifically excluded from the insurers’ subsidised health plans. Women of child-bearing age will have to get an extra policy costing more to cover the possibility of having an abortion.
It won’t be a problem for rich women to have abortions. It will however under Obama’s regime be even harder for poor and working-class women to get one.
Obama’s reforms do not address the issue at the heart of healthcare – putting profit before people. Here’s how Michael Moore put it in an interview with Democracy Now!
“The healthcare bill that was passed ultimately will be seen as a victory for capitalism. It protected the capitalist model of providing healthcare for people – in other words, we are not to help unless there is money to be made from it.”
Universal healthcare guaranteed by government and funded by taxes on the rich and the companies who will benefit from healthy employees puts people before profit. This, coupled with a commitment to spend more on nurses, doctors and hospitals, would address America’s healthcare woes.
But because a single-payer option, as such a scheme is known in the US, would have put people before profits Obama dumped it very early on. He even dumped a public option which would have had a government insurer competing with private insurers.
Why have the liberals in the US and here been so keen to paint Obama’s changes as major reforms? Partly it has to do with the immediate political needs of the day.
Obama’s reformist project was always a lie. He has furthered George W Bush’s agenda both at home and abroad, not challenged it.
For example, unemployment stands at almost ten per cent and will remain high for the foreseeable future, while Obama has done nothing to address the needs of the millions he has given trillions to address the needs of the banks.
Blacks are worse off now than when Obama came to power.
The “yes we can” President has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan and ordered more drone bombings in one year than Bush did in eight.
Millions who voted for him are now deeply disillusioned with Obama. So the liberal façade of change needed a victory. Hence the raptures about Obama’s sick healthcare changes.
When it came to the vote this week, Dennis Kucinich, the most vocal left-wing Congressional opponent of Obama’s scheme – precisely because it wouldn’t provide universal healthcare – caved in.
He voted, and he knows it, for what the Physicians for a National Health Program described as “aspirin dispensed for the treatment of cancer”.
This is the role of the reformist left – to abandon principles to enable reaction disguised as reform to win.
But there is something deeper in all of this. The era of progressive change is dead in the United States and, as Bill Clinton’s rule-for-the-rich Presidency shows, has been for some time.
Stagnant profit rates since the 1970s have meant that the priority of all politicians and business has been increasing profits, not providing real social benefits or increased living standards to workers.
In fact given this underlying economic stagnation, “reforms” have become the Trojan horse for attacks on working people, a way of making them pay for the crises of capitalism.
So workers as providers and workers as patients will bear the burden of Obama’s health “reforms” in the United States. There can be no other result without a mass movement demanding universal healthcare.
But it is not only in the United States that the adequacy of healthcare depends on the size of your wallet, and where attacks dressed up as reforms are occurring.
Here in Australia Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott had a debate of sorts on March 23 at the National Press Club on hospitals and healthcare. Rudd has a plan – to further privatise healthcare and make workers pay for it.
Abbott didn’t have a plan but also wants to further privatise health and pass the costs on to workers.
Kevin Rudd’s hospitals plan is about making working people pay for the healthcare mess. His “case mix” proposals will cut healthcare costs; that’s because they will cut services and make nurses, doctors and others in the system work even harder. And they will cut jobs.
So although the specifics of the debate in the US and Australia are different, the underlying driver is the same. As Physicians for a National Health Program said, in words that also apply to Australia:
“Instead of eliminating the root of the problem – the profit-driven private health insurance industry – his costly new legislation will enrich and further entrench these firms.”
Australia’s universal health scheme began in 1975 after a successful battle against the conservatives who vehemently opposed the “socialist” health measures (much like the Republicans currently in America).
This was during a period of militant trade union activity winning major pay increases and just after Whitlam’s election in 1972 on a program of capitalist reform to benefit bosses and workers. It was only a few years after the turmoil of the anti-Vietnam war protests.
Since then, the last 35 years have been a battle by politicians and vested groups like insurers and private hospitals to whittle away and undermine the modest health system gains of 1975 and suck even more on the public teat of our money.
The end result is that today in Australia we have a private health system with a public add-on. Those who can’t afford the private system can wait years for treatment or queue in hospitals for basic assistance. There are not enough beds, or doctors and nurses.
The lessons from Australia and the United States seem clear. Universal healthcare for all, paid for by the rich, will only be won by a struggle against the vested interests and their reformist political mates. That means fighting to put people before profit.
This article first appeared in Socialist Alternative online.