Why Congress Should Not Approve the Senate Health Care Bill

Should Congress solve the organized crime problem by passing legislation to subsidize the Mafia and force all Americans to pay for Mafia protection or be fined for not doing so? If not, then why should Congress try to solve the health care insurance problems by subsidizing the industry that causes those problems to begin with, and forcing all Americans to pay them for protection against the high costs of getting sick? Especially when it is the health insurance companies that are most responsible for those high costs.

Is it fair to compare health insurance companies to the Mafia? After all, there is a difference. The Mafia usually steals its money from healthy people, whom they sometimes kill in the process, whereas the insurance companies make their money from denying benefits to the sick, who often die as a result. The Mafia operates illegally; the insurance companies operate legally. In fact they help write the laws that regulate them and provide millions of dollars in funding for the election campaigns of those who enact those laws. Unlike the bribery employed by the Mafia, the insurance industry’s payments are Supreme Court-sanctioned “free speech,” protected by the U.S. Constitution.

For many years our nation’s private health insurance companies have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that competition and free enterprise, which work so well in other industries to keep quality high and prices low, does not work that way in health insurance. That is because these companies cannot control the costs of medical care, they can only add to them the costs of their own bureaucracies with their multimillion dollar payments to top executives. And because the more money they bring in with premiums and the less they spend on benefits, the more they make.

The Senate bill rewards these companies with millions of new customers who are forced to buy their health insurance from them, and subsidizes those same companies with billions of dollars of taxpayer money to pay for those who are too poor to pay the high costs of premiums required for those companies to make exorbitant profits.

They made record profits in 2009, totaling $12.2 billion — a 56% hike over the previous year for United Health, Wellpoint, Aetna, Humana, and Cigna. To make these enormous profits they kicked 2.7 million older and sicker Americans out of their healthcare plans last year.

Do these companies deserve to be subsidized with your income tax payments? Do they even deserve to stay in business?

But what, you might ask, is the alternative? The most effective is for Congress to pass Medicare for All — a single-payer system guaranteeing universal coverage, such as they have in France. Yes, the French pay higher taxes, but they receive many more benefits for those taxes, and they aren’t required to purchase insurance from commercial companies. But what is the quality of their health care? According to the U.N. agency concerned with this subject, France has the best health care in the world.

Many Americans are against paying higher income taxes. What they don’t realize is that they pay for health insurance one way or another, and it will cost them and the companies they work for less in a noncommercial, public, single-payer plan than it will cost if health insurance goes through a profit-making system. And under a single-payer plan, everyone would be covered automatically.

Would this be a government takeover of medical care?

Not at all. The federal government would not provide any medical care at all except, as now, for veterans. Americans could go to whatever doctors or hospitals they chose, as long as those hospitals and doctors accepted Medicare, just as it is now for senior citizens.

Would there be long waits for medical care, hospitalizations, and surgeries? This is not a problem in France and doesn’t have to be one here. We could put the money we save by getting rid of the high costs of the private insurance companies into scholarships to train doctors and nurses and to the purchase of needed medical equipment and facilities.

Would this be socialism?  Doctors would continue to work in private or public practices. Private, public, and nonprofit hospitals would continue to exist. So this certainly would not be socialized medicine. But you could call it socialized insurance, if you want. Certainly it is government-controlled, nonprofit, tax-supported, automatic medical insurance for all. Whatever you call it, it would be a vast improvement over the inhumane, immoral, profits-before-people medical insurance system we now have in place.

As Dr. Marcia Angell, a Harvard medical lecturer and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, said in an interview with Bill Moyers about the current Senate bill: “What this bill does is not only permit the commercial insurance industry to remain in place, but it actually expands and cements their position as the linchpin of health care reform… Not only does it keep them in place, but it pours about $500 billion of public money into these companies over 10 years… and it mandates that people buy these companies’ products for whatever they charge. Now that’s a recipe for the growth in health care costs not only to continue but to skyrocket.”

She continued: “The President’s absolutely right that the status quo is awful.  If we do nothing, costs will continue to go up.  People will continue to lose their coverage… Things will get very bad. The issue is, will this bill make them better or worse? I believe it will make them worse.”

The Senate bill is very bad legislation and it should be defeated. We should really have Medicare for All, but the compromise could be a public option for those who want it. It is not a question of giving up the good in an effort to achieve the perfect. It is a matter of giving up the bad to try to achieve something much better.

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Fred Flaxman is the author of Sixty Slices of Life … on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.

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Time for a Constitutional Amendment

©2010 by Fred Flaxman

A recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll shows that 65% of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision concerning Citizens United, which frees corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to spend on political advertising. So why not take the opportunity offered by the nationwide revulsion to this abhorrent decision to bring about a series of amendments to truly make our democracy “of, by and for the people”?

These amendments could:

1. Limit political contributions to donations from individuals. Totally outlaw campaign contributions from corporations, unions, committees and other groups.

2. Place a cap on the amount of money any individual can donate to a candidate or party each year. A limit of — let’s say — $100 per person (which could be adjusted for inflation) would assure that wealthy people have no more influence on their representatives than other individuals.

3. Reduce the tremendous costs of campaigns by providing for free and equal air time on television and radio for all qualified candidates for office. It is outrageous that commercial stations, which are licensed to use the public airwaves for private gain, charge candidates for public office to use the public’s own airwaves.

4. Limit these free campaign radio and television programs to broadcast within eight weeks prior to the election, thereby encouraging shortened campaign periods.

5. Outlaw the use of commercial advertising spots for political purposes. Candidates, issues, policies and ballot measures should not be sold like soda pop and hemorrhoid creams. This leads inevitably to the distortion of the truth and the demeaning of the political process.

6. Outlaw the use of paid signature gatherers to qualify candidates, political parties, propositions or measures for the ballot. This would greatly reduce the number of such measures to those which are sincerely desired by significant numbers of individuals.

7. Eliminate the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the president and vice president of the United States by the citizens.

8. Eliminate the presidential veto. Nothing is more undemocratic and dictatorial than allowing one person to thwart the will of the majority of the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress.

9. Eliminate the filibuster by requiring a simple majority to enact legislation in both houses of Congress.

I’’ll be the first to admit that Congress is not likely to pass such proposed amendments, since congressmen and women are in their seats to begin with because they have succeeded at the corrupt system we now have in place.

So these constitutional amendments may have to take the other route specified by the Constitution but never yet used: A Constitutional Convention would have to be called by two-third of the legislatures of the States, and that Convention would have to propose these amendments. They would then be sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions.

For all this to happen the American people will have to finally wake up to the fact that real health care insurance reform, financial system overhaul, economic structural changes, and any other major reform, depends on this most basic of all reforms: getting rid of what Will Rogers famously called “the best Congress money can buy,” and turning our nation into a true democracy.

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Saving Our Democracy from Corporate Rule

Polls show that most Americans think there is too much money in politics. A majority wants campaign finance reform. But there is plenty of disagreement on just what should be done to reform the system. The citizens’ lobby Common Cause, for example, favors public financing. But I don’t like public financing because I think it is unfair to force taxpayers to finance the campaigns of politicians they don’t want elected to office.

I sure wouldn’t want to see my money used to purchase TV time for a Nazi. Or for Sarah Palin. Nor would I want to subsidize Rupert Murdock. As his net worth has been estimated at $8.3 billion, that would seem particularly absurd in light of the difference between his financial resources and my own.

I think I have a better idea — a nine-point solution which could be made possible by amendments to the U.S. Constitution:

1. Limit political contributions to donations from individuals. Totally outlaw campaign contributions from corporations, unions, committees and other groups.

2. Place a cap on the amount of money any individual can donate to a candidate or party each year. A limit of — let’s say — $100 per person would assure that wealthy people have no more influence on their representatives than other individuals.

3. Reduce the tremendous costs of campaigns by providing for free and equal air time on television and radio for all qualified candidates for office. I find it nothing short of outrageous that commercial stations, which are licensed to use the public airwaves for private gain — but are supposed to do so in the public interest — charge candidates for public office to use the public’s own airwaves.

4. Limit these free campaign radio and television programs to broadcast within eight weeks prior to the election, thereby encouraging shortened campaign periods.

5. Outlaw the use of commercial advertising spots for political purposes. Candidates and ballot measures should not be sold like soda pop and hemorrhoid creams. This leads inevitably to the distortion of the truth and the demeaning of the political process.

6. Outlaw the use of paid signature gatherers to qualify candidates, political parties, propositions or measures for the ballot. This would greatly reduce the number of such measures to those which are sincerely desired by significant numbers of individuals.

7. Eliminate the Electoral College in favor of direct election of the president and vice president of the United States by the citizens.

8. Force the U.S. Senate to abide by majority rule on all votes, eliminating the totally undemocratic filibuster, which is not sanctioned by the Constitution in the first place.

9. Eliminate the totally undemocratic Presidential veto. One person should not be able to thwart the democratic will of both the House and Senate.

Will this ever happen?

If Congress can spend its time seriously considering such unneeded and silly amendments to the Constitution as outlawing flag-burning, which they have done repeatedly in the past, surely they can debate an amendment which would take our democracy back from the corporations and special interest groups. This is especially true now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution as it stands now allows corporations and other organizations to spend as much money as they want to influence politics. A Constitutional amendment is the only way of keeping our government one which is by, for, and of the people, and preventing corporate rule of our government as well as our economy.

But Congress is not likely to pass such proposed amendments, since congressmen and women are in their seats to begin with because they have succeeded at the corrupt system we now have in place. So these Constitutional amendments may have to take the other route specified by the Constitution but never yet used: A Constitutional Convention would have to be called by two-third of the legislatures of the States, and that Convention would have to propose these amendments. They would then be sent to the states to be approved by three-fourths of the legislatures or conventions.

For all this to happen the American people will have to finally wake up to the fact that real health care insurance reform, financial system overhaul, economic structural changes, and any other major reform, depends on this most basic of all reforms: getting rid of what Will Rogers famously called “the best Congress money can buy,” and turning our nation into a true democracy.

Fred Flaxman is the author of Sixty Slices of Life … on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.

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Obama is no Einstein

Albert Einstein, who is considered by most to have been pretty good at problem-solving, said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

And yet when it comes to solving the three hardest problems inherited by the Obama Administration, that is precisely the approach the President has taken and why none of these three problems is likely to be solved: the economy, health care insurance, and the war in Afghanistan.

The Financial Meltdown

To solve the financial meltdown, Obama chose to put in charge those who were largely responsible for creating the problem in the first place.

Instead of breaking up private banking institutions that were “too big to fail” and turning them into smaller, nonprofit corporations dedicated to doing good for society rather than making enormous profits for the already well-off, he bailed them out with borrowed money that needs to be paid back by U.S. taxpayers.

Instead of saving Main Street, he saved Wall Street. He acted like Robin Hood in reverse: taking taxes, jobs and homes from the poor and the middle class to save the wealthy. If he’s trying to prove that he’s no socialist, he’s doing an excellent job of it, although the far-right is too blinded by their ideology to see it.

Health Care Insurance

To solve the health care insurance problem, which is caused by the greedy, profit-making health care insurance and pharmaceutical companies and their overpaid executives, it appears that Obama will end up signing a law that forces most people to purchase expensive private health care insurance, rather than legislation which provides a far less expensive, far less bureaucratic, single-payer, Medicare-for-All, nonprofit, public option.

Americans don’t seem to realize that we don’t have a health care problem in this country, we have a health care insurance problem. We don’t want or need socialized medicine. What we want and need is nonprofit, reasonably priced socially responsible health care insurance.

Many Americans are so against tax increases they don’t realize that it would be less expensive for them to pay a bit more in taxes to obtain greatly improved health care coverage than it would be to pay private insurance companies for the same coverage.

They also don’t realize that private insurance companies paying for each medical service is far more expensive and bureaucratic than a single-payer system in which hospitals are paid their operational costs without having to account for the expense of each individual service to patients.

The War in Afghanistan

To solve the problem of the war in Afghanistan, Obama is in real danger of using the same thinking that led to our involvement in the first place: that you get rid of the threat of terrorism in that country by invading and occupying it while killing Afghans. That is a formula for increasing Afghan-based terrorism, not eliminating it.

I would personally love to see Afghanistan become a functioning democracy with equal rights for everyone. Let’s help them as much as we can in that direction without literally killing them and us in the process. Let’s stop trying to force other countries and cultures to adopt our values and our way of life. Instead, let’s spend our lives and money trying to make our own country live up to its own democratic, egalitarian values.

I did all I could to help elect Barak Obama as our President. I was full of hope that real change would result from his election, but I am less and less optimistic that such change will come about. President Obama is a very intelligent man, but, it appears so far, he is not nearly as wise as Albert Einstein.

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Fred Flaxman is the author of Sixty Slices of Life … on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster, a tongue-in-cheek memoir. He lives in North Carolina.

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