The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Barbara Ehrenreich: Reform is over, Insurance Industry has won

with 2 comments

I hope you’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s important book Nickel and Dimed: On not getting by in America. She signs-on at minimum-wage jobs, sets her own assets aside, and chronicles just how possible it really is for poor Americans who “get a job!” to get on. We middle-class Americans do need to learn a few things, and these are lessons of critical importance.

Ehrenreich’s most recent blog post describes the state of healthcare reform. Here are some excerpts (but I do encourage you to read the whole thing). The emphases are mine, along with some comments at the end:

Barbara EhrenreichWe Have Seen the Enemy — And Surrendered

Bow your heads and raise the white flags. After facing down the Third Reich, the Japanese Empire, the U.S.S.R., Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, the United States has met an enemy it dares not confront – the American private health insurance industry.

With the courageous exception of Dennis Kucinich, the Democratic candidates have all rolled out health “reform” plans that represent total, Chamberlain-like, appeasement. Edwards and Obama propose universal health insurance plans that would in no way ease the death grip of Aetna, Unicare, MetLife, and the rest of the evil-doers. Clinton – why are we not surprised? – has gone even further, borrowing the Republican idea of actually feeding the private insurers by making it mandatory to buy their product. Will I be arrested if I resist paying $10,000 a year for a private policy laden with killer co-pays and deductibles? […]

The surrender-buzz is everywhere. … I heard it yesterday from a Chicago woman who leads a nonprofit agency serving the poor: How can we go to a Canadian-style system when the private industry has gotten so “big”? […]

The private health insurance industry is not big because it relentlessly seeks out new customers. Unlike any other industry, this one grows by rejecting customers. No matter how shabby you look, Cartier, Lexus, or Nordstrom’s will happily take your money. Not Aetna. If you have a prior conviction – excuse me, a pre-existing condition – it doesn’t want your business. Private health insurance is only for people who aren’t likely to ever get sick. In fact, why call it “insurance,” which normally embodies the notion of risk-sharing? This is extortion. [..]

Think of the damage. An estimated 18,000 Americans die every year because they can’t afford or can’t qualify for health insurance. That’s the 9/11 carnage multiplied by three– every year. Not to mention all the people who are stuck in jobs they hate because they don’t dare lose their current insurance.

OK, here’s the score: Our own countrymen and women suffer and prematurely die. We could stop much of it. We could do it for less money than we spend now. We could take our 26th-ranked-but- world’s-most-expensive system and make it top-notch, keeping physician choice in the hands of the patient. They do it in almost every Western country but ours. For less. All included. Better service.

But we’d rather let our own suffer and die. Why? Partly ignorance: we don’t realize everybody does it better than us. But for many, there’s a greater challenge: We’re dogmatists, doctrinally prejudiced against government involvement. Maybe we’ve never grown out of McCarthyism. We still treasure the absurdity that government involvement is socialism (boogaboogabooga!!), which every truly decent American knows is a sure step toward subjugation by communists. We know it smells of death if nobody’s making money from it.

‘Course you don’t make money from insuring the people Big Insurance doesn’t want to insure. That’s capitalism’s weakness: no motive to bother with people you can’t make money off of (though capitalism is inherently Christian, we’re sure). So we’ll get something like Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts, where the solution to fear of government involvement is government authoritarianism: force everyone to buy Big Insurance’s policies.

More likely still, we’ll just keep on letting folks die. It’s doctrinally pure.

Related posts:
Jane Bryant Quinn: Yes, We Can All Be Insured
No schip.
And related websites:
The World Health Organization’s ranking of the world’s health systems
Physicians for a National Health Program
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Monte Asbury


Written by Monte

September 26, 2007 at 4:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Hi M,
    As an average single white Midwestern American, how do I strike a blow for, ‘another way?’ I am not afraid to risk loosing the support of the establishment. (a child of the 60’s) I have always suspected that if I just started saving the amount of the premiums, I’d have enough to cover. OR are there others like me I could join with? I do know that insurance co’s are given discounts that average, single, white…. are not. The bill I would have to pay on my own is 20-50% higher As a nurse I know it would be less expensive for folks to just pay my salary and for the equip, drugs, etc I use, than to pay the premiums. Honest health care seems hopeless.
    What about a group that paid for each other’s bills. We could hire a couple Dr’s and just not be part of the system….. Oh yea, Kaiser Permanante already thought of that. Oh well, my brain has the gift for getting me in over my head. Hopeless?
    Many people, from many counties are going to India (I think it is) for costly operations and treatments. I can’t afford that option.
    Yes i agree they are the bad guys, and I’d like to see a way around them.
    Apple a day,

    Monte Says: Hi Sharon – Only way I know is a slow and steady information stream to elected reps, to the public, to anyone who’ll listen. May I suggest the Physicians for a National Health Program link? It was recommended to me by someone “in the know,” and I think it is excellent. At the bottom are some links of things people can do. Under “citizens” I found an excellent piece from the California Nurses Assn.

    Barbara Ehrenreich is exaggerating, of course – the battle is not done. This round is not particularly revolutionary, but it is part of America’s awakening to the needs of people, and what is impossible just now will be completely different in a few years. Democracy changes one pixel at a time, each of us is a tiny part of the picture, and hopefully, each of us gets to invite a few other pixels to shine along. It’s about turning on lights, one at a time. And that’s why I write.
    Thanks, old friend!


    September 29, 2007 at 1:42 pm

  2. Hi Monte,
    Thanks for the links. What a coincidence: Amazon JUST delivered my “Treacherous Alliance” order yesterday. I was going to post about it. How did you read my mind?

    Monte says: You bet! I’m looking forward to reading what you learn!


    September 29, 2007 at 7:32 am

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