The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Archive for June 2009

Health insurers near monopoly control of most markets

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Private insurance makes a lot of cents for the...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

I thought I understood why insurance companies were the main threats to a “public option.” It’s easy.  Their overhead—exec salaries, advertising, political lobbying, etc.—averages 31%.  Medicare’s overhead is 1%.  No duh they don’t want to compete.

Today, I found out there’s another reason:  they mostly don’t even compete against each other. Consumers in 94% of America’s insurance markets buy their health insurance from near-monopolies that dominate their region.  The Bigs don’t want to avoid public competition, they want to avoid any competition.

And what happens when profit-makers don’t have to compete? You know what.

Premiums have risen 87% over the last six years, while profits at the ten Bigs rose 428%.  Wait a minute: If your insurer’s profit is up 400%, why are your premiums rising so fast?

So, on with the debate:  Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), speaking on Fox News, defended the insurance company position, saying a public option would “destroy the marketplace for health care.”

But TPM today covered a report by Health Care for America Now, saying:

clipped from tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com
[T]he notion that most American consumers enjoy anything like a competitive marketplace for health care is flatly false. […]
The report … uses data compiled by the American Medical Association to show that 94 percent of the country’s insurance markets are defined as “highly concentrated,” according to Justice Department guidelines. Predictably, that’s led to skyrocketing costs for patients, and monster profits for the big health insurers. Premiums have gone up over the past six years by more than 87 percent, on average, while profits at ten of the largest publicly traded health insurance companies rose 428 percent from 2000 to 2007.
HCAN describes the situation as “a market failure where a small number of large companies use their concentrated power to control premium levels, benefit packages, and provider payments…”
[O]ne former top Federal Trade Commission official … has sent a letter to the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, asking for an investigation into the health insurance marketplace.
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And maybe that’s why millions of your excess insurance premium dollars are being spent on defeating a public option, rather than on reducing your premium.

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Myths about Canadian health care

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Are taxes high? Is bureaucracy huge? Author has used both US and Canadian systems, and finds the Canadian better.
clipped from http://www.boingboing.net

Almost all developed countries have government...

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Myth: Taxes in Canada are extremely high, mostly because of national health care.

In actuality, taxes are nearly equal on both sides of the border. Overall, Canada’s taxes are slightly higher than those in the U.S. However, Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash. At the end of the day, the average after-tax income of Canadian workers is equal to about 82 percent of their gross pay. In the U.S., that average is 81.9 percent.

Myth: Canada’s health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead

Debunking Canadian health care myths
(via Digg)
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Written by Monte

June 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

Public Option is bipartisan – everywhere but Congress

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{{w|Chuck Grassley}}, U.S. Senator from Iowa.

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Fivethirtyeight.com observes that over 50% of Republicans and 74% of Americans overall favor a strong public insurance option.  Then, an obvious conclusion: The public option has strong bipartisan support.

1/2 of Republicans and 3/4 of all Americans.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

But in the Congress, dogmatic opinions prevent such unity.

So here’s an irony:  America is in pretty good agreement.  But we can’t get our Congress to go along with us.

Matter of fact, there are threats of removing that which we want in order to gain the approval of Congressional holdouts—most notably, Iowa’s Senator Grassley (who, like most of the holdouts, is among the top recipients of health care industry contributions—Mr. Grassley is fifth among Senators).

Should we allow Congress to deny what the people overwhelmingly desire in order to please industry-funded Senators?

Write ’em.

clipped from www.fivethirtyeight.com
the two most credible surveyors of public opinion on this subject, the Kaiser Family Foundation and CBS/New York Times, have both found that at least half of self-identified Republicans favor a well-described public option.

So the question must be asked: if Barack Obama wants to conduct a bipartisan approach to universal health care, what does that mean in terms of the public option? Killing or watering down the public option in order to (maybe) attract the support of Sen. Chuck Grassley, and not much of anybody else in the congressional Republican ranks? Or maintaining it to appeal to rank-and-file Republicans, who favor it despite the views of their “leaders” and the polarized atmosphere in Washington?
ultimately, “bipartisanship” on health care may actually mean looking past congressional Republicans and pitting them against their own supporters across the country, particularly on the public option.
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The anti-whaling ‘spaceship’ ship

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Just for fun:  Ever seen anything like it?
clipped from www.smh.com.au

Looking more like a giant spider ... the activists' new Earthrace, which last year circled the globe in 61 days, fuelled by biodiesel.
JAPAN has asked Australia to prevent the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin leaving port to harass its whalers in the Antarctic next summer, but the plea may have little effect.
The anti-whaling activists plan to upgrade their fleet from an ageing, former North Atlantic fisheries patrol boat to include another ship – something out of the future. The global speedboat Earthrace would head south under Sea Shepherd colours next summer, the group’s leader Paul Watson said.
“It looks like a spaceship. It can do 40 knots and dive under waves completely. We’ll be using it to intercept and block harpoons.”
In 61 days last year Earthrace circled the globe fuelled by biodiesel.
Earthrace’s role was unveiled as the International Whaling Commission heard that Sea Shepherd’s protests endangered the lives of whalers in the Southern Ocean last summer when the Steve Irwin was involved in two collisions.
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Robt Reich: What you can do

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Excellent advice!
clipped from tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com

“What Can I Do?”

Someone recently approached me … asking “what can I do?” […]
I soon realized the question was … what can I do about the way things are going in Washington?
People who voted for Barack Obama tend to fall into one of two camps: Trusters … and cynics […]
In my view, both positions are wrong. A new president — even one as talented and well-motivated as Obama — can’t get a thing done in Washington unless the public is actively behind him.
As FDR said … “Maam, I want to do those things, but you must make me.”
We must make Obama do the right things. Email, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same. For example, if you happen to have a good friend or family member in Montana, you might ask him or her to write Max Baucus and tell him they want a public option included in any healthcare bill.
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Just to the right of these words, under the heading “Contact” are links that will take you to your Members of Congress and the President. Go for it.

Yes, we can.

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Harkin: An Apology For Slavery

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Iowa’s Sen. Tom Harkin spoke on June 18th in support of a bill that made an official government apology to black Americans for slavery in the United States, and for the government’s long failure to act against it. I am proud that one of my state’s Senators was a key mover in the apology. Every time America honestly faces the dark sides of its past, we become a better people.

Does it end racial division? Of course not. But, as with all trauma, healing only happens in small steps. Words are always part of those steps.   Some may say “Talk is cheap, nothing is solved, this Senate didn’t cause slavery anyway.”  But we are responsible for our history, and I’ll take an apology over official silence any day.


Today, Senator Tom Harkin delivered remarks on the Senate Floor just prior to the passage of S. Con. Res. 26, which he introduced and co-sponsored. The transcript follows.

“Madam President, the clerk just read for the first time ever in this body what we should have done a long time ago. An apology for slavery and the Jim Crow laws which, for a century after emancipation, deprived millions of Americans their basic human rights, equal justice under law and equal opportunities. Today the Senate will unanimously make that apology. Read the rest of this entry »

And yet we continue to bomb each other

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Found at Uniform Velocity:

Carl Sagan could deliver this line at every college graduation until the end of time, yet the reality of it will never sink [in] for some.

We prance about on this planet, self-important and ideologically bent, discounting the true insignificance of our minor differences. We oppress and murder fellow planetary inhabitants, for slightly different sets of conclusions… humans as a species are tragically arrogant.

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Written by Monte

June 25, 2009 at 10:04 am