No More Concessions on Health Reform

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The Boston Globe

No More Concessions on Health Reform

There has been no discussion of single payer. The public option has been ditched. President Obama received no Republican support at his nationally-televised health care forum last week. In response, the Democrats must not concede any more in the final lurch toward health reform. Even then, reform is already so watered down that it is likely to fall apart over the next decade. Democrats would be wise to view this moment not with finality, but as the beginning of the journey toward the sanity of single payer, toward what most of Europe and Canada have.

The health industry lobbyists continue to display a greed that will no doubt boomerang. The day is unavoidable when angry Americans will no longer be duped by fear-mongering about a "government takeover'' of health care. Such virulent rhetoric cannot be sustained forever, particularly when it is led by the likes of Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Wilson's idea of civility with the White House was shouting "You lie'' to Obama during his address to Congress in the fall.

The system that Wilson, the Republicans, and bought-off Democrats defend is a lie, as many other countries pay much less for health care and their people live longer. Conservatives tell us that a government takeover of health care is "full of job-killing tax increases.'' The fact is our health care system, which can ban coverage for pre-existing conditions and forces people to work while suffering from illness so they can keep their health insurance, no doubt is killing Americans themselves.

The system cannot be sustained, not when the insurance companies have no conscience or compassion. The most well-known example is the intention of WellPoint's Anthem Blue Cross of California to raise individual market premiums by as much as 39 percent. But there were many other offenders in a report recently released by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She noted how other insurance companies have sought premium increases in 2009 or this year of between 23 percent and 56 percent in states like Michigan, Connecticut, Maine, and Washington.

While America remains at close to 10 percent unemployment, Sebelius complained that WellPoint, UnitedHealth, Cigna, Aetna, and Humana combined for $12.2 billion in profits last year, a 56-percent jump over 2008. Her report said that profits for the 10 largest insurance companies increased 10 times faster than inflation over the last decade. Worst of all, according to her report, the six largest publicly-held held insurers covered 2.2 million fewer people in the first three quarters of 2009.

The report calls the health insurance system "broken.'' Instead of taking less profits and delivering more health care, insurance companies are on an unprecedented lobbying binge to fight change. Last month, the Center for Responsive Politics said that the $266.8 million in lobbying in 2009 by the pharmaceutical and health products industry set the all-time record for a single industry. One cannot also forget how pharmaceutical companies pledged to the White House that they would cut drug costs under health reform by $80 billion, then turned around and jacked up prices in anticipation of reform to a tune that would more than cover their "cuts.''

Americans understand the system is broken, but the "job-killing'' rhetoric of "government takeover'' still has us not knowing where to begin. Three out of every four Americans, in a recent Newsweek poll, say insurance companies should cover people with pre-existing conditions. Three out of every four say most businesses should be required to offer health insurance. Four out of five say people without insurance should be able to buy plans at competitive rates. But ask about a government-administered option to compete with private plans, and the Republican rhetoric has Americans split.

The split will not last. The "competitive market'' is setting itself up for a fall, once Americans realize they have been betrayed. Whatever reform we get is only the first draft of what must follow: a declaration of independence from the insurance industry.

Derrick Z. Jackson

Derrick Z. Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe and can be reached at jackson@globe.com.

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