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"Now Make Me Do It"

Ralph Nader

Never much of a fighter against abusive corporate power, Barack Obama
is making it increasingly clear that right from his start as President,
he wanted health insurance reform that received the approval of the
giant drug and health insurance industries.

Earlier this year he started inviting top bosses of these companies for
intimate confabs in the White House. Business Week magazine, which
proclaimed recently that "The Health Insurers Have Already Won"
reported that the CEO of UnitedHealth, Stephen J. Hemsley, met with the
President half a dozen times.

These are the vendors. They and their campaign slush funds cannot be
ignored in the power struggle over the legislation percolating in the
Congress. One public result of these meetings was that the drug
industry promised $80 billion in savings over ten years and the health
insurance moguls promised $150 billion over the same decade. Mr. Obama
trumpeted these declarations without indicating how these savings would
be guaranteed, how the drug companies could navigate the antitrust laws
and what was given to the health care industry by the White House in
return.

We have now learned that one Obama promise was to continue the
prohibition on Uncle Sam from bargaining for volume discounts on drugs
that you the taxpayer have been paying for in the drug benefit program
enacted in 2003.

Unknown is whether the health insurance companies were also promised
continuation of Medicare Advantage with its 14% added taxpayer subsidy
to induce the elderly to make the move out of public Medicare. Also
unknown is whether the Medicare public option that Mr. Obama formerly
espoused but since has wavered on has been put on the concession table.

The whole secret process is seedy and demonstrates cruel disregard for
the millions of American who, whether in dire need of medical services
or not, voted in "change we can believe in."

By stark contrast, President Obama has never invited to the White House
the leading consumer-patient champions in this country who favor full
Medicare and free choice of physician and hospital-often called "a
single payer" system. Open to the corporate barons who have failed
decade after decade to deliver what patients need, the White House door
is closed to the likes of Dr. Quentin Young-a founder of the Physicians
for a National Health Program and an old Chicago friend of Obama's, Dr.
Sidney Wolfe, who heads Public Citizen's Health Research Group, Drs.
Marcia Angell, Stephanie Woolhandler, and David Himmelstein, who are
nationally known and accomplished single payer advocates or Rose Ann
DeMoro, executive director of the fast-growing California Nurses
Association.

Mr. Obama even tried to exclude any advocate of a single payer
system-previously favored by Obama and still favored by a majority of
the American people, doctors and nurses-from his roundtable meetings
convened to receive the views of different constituencies.

"Make me do it" was the advice of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to
reformers when faced with legislation he desired but did not have the
votes for in Congress. Mr. Obama is not exerting that plea for people
power. Were he to do that, he would be encouraging daily public
hearings in the Senate and the House on the bureaucratic waste, greed,
overbilling, collusion, and fraud that many in the corporate world have
inflicted with their costly, pay or die health care industry.

Such publicized hearings would keep him on the offensive. It would
arouse the public and focus energies on the main problem-the
corporatization of medicine. This commercialism has left tens of
millions of people without health insurance, caused 20,000 fatalities a
year, and cost Americans twice or more per capita than have full
Medicare systems in western countries, which have better health
outcomes than the U.S.

Further indication of Obama's corporate dealings is that he never
identified himself with a specific bill with a House and Senate number
that he could rally the people around. No wonder people are confused,
frustrated and angry. President Obama did not stand for an unambiguous
proposal.

He thereby emboldened both the cash and carry Blue dog Democrats to
rebel and the Republican yahoos to launch their lies and distortions
via Rush Limbaugh and similar trash media.

Obama is about to make his biggest mistake to date by favoring the
bipartisan deal his assistants are working out with Blue Dog Senator
Max Baucus and his Republican counterparts on the Senate Finance
Committee. This proposal has no public option, no consumer protections
or restraints on the mayhem and skyrocketing charges of the so-called
health care industry.

Already the less corporate-indentured bills being reported from the
House Committee by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and his allies are getting
short-shrift from a White House that clearly views the forthcoming
Baucus-Grassley "compromise" as the "more practical" go-to legislation.

There is reliable word that the AFL-CIO will endorse whatever Obama
approves, with the exceptions of the California Nurses Association and
the Sheet Metal Workers' union. The latter, through their president,
Michael J. Sullivan, announced in late July that it was suspending all
future campaign contributions to any candidate for Congress or the
Presidency.

Already over sixty progressive members of the House, headed by
Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) have declared opposition to these
unacceptable compromises moving forward in both the House and the
Senate.

So is gridlock around the corner? Will there be a health insurance
reform of any stripe signed into law this year? It depends on the
alliances that settle for the lowest corporate denominators being
blocked by the unyielding principled stands of the progressives who
want something that puts patients above the failed profiteering vendors.

The guess here is that Obama will sign anything which squirms through a
cowardly Congress that cannot give to the American people in 2009 the
health care system Congress stopped President Harry Truman from
establishing in 1950.

It is up to the people of our country to "make him do it" whether this
year or next. A mere one million immediate calls to members of Congress
by one million assertive citizens will start sobering up these
legislators who think they can get away with another sale of our public
trust.

The Congressional switchboard is 202-224-3121. The full Medicare,
single payer bill (backed by nearly ninety legislators) is H.R. 676.
The go-to citizen group for your sustained engagement is singlepayeraction.org. The rest is up to you, the majority, who want to put the people first.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future" (2012). His new book is, "Wrecking America: How Trump’s Lies and Lawbreaking Betray All(2020, co-authored with Mark Green).

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