Category Archives: libertarianism

No Socialists Here

Dear Insurance company execs, pharmaceutical company execs, employee benefits consultants and executives, Wall Street investors, and all other stakeholders in the current dysfunctional, broken, complex, complicated, and bloated mess called the US health care system.

You have heard many politicians, and journalists, not to mention your own peers, or even you yourselves label the push for Medicare for All as “Socialism.”

We even have the Administrator of CMS, Seema Verma, calling it, and the public option plan,  “radical and dangerous for the country” recently when she spoke to the Better Medicare Alliance’s Medicare Advantage Summit in Washington, D.C.

Her solution, and probably yours as well, is to keep selling Medicare Advantage plans, which only makes the current system worse.

So, to help you get over your fear and loathing of Socialism, and to prove to you that the only reason why the US is the only Western, industrial nation to not provide its citizens with universal health care is because you are making money off of other people’s health, or lack thereof.

You are doing so, because you are greedy. There I said it. Now I hope you will pay attention to the following graphic:

Do you see any socialist countries? Do you see any radical and dangerous regimes that are hostile to the interests of the US? Well, maybe Slovenia. After all, they did send us Melania and her illegal family.

But back to the case at hand. I defy any of you hotshots in the health care space to prove to me that all of these Capitalist, free-market countries are flaming Reds, or even a bit Pinko.

You can’t, because it is not true. You and those who call Medicare for All, Single Payer, or even the so-called “public option” radical, just don’t want the government to interfere with your looting the pockets of the American people for your financial gain.

And that is why we are the only country with an “X”, instead of a check mark below our name.

The Free Market Utopian Fantasy

Whenever the subject of what to do about the cost of health care arises on the social media site, LinkedIn, invariably there is someone who attempts to deflect the discussion away from the logical solution of Medicare for All/Single Payer, to what I am calling the Free Market Utopian Fantasy.

Those of you who read my post, “Health Care Is Not a Market”, will understand that when it comes to health care, the rules of the market do not apply. That is why I have called the attitude and comments made by these individuals, the Free Market Utopian Fantasy. Because the free market in health care is a fantasy. It is usually the expression of economic libertarianism coming from the right-wing propaganda machine.

Simply put, the Free Market Utopian Fantasy states that if we only had a truly free market health care system, costs would regulate themselves through competition, as in other areas of the free market.

In fact, one observer recently said the following in a thread on LI: “This would not be the case IF there were created and implemented an ORDERLY market for health care services based upon free market enterprise principles whereby ALL costs are transparent to ALL parties.”

An orderly market? Are you serious? More of the same BS from the Free Market Utopians.

Then there is the idea that consumers, read that as patients, must educate themselves as to the best choice. Choice? When you are dying of a heart attack? Choice, when you only have a short time to live due to a serious illness like Cancer or Diabetes?

Folks, we are not talking about choosing between buying steak or chicken. This is not choosing to go to Italy next summer or to the Caribbean. We are talking about life and death. And the only choice is to do what will save your life, not choose between colors on a swatch.

This Free Market Utopian Fantasy has infected so many people in the health care industry, and they are trying to prevent the American people from receiving the same quality of care at lower cost than all the other Western and other nations already do for their people.

They claim that we can’t afford to do it. I ask, can we afford not to?

They cite statistics about Medicare like some cite similar statistics about Social Security, but they are wrong then, and they are wrong about Medicare for All, because it will be expanded to cover everyone and everything, not requiring separate insurance for things like vision and dental care, mental health, and long-term care.

Here is what one person said in the same thread cited above:

“We can barely afford Medicare for the 60 million current Medicare recipients. Adding another 270 million recipients would bankrupt the nation in short order. Latest data (2017) on Medicare shows an annual cost of $700 billion, and projections show the Medicare Trust Fund will be insolvent in 2026 – and by the way, Medicare actually only covers about half of the real cost because the rest is covered by supplementary insurances that have to be bought by the patient. If you assume that Medicare expansion was at the same cost rate as current Medicare, Medicare for all would cost at least $3.15 trillion in 2017 dollars. Total 2019 federal government revenue is estimated at $6.5 trillion, and estimated Medicare for all costs for 2019 would be $3.5 trillion. It is simply not feasible.”

Boy, they really know how to BS their way to keeping us the only Western nation that does not have universal health care. What they don’t realize is, there won’t be any private insurance, because it is private insurance that drives up the cost of health care with administrative costs and waste,

Well, it is high time we call BS on all of them, and their Free Market Utopian Fantasy. Until we stop listening to these folks who are protecting their careers and profits, no American will never have to worry if they or a loved one gets sick and cannot afford the needed medical care without going bankrupt or dying without ever receiving the care they so desperately need. I said as much in my other post, “By What Right”, where I took these folks to task for preventing the enactment of MFA/Single Payer.

These Free Market Utopians are not doing anyone any favors. They are only hurting millions of Americans, born or not-yet-born who will someday need a truly comprehensive, universal health care system, and it won’t be there thanks to them and their associates.

Why Are Republicans So Mean? – An Exploration

Revelations this week that the Orangutan Administration is going ahead with plans to repeal the ACA, as reported by myself and Joe Paduda, as well as the announcement by Education Secretary Betsy (I have ten yachts) DeVos, that her budget calls for cutting $18 million from Special Olympics, raises the question, “why are Republicans so mean?” and why do they hate the poor and those not like them?

This article will explore this question from an economic, ideological, political and sociological perspective, citing several previously published articles asking the same question as the title above. It is certainly not definitive, but does suggest some possible explanations.

To begin with, a little history. The Republican Party was formed due to the inability of the Whig Party to deal with the question of slavery and the disappointment many Northern Democrats had with their Southern brethren over this issue, one that occupied a central focus in the second quarter of the first half of the 19th century.

While that twenty-five year period ended in 1850, it is important to note that the GOP was founded in 1854, which is still in the range of the time frame.

After the Civil War, the Republican Party was made up of two wings: the Radical Republicans who favored Reconstruction and harsh treatment of former Southern Confederates (this will have a bearing on our discussion later) and the conservatives who were aligned with the Eastern bankers and industrialists.

In fact, it was the conservatives who, as pointed out in the Spielberg motion picture, “Lincoln”, that made it possible for the passage of the 13th Amendment when they were assured by the President that there were no Southern negotiators in Washington (They were on a riverboat in Virginia being guarded by African-American Union soldiers).

However, after the election of 1876, when Rutherford Hayes became President by promising the South to end Reconstruction, the Radical Republicans were slowly replaced by more conservative Northern Republicans loyal to the industrialists who would dominate the second quarter of the second half of the 19th century, and thus lead to future calls for reform and addressing of the effects industrialization had on the working class.

So as their wealth increased, so too did the misery and poverty of the working class, and this led to the rise within the GOP of a progressive movement, and a likewise movement among the rural population in the Midwest in the form of populism.

With the ascendancy of Theodore Roosevelt to the Presidency in 1901, progressivism took off, and many Republicans led the way for political, economic, and social reform. A brief return to the past in the 1920s under three successive Republican Presidents was followed by the election of FDR and the Democrats controlling Congress for decades to come, making more reform possible, and creating the largest middle class in history.

By the mid-20th century , the Republican Party had three wings: conservatives, moderates, and liberals. Barry Goldwater’s run in 1964, and Robert Taft’s in 1952 sort to change the dynamics in favor of the conservatives, but only meant they lost the battle, but won the war.

Then came Reagan, the first celebrity President. He brought victory to the conservatives and into government. Remember, he said that government was not the solution, government was the problem, and thus, that is how the GOP would operate when they took over.

Turning to the economic aspect of why Republicans are mean, let us look at something written a hundred years ago, Max Weber’s essay, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

According to Wikipedia,

“capitalism in Northern Europe evolved when the Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethic influenced large numbers of people to engage in work in the secular world, developing their own enterprises and engaging in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment. In other words, the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned and uncoordinated emergence of modern capitalism.

So in this context, Protestantism, or rather its Calvinist form, which influenced the Puritans of New England, formed the moral and ethical basis for the rise of modern capitalism, and while the descendants of the Puritans today in New England are decidedly more liberal than in the past, due to evangelical missionaries in the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries, in what historians call the Great Awakenings, these values were transmitted to people in the South and Midwest, or were carried with them during western expansion.

As for the South, as mentioned earlier, the debate over slavery has some bearing on why many of today’s Republican leaders in Congress are Southerners, and what that means for the country’s direction these past thirty years or so.

Sara Robinson’s article in Salon.com, attempts to answer why this is so, and sheds light on the difference between North and South. To begin with, despite the rise of Capitalism from Calvinist Protestantism, seen originally among the Puritan settlers, Robinson states that,

For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society).”

On the other hand, Robinson relates that the New England-based aristocracy is opposed by,

…the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.

Robinson cites David Hackett Fisher who,

described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press.

In addition, Robinson cites Colin Woodward, who wrote that,

…From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.

However, Robinson writes that the most destructive aspect of the Southern’s worldview,

is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).”

Robinson continues,

Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective — and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.”

Conversely, Robinson states,

In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more “liberty” you could exercise — which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more “liberties” with the lives, rights and property of other people.”

Anytime a Southern conservative talks about “losing his liberty”, Robinson follows with, the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.”

This would appear to not only apply to the justification for the South’s secession from the Union in the 19th century, but for the way Southern politicians, both Democrats (remember, many were Southerners who were promised committee chairmanships by FDR to get the New Deal passed) and Republicans after passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to Southerners fleeing the Democratic Party for what LBJ said would be for a generation, have acted towards any legislation that would cause them to lose their liberty. Today, we call that White Privilege.

For an ideological perspective, Marc-William Palen, in Foreign Policy in Focus, provides us with a clear understanding that the Republican Party is not merely a party of classical liberalism, but something different from what it was when it was founded.

According to Palen,

From its mid-nineteenth-century founding, the Republican Party was the party of big government, high tariffs, and government-subsidized internal improvements. The exceptions to this rule were the Gilded Age Liberal Republicans. In their vocal calls for laissez faire principles, these Liberal Republicans quickly became the independent thorns in the side of the Republican elephant throughout the first decades following the Civil War. When the big-government Republican majority continued to prove intractable, these Liberal Republicans became known as the “Mugwumps” when they ultimately switched their support to the Democrats in 1884.

Palen writes that classical liberalism was founded on moral sentiments, and that these moral sentiments, “are almost non-existent within the Republican rank and file, especially since the ultra-nationalist party draped itself in the red, white, and blue following 9-11, and led the jingoistic charge into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Nor is morality to be found amid the incessant Republican demands to cut social spending,” he says, pointing out what Grover Norquist, the driving force behind the GOP’s anti-tax, small government ideology when he said in 2001,  he wanted to

shrink government to the point where he “could drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

Palen suggests that if the Republicans current ideology is not found in classical liberalism, then where does it come from? Palen says, Ayn Rand’s pronounced atheism and intellectual elitism certainly does not align with the ideological outlook of most Republicans. And, he says, there is perhaps an element of a Social Darwinian “survival of the fittest” ethos—although no Republican politician is likely to admit to subscribing to anything associated with the theory of evolution.

So where does it come from?

…a large part of Republican ideological inspiration stems from fear. In particular, it is a reactionary ideological response to the turbulent upheavals inherent in an increasingly globalizing world. Such fears—let’s call it “globaphobia”—are frequently expressed on issues such as immigration, global terrorism, global warming, and American participation in international institutions like the United Nations. The massive federal intervention in the so-called free market following the global financial meltdown invariably exacerbated Republican fears that government intrusion in the market— and Keynesian economics more generally—would eventually undermine American individualism, citing Douglas LaBier.

However, Palen says it is not entirely satisfactory. According to Palen,

their fear-driven ideological inspiration dovetails with the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, who predated Adam Smith by a century and who expounded on an amoral philosophy of self-interested individualism, counterbalanced by acquiescence to authoritarianism. Hobbes believed that a strong state prevented “war of every man against every man,” a chaotic type of warfare that Republicans believe is contained within al-Qaeda’s radical philosophy.

As we have seen, there is no one answer to why Republicans are mean. It seems to be a combination of factors all valid and relevant to today’s political climate in Washington and in the nation at large.

But nothing ever is just as simple as being mean. since we are dealing with human beings and not machines.

For our purposes, health care is just one more “liberty” conservatives are afraid of losing, so therefore, they will deny it to others, so that they can have more of it. Any discussion of universal coverage in a single payer health care system is a threat to their liberty, and therefore must be opposed. Add to that, the economic loss of profit and gain by those in the medical-industrial complex, and you get a clearer picture of the problem.

But to answer the question raised at the beginning, why are the Republicans so mean? It’s because it is in their DNA passed on from one generation of conservatives to another like our genes are passed down from our parents, grandparents, and so on.

Now the question is, what to do about it?

 

Some Final Thoughts On “Health Care under the Knife”

Last month, I wrote two articles about the book by Howard Waitzkin et al. entitled, “Health Care under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health.

The first article was a review of the Introduction to the book. The second article examined the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare”, as the last stage of neoliberal health care reform.

In this article, I will critique the overall message of the book and give some reasons as to why I believe radical change in American health care and radical change in American society in general cannot take place until one key condition is met for that change.

This will also apply to the rest of the world where neoliberal policies have taken root. But since much of the impetus of these policies comes from the US and institutions the US created after World War II such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), as well as many international financial institutions and the Gates Foundation, it will be difficult, but not impossible to turn back those policies and effect the necessary change to secure universal health care for their citizens. Some have already done so.

The authors have made a very convincing case for their argument that the failure to achieve universal health care is a result of neoliberal policies enacted over thirty years ago both here in the US and in the UK under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and under the various Conservative Party Prime Ministers, from Thatcher, Major, Cameron, and now Theresa May, and Labour PMs, Blair and Brown.

However, their prescription for how we overcome these policies assumes that social change is necessary before there can be change in health care. While technically correct, their understanding of the conditions necessary for that change is flawed.

Economic determinism, the socioeconomic theory that underpins much of Marxist thought about Capitalism and the relationship between workers and owners of the means of production is central to the thesis in “Health Care under the Knife.” But can economic determinism really explain why the central thesis of Marxism has not materialized, since Marx predicted that the contradictions inherent in Capitalism would bring about the revolution that would free the working class.

The truth is more complicated than that, because Capitalism has a nasty habit of reinventing itself, or in the case of the New Deal and the Great Society programs of the 20th century, reform the system to improve the lives of those most affected by the inequalities of the Capitalist system.

Many American families, mine included, benefitted from those reforms. Whether we are talking about Social Security, the GI Bill, student loans guaranteed by the federal government to cover the cost of college for those in the working and middle classes, job training programs, other forms aspects of the social safety net, millions of Americans have moved upward in social mobility.

Anecdotal evidence from friends and relatives, stories of celebrities rising from humble beginnings, and lately, the rise of a biracial male from the State of Hawaii, whose father was an African immigrant and whose mother was a White American, and reached the highest office of the nation, is indicative of this upward social mobility. He did it by working hard and proving that if he could do it, given his background and personal tragedy of losing his father early in his life, anyone can.

The long-predicted revolution, therefore did not happen because many working people, to use a euphemism, “made it”. Some have made it into the middle class, and some have made it into the upper middle class. And some others managed to make it into the lower strata of the upper class. They are not the proverbial “1%”, but nevertheless, they are wealthy. And happy, well-off people don’t make revolutions.

We are however, seeing a reversal among some of the middle class and working class, and that is most definitely due to neoliberalism. And the opioid crisis is decimating the White working class and economic dislocation is one reason for the increase in suicides among White males.

So, to base the argument for single payer solely based on economic determinism and the change the authors contend is necessary for that to occur, is only looking at one side.

After the ascendency of Ronald Reagan to the Presidency, I realized that there was something else besides his charm and ability to communicate effectively that made Americans vote for him overwhelmingly. But I was unable for many years to understand why beyond believing that they did not want to be poor, as many living in Socialist nations were.

However, in the evolution of my consciousness, I have discovered that a socioeconomic theory only tells part of the story. Some years ago, I learned of a biopsychosocial theory of development called Spiral Dynamics. I have written about it before in other posts.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that Spiral Dynamics is the theory that explains how people think, either as individuals or as a collective. And the reason is it called Spiral Dynamics is because the adult human mind is an oscillating, dynamic spiral from lower order to higher orders of thinking.

Based on the research of Clare W. Graves, Don E. Beck and Christopher Cowan, patented their ideas into Spiral Dynamics. Spiral Dynamics is concerned with the life conditions and coping measures used to solve the problems life conditions present to individuals and collective societies. It also reveals the deep codes about how people think, and what they value.

Using Graves’ labels for the first six levels of existence, they borrowed the term “meme” from Richard Dawkins, the British biologist, and color coded them for better mnemonic effect, as shown in the table below. Beck and Cowan labeled their version of memes, vMemes, or value systems, as they are concerned with the values individuals and collectives manifest at any given time in their development. Individuals and collectives can exist at more than one level at any time.

The table illustrates the last three levels as they currently are represented in the American population, along with the percentage of the world population at each, and the percentage of social power they have. The US is included in these figures, and only at Green do we see what percentage of Americans are at Green. But we can use them nonetheless for our purposes here.

By adding the percentage of population at both Blue and Orange, which in today’s America represents the Republican Party’s bases’, we notice that Blue/Orange has 70% of the population. Conversely, adding the percentage of power for each gives us 80% of the power, meaning that 70% of the American population controls 80% of the social power. Given that fact, to effect any change, either in society in general, or in health care, those percentages must change.

Blue has throughout history viewed the delivery of health care as a form of charity. The word hospital comes from the Knights of the Hospital of St. John, who provided care for poor, sick, or injured pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. And more recently, several Christian denominations have established hospitals for the same purpose. Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterians are but a few of the Christian churches that have built hospitals in cities across the country. Jews also have built hospitals, even the one this writer was born in.

Orange, on the other hand, sees the delivery of health care as a commodity that can be purchased for a price through the instrument of an insurance policy issued by a for-profit insurance company. If one can pay for it, then health care is easily accessible, and available when needed. But if one is not able to do so, then they should have planned accordingly. It is not their responsibility to provide them with health care by using their hard-earned income for such care, is their reasoning.

Green, therefore believes that health care is a right, and that is how it should be. It should be no surprise that one of the areas where the Green meme is seen is in Canadian health care. Many progressives point to Canada’s system as a model for the US.

But what prevents the US from moving forward towards that model is exactly how both Blue/Orange sees health care delivery. And since Orange has most of the power between the two, it is Orange’s Capitalism and Neoliberal policies that dictate how health care is delivered, paid for, and who can get it.

Thus, the one flaw in the argument the authors of “Health Care under the Knife” have is not understanding the value systems that underpin opposition to universal health care. It is not enough to discuss the economic reasons, as they have so successfully done, but to examine the psychosocial aspects as well. Taken together, economic determinism and Spiral Dynamics, in my opinion, explains in greater detail why change cannot happen as the authors would wish, until most of the US population evolves up the spiral.

One of the outgrowths of Spiral Dynamics as theory has been its merger with economics which Said Dawlabani has termed, MEMEnomics. MEMEnomics has been defined as a new branch of social science that studies patterns of economic policies and practices by taking an integral, whole-systems approach to economic sustainability.

According to Dawlabani, the US has entered what he called the Third MEMEnomic Cycle and it is expressed as the “Only Money Matters” Meme. This period began in the 1980s, the same time when neoliberal policies began. It led to what Dawlabani called the perfect Memetic storm. It is at this juncture where we find ourselves, and it his belief that a new paradigm is needed to move into the next cycle.

So, despite polling favoring single payer health care, as the authors rightly note, powerful interests will block any movement towards single payer. Until Orange has diminished in its social power and Green’s has increased, nothing will change. And the radical change they prescribe for this to occur will not, so long as social mobility for some prevents it, and profit can be squeezed out of the system.

Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book as a significant resource for understanding the dysfunction of our broken health care system despite its one flaw of being only one part of the story.

The Disruptors are Coming: The New Health Economy and the Medical-Industrial Complex

A big shout out to Dr. Don MCanne for his Quote of the Day post Friday for today’s topic, and a belated shout out to him for his post last Tuesday about the gains from the ACA being reversed. See my post, ACA Gains Reversing.

This time, Don alerts us to the impact the new health economy disruptors will have and what it might mean for the push towards single payer health care.

Last month, the PwC Health Research Institute (HRI) released a report analyzing the new health economy landscape as more and more companies pursue acquisitions of companies in the insurance, pharmacy benefit management, health care services and retail spaces.
In the last six months, the report states, there has been an explosion of unusual deals between companies such as CVS Health buying Aetna, Cigna buying Express Scripts, UnitedHealth’s Optum buying DaVita Medical Group (Kidney disease and dialysis), Albertsons agreeing to merge with Rite Aid, as well as the much highly publicized partnership between Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway.

Naturally, these aren’t the only deals that have occurred. Last year, 67 deals occurred in the US health services market, including payers and providers, the report adds.

The value of these deals increased 146% over those in 2016. The US health care industry, the report states, is undergoing seismic changes generated by a collision of forces: the shift from volume to value, rising consumerism, and the decentralization of care.
The HRI identified four new archetypes of companies engaged in this new health care economy:

• Vertical integrators — CVS & Aetna, Optum & DaVita, Cigna & Express Scripts
• Employer activists — February 2016, 20 US companies form Health Transformation Alliance (HTA) and developed tools to help its members cut employee healthcare costs. In January, Amazon, JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway partnered to lower costs and improve employee satisfaction
• Technology invaders — Amazon selling over-the-counter medical products, offering discounted access to Prime service, Apple’s newest operating system allows users to access parts of their EHRs on their phones
• Health retailers — CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Albertsons and others using their network of store locations, consumer insights, national and global supply chains, and national (and sometimes global) branding to attract consumers looking for affordable, convenient care and goods

The HRI report recommends that all healthcare companies should make the following moves:

• Invest in customer experience
• Plan for a broader workforce
• Focus on price

This is how Don McCanne commented on this report. He wrote that Arnold Relman, like Dwight Eisenhower did about the military-industrial complex, warned us about the medical-industrial complex, but did not realize how intense the disruption would be in health care that the HRI report discusses.

According to Don, we are about to see a takeover by the disruptors who “have a leg up on many established health players in understanding consumers and tailoring experiences for them.”
The disruptors are “positioned to address price through greater scale, ownership of middlemen and a wider grip on the US health system value chain.”

If you don’t believe Don, then read what Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan said, “To attack these issues, we will be using top management, big data, virtual technology, better customer engagement and the improved creation of customer choice (high deductibles have barely worked). This effort is just beginning.”

This is exactly what the Waitzkin et al. book describes when explaining the methods used by the medical-industrial complex to control and direct the American health care system for power and profit of the members of the complex.

Dr. McCanne observes that it is almost as if the physicians, nurses and other health care professionals and the hospitals and clinics in which they provide their services have become a peripheral, albeit necessary, appendage to their wellness-industrial complex that is displacing our traditional health care delivery system and its more recent iteration of the medical-industrial complex.

In other words, the physicians and nurses and other professionals have become proletarianized, and the hospitals and clinics merely the places where the medical-industrial complex derives its power and profit from.

Dr. McCanne posits the following questions as to what the health care system would look like once the transformation is well along:

• Once the silos of the health care system are flattened, how will health care be financed?
• Will there still be networks?
• Cost sharing barriers such as high deductibles?
• Will it be possible to fund this expansive model of the wellness-industrial complex through anything remotely resembling an insurance product, especially when the insurers are being amalgamated into what was formerly the health care delivery system?
• And now that the plutocracy is in control, how could we ever remove the passive investors that extract humongous rents through the wellness-industrial complex?
• And what about the patients? Did we forget about them?

It is obvious from his comments that this new health economy is going to be more problematic for providing universal health care to all Americans and will only make things worse. His Rx is to begin now to move to a single payer, Medicare for All program, and not worry about what has passed.

Smart diagnosis and prescription.

ACA Gains Reversing

The Commonwealth Fund reported today that the marked gains in health insurance coverage made since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 are beginning to reverse.

This is according to new findings from the latest Commonwealth Fund ACA Tracking Survey.

According to the survey, the coverage declines are likely the result of two major factors:

1) lack of federal legislative actions to improve specific weaknesses in the ACA and

2) actions by the current administration that have exacerbated those weaknesses. These include the administration’s deep cuts in advertising and outreach during the marketplace open-enrollment periods, a shorter open enrollment period, and other actions that collectively may have left people with a general sense of confusion about the status of the law.

Here are the key findings:

*  About 4 million working-age people have lost insurance coverage since 2016
*  The uninsured rates among lower-income adults rose from 20.9 percent in 2016 to 25.7 percent in March 2018
*  The uninsured rate among working-age adults increased to 15.5 percent
*  The uninsured rate among adults in states that did not expand Medicaid rose to 21.9 percent
*  The uninsured rate increased among adults age 35 and older
*  The uninsured rate among adults who identify as Republicans is higher compared to 2016
*  The uninsured rate remains highest in southern states
*  Five percent of insured adults plan to drop insurance because of the individual mandate repeal
What are the policy implications of this reversal?
The absence of bipartisan support for federal action has seen legislative activity shifted to the states.
Broadly, the leaving of policy innovation to states will lead to a patchwork quilt of coverage and access to health care across the country. It will fuel inequity in overall health, productivity, and well-being.
Folks, as I wrote about in What’s Really Wrong With Health Care? and Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform, until we see a change in the consciousness of both the American people, their representatives in Congress, and in Corporate America, especially within the financial industry to radically alter the direction health care is heading, the situation will only get worse.
We need to get the money and the greed and the corporations out of health care altogether. We need a single payer system that does not proletarianize physicians, does not turn health care into a commodity, does not financialize it, commercialize it, and compromise it for the benefit of a few, and to the detriment to the many.
As this is May Day, the international workers’ day, wouldn’t it be nice if we could start moving in that direction, as so many other nations have already done?

Obamacare: The Last Stage of Neoliberal Health Reform

In my recent review of the Introduction to Health Care under the Knife, the term “neoliberalism” was discussed as one of the themes the authors explored in diagnosing the root causes of the failure of the American health care system.

For review, the term neoliberalism refers to a modern politico-economic theory favoring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services, etc. (Source: Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014)

As defined in Wikipedia, and as I wrote in my review, neoliberalism refers primarily to the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Those ideas include economic liberalization policies such as privatization, austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society. These market-based ideas and the policies they inspired constitute a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus which lasted from 1945 to 1980.

This recrudescence or resurgence gained momentum with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, and with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm election, which made Newt Gingrich Speaker of the House, and implemented the Contract with America. (I’ve called it the Contract on America, for obvious reasons)

Yet, the full impact of neoliberalism was not felt until the rise of the TEA Party in the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and that led to the Freedom Caucus in the House that has tried unsuccessfully multiple times to repeal and replace Obamacare with basically nothing.

Economist Said E. Dawlabani, in his book, MEMEnomics, describes the period from 1932 to 1980, which includes the post-war Keynesian consensus, as the second MEMEnomic cycle, or “Patriotic Prosperity” MEME. The current period, from 1980 to the present, represents the third MEMEnomic cycle, or the “Only Money Matters” MEME.

It is in this period that the American health care system underwent a radical transformation from what some used to call a “calling profession” to a full-fledged capitalist enterprise no different from any other industry. This recrudescence of 19th century economic policies did not spring forth in 1980 fully formed, but rather had existed sub-rosa in the consciousness of many American conservatives.

In the early 1970’s, Richard Nixon’s administration came up with the concept of the Managed Care Organizations, or MCOs, as the first real attempt to apply neoliberalism to health care. As we shall see, this would not be the first time that neoliberal ideas would be implemented into health care reform.

In Chapter Seven, of their book, Health Care under the Knife, authors Howard Waitzkin and Ida Hellander, discuss the origins of Obamacare and the beginnings of neoliberal health care reform. They point to the year 1994 as a significant one for reform worldwide, as Colombia enacted a national program of “managed competition” that was mandated and partially funded by the World Bank. This reform replaced their prior health system and was based mostly on public hospitals and clinics.

1994 was also the year when then First Lady, Hillary Clinton spearheaded a proposal like the one Colombia enacted that was designed by the insurance industry. I am sure you all remember the Harry and Sally commercials that ran on television that sank her proposal before it ever saw the light of day?

What ultimately became Obamacare was the plan implemented in 2006 in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, but that was later disavowed when he ran for President in 2012. Waitzkin and Hellander write that even though these programs were framed to improve access for the poor and underserved, these initiatives facilitated the efforts of for-profit insurance companies providing “managed care.”

Insurance companies, they also said, profited by denying or delaying necessary care through strategies such as utilization review and preauthorization requirements; cost-sharing such as co-payments, deductibles, co-insurance, and pharmacy tiers; limiting access to only certain physicians; and frequent redesign of benefits.

These proposals, the authors state, fostered neoliberalism. They promoted competing for-profit private insurance corporations, programs and institutions based in the public sector were cut back, and possibly privatized. Government budgets for public-sector health care were cut, private corporations gained access to public trust funds, and public hospitals and clinics entered competition with private institutions, with budgets determined by demand rather than supply. Finally, prior global budgets for safety-net institutions were not guaranteed, and insurance executives made operational decisions about services, superseding the authority of physicians and other clinicians.

The roots of neoliberal health reform emerged from the Cold War military policy, and the authors cite economist Alain Enthoven providing much of the intellectual framework for those efforts. Enthoven was the Assistant Secretary of Defense under Robert S. McNamara during both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. While he was at the Pentagon, between 1961 and 1969, he led a group of analysts who developed the “planning-programming-budgeting-system” (PPBS) and cost-benefit analysis, that intended to promote more cost-effective spending decisions for military expenditures. Enthoven became the principal architect, the authors indicate, of “managed competition”, which became the prevailing model for the Clinton, Romney, and Obama health care reforms, as well as the neoliberal reforms around the world.

The following table highlights the complementary themes in the military PPBS and managed competition in health care.

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Sources: See note 11, page 273.

Enthoven continued to campaign for his idea throughout the 1970s and 1980s and collaborated with managed care and insurance executives to refine the proposal after being rejected by the Carter administration. The group that met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which included Enthoven and Paul Ellwood, was funded by the five largest insurance corporations, as well as the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, and wife Hillary’s Health Security Act.

The authors state that Barack Obama, while a state legislator in Illinois, favored a single payer approach, but changed his position as a presidential candidate. In 2008, he received the largest financial contributions in history from the insurance industry, that was three times more the contributions of his rival, John McCain.

The neoliberal health agenda, the authors write, including Obamacare, emerged as one component of a worldwide agenda developed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international financial institutions. The agenda to promote market-driven health care, facilitated access to public-sector health and social security trust funds by multinational corporations, according to Waitzkin and Hellander. The various attempts in the US by the Republican Party to privatize Social Security is an example of this agenda.

An underlying ideology claimed that corporate executives could achieve superior quality and efficiency by “managing” medical services in the marketplace, but without any evidence to support it, the authors contend. Health reform proposals from different countries have resembled one another closely and conform to a cookie-cutter template. Table 2 describes the six features of nearly all neoliberal reform initiatives.

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† Sources: patients, employers, public sector trust (“solidarity”) funds (the latter being “contributory” for employed workers, and “subsidized” for low income and unemployed).
‡ Sources: patients, public sector trust funds – Medicaid, Medicare.

The six features of neoliberal health reform are as follows:

  1. Organizations of providers – large, privately controlled organizations of health care providers, operate under direct control or strong influence of private insurance corporations, in collaboration with hospitals and health systems, may employ health care providers directly, or may contract with providers in a preferred network. In Obamacare, they are called Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), supported only in Medicare, but Obamacare accelerated organizational consolidation in anticipation of broader implementation.

In this model, for-profit managed care organizations (MCOs) offer health plans competitively. In reality, competition is restrained by the small number of organizations large enough to meet the new laws’ financial and infrastructure requirements, as well as by the consolidation in the private insurance industry. They contract with or employ large numbers of health practitioners. Instead, physicians and hospitals are absorbed into MCOs.

  1. Organizations of purchasers – large organizations purchasing or facilitating the purchase of private health insurance, usually through MCOs. Under Obamacare, the federal and state health insurance “exchanges”—later renamed “marketplaces” to reflect reality of private, government-subsidized corporations—fulfill a similar role.
  2. Constriction of public hospitals and safety net providers – public hospitals at the state, county, or municipal levels compete for patients covered under public programs like Medicaid or Medicare with private, for-profit hospitals participating as subsidiaries or contractors of insurance companies or MCOs. With less public-sector funding, public hospitals reduce services and programs, and many eventually close. Under Obamacare, multiple public hospitals have closed or have remained on the brink of closure. Note: This is a subject I have written about in prior posts about Medicaid expansion.
  3. Tiered benefits packages – defined in hierarchical terms, minimum package of benefits viewed as essential, individuals and employers can buy additional coverage, poor and near poor in Medicaid eligible for benefits that used to be free of cost-sharing, but since Obamacare passed, states have imposed premiums and co-payments. Under Obamacare, various metal names—bronze, silver, gold, platinum, identify tiers of coverage, where bronze represents the lowest tier and platinum the highest.
  4. Complex multi-payer and multi-payment financing – financial flows under neoliberal health policies are complex (see Chart 7.1). There are four sources of these various financial flows.
    1. Outflow of payments – each insured person considered a “head” for whom a “capitation” must be paid to an insurance company or MCO.
    2. Inflow of funds – funds for capitation payments come from several sources. Premiums paid by workers and their families, contributions from employers is a second source. Public-sector trust funds are a third source, co-payments and deductibles constitute a fourth source, and taxes are a fifth source.
  5. Changes in the tax code – neoliberal reforms usually lead to higher taxes because they increase administrative costs and profits, Obamacare reduces tax deductions and imposes a tax for so-called Cadillac insurance plans. In addition, it calls for penalties for those who do not purchase mandatory coverage, administered by the IRS. I was unable to get on the ACA because I had not filed a return in several years due to long-term unemployment because of the financial collapse of 2007/2008, and the subsequent jobless recovery.

Chart 7.1 Financial Flows under Neoliberal Health Reform

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*Purchase of insurance policies for employers and patients mediated by large organizations of health care purchasers.

What is the outlook for single payer in the US, the authors ask?

They cite national polls that show that about two-thirds of people in the US favor single payer. See Joe Paduda’s post here.

If the US were to adopt single payer, the PNHP proposal would provide coverage for all needed services universally, including medications and long-term care, no out-of-pocket premiums, co-payments, or deductibles; costs would be controlled by “monopsony” financing from a single, public source, would not permit competing private insurance and would eliminate multiple tiers of care for different income groups; practitioners and clinics would be paid predetermined fees for services without and need for costly billing procedures; hospitals would negotiate an annual global budget for all operating costs, for-profit, investor-owned facilities would be prohibited from participating; most nonprofit hospitals would remain privately owned, capital purchases and expansion would be budgeted separately, based on regional health-planning goals.

Funding sources would include, they add, would include current federal spending for Medicare and Medicaid, a payroll tax on private businesses less than what businesses currently pay for coverage, an income tax on households, with a surtax on high incomes and capital gains, a small tax of stock transactions, while state and local taxes for health care would be eliminated.

From the viewpoint of corporations, the insurance and financial sectors would lose a major source of capital accumulation, other large and small businesses would experience a stabilization or reduction in health care costs. Years ago, when I first considered single payer, I realized that if employers no longer had to pay for health care for their employees, they could use those funds to employ more workers and thus limit the impact of recessions and jobless recoveries.

So how do we move to single payer and beyond?

According to the authors, and to this reporter, the coming failure of Obamacare will become a moment of transition in the US, where neoliberalism has come home to roost. This transition is not just limited to health care. The theory of Spiral Dynamics, of which I have written about in the past, predicts that at the final stage of the first tier, or Existence tier, the US currently occupies, there will be a leap to the next stage or tier, that being the Being tier, where all the previous value systems have been transcended and included into the value systems of the Being tier.

We will need to address, the authors contend, with the shifting social class position of health professionals and to the increasingly oligopolistic and financialized character of the health insurance industry. The transition beyond Obamacare, they point out, will need to address also the consolidation of large health systems. Obamacare has increased the flow of capitated public and private funds into the insurance industry and extended the overall financialization of the global economy.

The authors conclude the chapter by declaring that as neoliberalism draws to a close, and as Obamacare fails, a much more fundamental transformation needs to reshape not just health care, but also the capitalist state and society.

To sum it all up, all the attempts cure the ills of health care by treating the symptoms and not the cause of the disease will not only fail, but is only making the disease worse, and the patient getting sicker. We need radical intervention before the patient succumbs to the greed and avarice of Wall Street, big business, and those whose stake in the status quo is to blame for the condition the patient is in in the first place.

Therefore, Obamacare is the last stage of neoliberal health care reform.