FYI to all Progressives and Medicare for All supporters:
The coalition that fought Obamacare repeal has fragmented as the party tries to follow through on campaign promises.
FYI to all Progressives and Medicare for All supporters:
The coalition that fought Obamacare repeal has fragmented as the party tries to follow through on campaign promises.
by Howard Waitzkin and the Working Group on Health Beyond Capitalism
Monthly Review Press
Hard cover: $45.00
Americans commemorated the assassination of Martin Luther King fifty years ago on Wednesday. Two years earlier, Dr. King, in March 1966, said the following during a press conference in Chicago at the second convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR):
“…Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”
The part of the quote up to the word ‘inhuman’ begins the Introduction of a new book I just began reading called, Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health by Howard Waitzkin and the Working Group on Health Beyond Capitalism, published by Monthly Review Press, the publishing arm of the Monthly Review, an Independent Socialist magazine.
Those of you who know me, and those of you who have read many of my previous posts, know that my educational background is in the Social Sciences, as my B.A, is in Political Science and History, with Sociology and African-American Studies thrown in, along with some Humanities coursework. My M.A. is in History, with emphasis on American Social History, especially post-Civil War until the mid to late 20th century. In addition, I also have a Master’s degree in Health Administration (MHA).
But what you may not know is that my leanings have been to the far left, and I am still proudly and defiantly so, even if I have tempered my views with age and new insights. I think that is called wisdom.
So, as I set out to read this book, much of the material presented in it will not be new to me, but will be perhaps new to many of you, especially those of you who got their education in business schools, and were fed bourgeois nonsense about marketing, branding, and other capitalist terms that are more apropos for selling automobiles and appliances and such, but not for health care, as this book will prove.
In this book, there will be terms that many of you will either find annoying, depending on your own personal political leanings, or that you are unfamiliar with. Words such as alienation of labor, commodification, imperialism, neoliberalism, and proletarianization may make some of you see red. So be it. Change will not occur until many of you are shaken out of your lethargy and develop your class consciousness.
“Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society.” Karl Marx
While the publisher of the book is an independent socialist foundation, it is no means a Marxist or Communist organization. And from my perusal of the names of the contributors to the chapters of the book, I have found that they are all health care professionals or academics, as well as activists.
Two of the contributors of one chapter, David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, are familiar to many in the health care industry, as they have co-authored many peer reviewed articles in health care journals that I have cited in my previous blog posts.
Be warned. This book may piss you off. Too bad. The future of health care is at stake, as is the health of every man, woman, and child in the U.S. and around the world.
This will probably be true no matter what part of the health care industry you work in. Physicians, insurance company personnel, pharmaceutical company executives, Wall Street investors and money managers, service providers, vendors, consultants and many others will discover inconvenient truths about the businesses that provide their livelihood. As stakeholders in the status quo, you will be resistant to the prescriptions the writers offer for correcting the mistakes of the past, and the recommendations they suggest for the future of health care.
This book will not only be relevant to the health care industry, but also to the workers’ compensation and medical travel industries, as each is a subset of health care.
And if you do get upset or angry at me for what I have to say about health care, then you are part of the problem as to why health care in the U.S. is broken. Those of you around the world will also learn that your own countries are moving in a direction that sooner or later will result in your health care system mirroring our own, as the authors will point out.
This is a book that will shake you to your core. So, sit back, relax, and keep an open mind. It’s about to be blown.
The book is divided into five parts, with each part containing at most five chapters, as in Part Five, or two chapters, as in Part Two. Parts Three and Four, each contain four chapters. Part One deals with Social Class and Medical Work, and focuses on doctors as workers, the deprofessionalization and emerging social class position of health professionals, the degradation of medical labor and the meaning of quality in health care, and finally, the political economy of health reform.
Throughout the book, they ask questions relating to the topics covered in each chapter, and in Part One, the following questions are asked:
These questions are relevant since medicine has become more corporatized, privatized, and financialized. The author of the second chapter, Matt Anderson, analyzes the “sorry state of U.S. primary care” and critically examines such recently misleading innovations such as the “patient-centered medical home”, “pay for performance”, the electronic medical record, quantified metrics to measure quality including patient satisfaction (“we strive for five”), and conflicts of interest as professional associations and medical schools receive increasing financial support from for-profit corporations.
Part One is concludes with Himmelstein and Woolhandler responding to a series of questions put to them by Howard Waitzkin about the changing nature of medical work and how that relates to the struggle for a non-capitalist model of a national health program. Himmelstein and Woolhandler comment on the commodification of health care, the transformation that has occurred during the current stage of capitalism, the changing class position of health professionals, and the impact of computerization and electronic medical records.
Part Two focuses on the medical-industrial complex in the age of financialization. Previous posts of mine this year and last, reference the medical-industrial complex, so my readers will be familiar with its usage here. In this section, the authors tackle the following questions:
Two corollary questions are raised as follows:
Once again, Matt Anderson authors the first chapter in Part Two, this time with Robb Burlage, a political economist and activist. Anderson and Burlage analyze the growing similarities and overlaps between the for-profit and so-called not-for-profit sectors in health care, considering especially the conversion of previously not-for-profit corporations such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield to for-profit.
The second chapter in Part Two is authored by Joel Lexchin, an emergency care physician and health policy researcher in Canada and analyzes monopoly capital and the pharmaceutical industry from an international perspective.
Part Three looks at the relationships between neoliberalism, health care and health. Before I go any further, let me provide the reader with a definition of neoliberalism in case the authors assume that those who read this book understand what it is.
According to Wikipedia, Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism 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.
These neoliberal policies have been associated in the U.S. with the Republican Party and the Conservative movement since the election of Ronald Reagan. In the UK, the rise of Thatcherism ended the long dominance of the Labor Party’s left-wing until Tony Blair’s New Labor took over. Bill Clinton’s election in the U.S. in 1992, diminished some of these policies, and implemented others such as welfare reform, a goal Republicans had wanted to achieve for decades.
Returning to Part Three, the questions asked here are:
In the next chapter, Howard Waitzkin and Ida Hellander, a leading health policy researcher and activist, trace the history of the Affordable Care Act initially developed by economists in the military during the Vietnam War. International financial institutions, the authors say, especially the World Bank, promoted a boilerplate for neoliberal health care reforms, which focused mainly on privatization of services previously based in the public sector and on shifting trust funds to private for-profit insurance companies.
Colombia’s health reform of 1994, Hillary Clinton’s in that year as well, Mitt Romney’s plan in Massachusetts in 2006, which led to the ACA, are examples cited by the authors. The chapter also clarifies the ideological underpinnings of the neoliberal model and shows that the model has failed to improve access and control costs, according to the authors.
Economic austerity is closely linked to neoliberalism and have led to drastic cutbacks in health services and public health infrastructure in many countries. As I have recently written in my post, Three Strategies for Improving Social Determinants of Health, economic austerity policies have also affected health outcomes through increased unemployment, food insecurity, unreliable water supplies (Flint, MI), and reduced educational opportunities. Recent teacher protests in West Virginia, Oklahoma and other states are examples of this.
In the second chapter in Part Three, Adam Gaffney and Carles Muntaner, focus on social epidemiology, especially the impacts of economic policies on health and mental health outcomes. They also document the devastating effects of austerity in Europe, focusing on Greece, Spain and England. The authors analyze four dimensions of austerity:
1) constriction of the public-sector health system, 2) retreat from universalism, 3) increased cost sharing, and 4) health system privatization.
This trend would seem to have a negative effect on medical travel from Europe and to Europe, as Europe’s health care systems, long touted as a less expensive alternative to medical care in the U.S., begins to suffer.
Part Four examines the connections between health and imperialism historically and as part of the current crises. The question in this part is:
The authors are referring to those countries in the Southern hemisphere from Africa, Asia, and Latin America as the Global South. The Global North refers to Europe and North America, and some other industrialized and advanced countries in the Northern hemisphere.
The authors in Part Four focus on the forces and institutions that have imposed a top-down reform of health care in the Global South. Such organizations as the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Gates foundations, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, trade agreements such as NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP, TiSA, and health organizations as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are all termed “philanthrocapitalism” by the authors, and have implemented policies that have weakened public health standards and favored private corporations.
The final part, Part Five focuses on the road ahead, i.e., the contours of change the authors foresee and the concrete actions that can contribute to a progressive transformation of capitalist health care and society.
The authors address these questions:
Howard Waitzkin and Rebeca Jasso-Aguilar analyze a series of popular struggles that focused on the privatization of health services in El Salvador, water in Bolivia, as well as the ongoing struggle to expand public health services in Mexico. These struggles are activities David and Rebeca participated in during the past decade.
These scenarios demonstrate an image of diminishing tolerance among the world’s people for the imperial public health policies of the Global North and a demand for public health systems grounded in solidarity rather than profit.
In the U.S., the road ahead will involve intensified organizing to achieve the single-payer model of a national health program, one that will provide universal access and control costs by eliminating or reducing administrative waste, profiteering, and corporate control.
Gaffney, Himmelstein, and Woolhandler present the most recent revision of the single-payer proposal developed by Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). They analyze the three main ways that the interests of capital have encroached on U.S. health care since the original proposal:
1) the rise of for-profit managed care organizations (MCOs); 2) the emergence of high-deductible (“consumer-directed”) health insurance, and 3) the entrenchment of corporate ownership.
The authors offer a critique of Obamacare, explain and demystify innovations as Accountable Care Organizations, the consolidation and integration of health systems, something yours truly has discussed in earlier posts as they relate to workers’ comp, and the increasing share of costs for patients.
The next two chapters concern overcoming pathological normalcy and confronting the social and environmental determinants of health, respectively. Carl Ratner argues, that mental health under capitalism entails “pathological normalcy.” Day-to-day economic insecurities, violence, and lack of social solidarity generates a kind of false consciousness in which disoriented mental processes become a necessary facet of survival, and emotional health becomes a deviant and marginalized condition.
Such conditions of life as a polluted natural environment, a corrupt political system, an unequal hierarchy of social stratification, an unjust criminal justice system, violent living conditions due to access of guns, dangerous working conditions, and so forth, Ratner dissects as the well-known crises of our age in terms of the pathologies that have become seen as normal conditions of life.
Next, Muntaner and evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace show how social and environmental conditions have become more important determinants of health than access to care. They emphasize struggles that confront social determinants through changes in broad societal polices, analyze some key environmental determinants of health including unsafe water (Flint again), capitalist agribusiness practices, and deforestation in addition to climate change. And they refer to the impact these have on emergent and re-emergent infectious diseases such as Ebola, Zika and yellow fever.
Lastly, Waitzkin and Gaffney try to tackle the question of “what is to be done.” They outline four main priorities for action in the U.S. and other countries affected by the neoliberal, corporatized, and commodified model of health care during the age of Trump:
In their book, the authors try to answer key and previously unresolved questions and to offer some guidance on strategy and political action in the years ahead. They aim to inform future struggles for the transformation of capitalist societies, as well as the progressive reconstruction of health services and public health systems in the post-capitalist world.
Throughout this review, I have attempted to highlight the strengths of the book by touching upon some of the key points in each chapter.
If there is a weakness to the book, it is that despite the impressive credentials of the authors, they like many other authors of left-of-center books, cling to an economic determinism as part of their analysis, which is based on theories that are more than one hundred years old.
As I stated in the beginning of this review, my views have been tempered by examining and incorporating other theories into my consciousness. One theory that is missing here is Spiral Dynamics.
Spiral Dynamics is a bio-psycho-social model of human and social development. It was developed by bringing together the field of developmental psychology with evolutionary psychology and combines them with biology and sociology.
In Spiral Dynamics, biology is concerned with the development of the pathways of the brain as the adult human moves from lower order thinking to higher order thinking. The social aspect is concerned with the organizational structure formed at each stage along the spiral. For example, when an individual or a society is at the Beige vMeme, or Archaic level, their organization structure is survival bands, as seen in the figure below.
At the Purple vMeme, or Mythic level, the organizational structure is tribal, and so on. There is, among the authors of the book, an evolutionary biologist, but it is not clear if he is familiar with this theory and what it can bring into the discussion at hand.
It would not only benefit the authors, but also the readers to acquaint themselves of this valuable theory which would present an even more cogent argument for better health care. As the book concludes with a look at the future of health care after capitalism, knowing the vMemes or levels beyond current levels will enhance the struggle.
As I continue reading the book, I hope to gain greater insight into the problems with privatized, corporatized, free-market capitalist health care. My writings to date in my blog has given me some understanding of the issues, but I hope that the authors will further my understanding.
I believe that anyone who truly wants to see the U.S. follow other Western nations who have created a national health program, whether they are politicians like Bernie Sanders, his supporters, progressives, liberals, and yes, even some conservatives who in light of the numerous attempts to repeal and replace the ACA, have recognized that the only option left is single-payer. Even some business leaders have come out and said so.
I recommend this book to all health care professionals, business persons, labor leaders, politicians, and voters interested in moving beyond capital and realizing truly universal health care and lower costs.
Yesterday’s crushing defeat of the so-called “American Health Care Act” or AHCA, signals the end of the seven-year long attempt by the Republican Party to legislatively kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Yet, as was pointed out on one cable news network last night, it won’t stop the health insurance industry from getting the Republicans in Congress to kill parts of the law slowly by eliminating the taxes that go to pay for the coverage.
Call it “genocide by stealth”, since millions of Americans will die, as per the Congressional Budget Office (CBO’s) scoring of AHCA. If they can’t kill the law outright, the so-called “Freedom Caucus”, actually the Congressional version of the Tea Party, will kill it slowly.
Why do you think they keep saying it is a disaster and it is crumbling? It’s because they are dead set against anyone getting health care unless someone else can make a profit from selling a policy.
Then there is the other question, the one usually raised by liberals and progressives, especially those who supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders last year in the primaries, as to why we are the only Western country without universal coverage.
The answer is complex, but not complicated (“who knew health care was so complicated?). First, everything the government of the US has ever implemented for the benefit of people has had to pass muster with the Constitution. It either has to be covered by the Constitution directly, or implied through the taxing mechanism.
Second, the Founding Fathers never mentioned or promoted the right to health care, as the prevailing political and social philosophy of the day was concerned with freedom, liberty, and private property. It has been unclear what, if anything, was meant by the phrase, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, let alone, the phrase, “promote the general welfare.”
Why they never mentioned health care and why other nations have it, is due to the fact that the US was founded during the first half of the period historians call, “the Enlightenment”, when the right to private property, liberty, and freedom were the topics of discussion on both sides of the Atlantic. Basically, the difference between Classical Liberalism (Conservatism) and Modern Liberalism (Liberalism) is between negative rights (the right not to be killed) versus positive rights (the right to a job, education, housing, health care, etc.)
Canada gained its limited independence from Britain nearly a hundred years after we did, and therefore was influenced by the philosophy of the second half of the Enlightenment, which stressed involvement by government in the economy.
The only time the Founders cared about providing some kind of health care plan was directed towards a particular group of citizens in the late eighteenth century, as I wrote about in this post.
What is now called the Public Health Service began as a government-sponsored, health plan for merchant sailors on ships entering and leaving US ports and on inland waterways. It was never challenged in the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, nor was it ever attacked by members of the opposition party. In fact, it was supported by both Federalists and Anti-Federalist politicians of the day.
The third reason why we don’t have universal, single-payer is because the government allowed employers to provide coverage during WWII to attract women into the workplace when the men went overseas. The UK is often cited as an example for single-payer, but what most supporters of this type of plan do not realize is that because of the devastation the UK suffered at the hands of German bombs, their health care system needed to be re-built from scratch, so the government stepped in with the NHS. Even Churchill supported it.
Fourth, we have always provided health care to certain at risk groups like the poor (Medicaid), the elderly (Medicare), and to children (CHIP), as well as to former service persons and their families (Tricare), etc. Perhaps the way to begin to get universal coverage is to merge all of these programs into one, then expand it to cover everyone else.
But for the time being, a major disaster was averted, but we should not think this is the end of the debate, nor is there victory. The battle lines are drawn, and the enemy is not surrendering. This is not a time for congratulation, but for vigilance and resolve.
It’s time once again for a rant. This rant is courtesy of my fellow blogger, Joe Paduda, who wrote an article today that criticizes members of the workers’ comp industry for not publicizing the positive things they do, but complain about all the negative press they have been getting.
As Joe writes, “Yep, it’s your fault that the popular press smacks you around, citing a few examples of alleged insurer screw-ups as proof that you’re all a bunch of cold-hearted, nasty, lazy incompetents motivated only by profit.”
Joe was referring to reports from ProPublica, NPR, plaintiff lawyers, muckraking journalists and bloggers (including yours truly, as well as two women I have previously written about, and who are injured workers themselves), and calls for the industry to stop their bitching.
Most industry professionals may not realize that workers’ comp came into existence due to the writing of early twentieth century muckrakers as Upton Sinclair (The Jungle), Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and many others.
He takes them to task for not publishing a case of the month, sending out a press release honoring an employee for going above-and-beyond in helping out an injured worker.
Joe says it is their fault because the reasons they don’t promote their good works are short-sighted, ignorant, and indefensible; in short, you are deaf, dumb and blind to reality.
From the day Edward Lloyd opened his coffee house in London in the 17th century, the insurance industry, and specifically, the workers’ comp industry has been dominated by Lloyd’s fellow countrymen and co-religionists.
The same holds true here in the US, but American pluralism (of a kind) has allowed some minorities to make it in the industry, but it is still mostly a white male, majority religion club (certain exceptions such as Saul Steinberg and Maurice Greenberg notwithstanding).
I know people in my family and in our extended social circle who have worked for insurance companies, and the highest level they have attained has been below that of the top executives. My first job in workers’ comp was with a company whose executives were not members of that club, but my boss was, and that was a reason some of us claims people were mistreated by him. Sheer resentment that he was not a member of the tribe and thus the board of directors. Let’s not pretend it does not exist. Why do you think some companies are called, “white shoe” companies?
Here is my take on this:
“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
The Koch Brothers are just like the Hunts were back then, so be careful about opt-out expansion. It is a ploy to abolish the progressive reforms the muckrakers helped to create.
That’s all I have to say. It’s up to you to change course and make things better, but know this, we are not your enemies. We want to help, and I want to help you now. Don’t be deaf, dumb an blind to us.
I am willing to work with any broker, carrier, or employer interested in saving money on expensive surgeries, and to provide the best care for their injured workers or their client’s employees.
Ask me any questions you may have on how to save money on expensive surgeries under workers’ comp.
I am also looking for a partner who shares my vision of global health care for injured workers.
I am also willing to work with any health care provider, medical tourism facilitator or facility to help you take advantage of a market segment treating workers injured on the job. Workers’ compensation is going through dramatic changes, and may one day be folded into general health care. Injured workers needing surgery for compensable injuries will need to seek alternatives that provide quality medical care at lower cost to their employers. Caribbean and Latin America region preferred.
Call me for more information, next steps, or connection strategies at (561) 738-0458 or (561) 603-1685, cell. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will accept invitations to speak or attend conferences.
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The article, by Julie Ferguson, discusses a report published by the Monthly Labor Review, to commemorate their centennial.
The report chronicles the news of the day for 1915, and discusses the demographics of the day, as well as providing a portrait of daily life in the US of 1915.
Then the report describes some not so pleasant and mundane issues, such as workplace injuries whereby a woman lost her arm and continued to work because back then there was no workers’ comp laws, and as the follow excerpt says, she either could lose her job or assume the risk. Here is the excerpt:
Theodore Roosevelt, arguing in favor of workers’ compensation (then known as workmen’s compensation) laws in 1913, offered the story of an injured worker that summed up the legal recourse available for workplace injuries at the time. A woman’s arm was ripped off by the uncovered gears of a grinding machine. She had complained earlier to her employer that state law required the gears be covered. Her employer responded that she could either do her job or leave. Under the prevailing common-law rules of negligence, because she continued working she had assumed the risk of the dangerous condition and was not entitled to compensation for her injury.
Unfortunately, many Americans are convinced that the best days this country ever had was before Theodore Roosevelt became President. Grover Norquist, the author of the anti-tax pledge GOP Senators, Congressmen and other officials took some years back, said that he wanted to take the country back before Roosevelt, before the “Socialists” took over.
The Koch Brothers and men like Art Pope in NC believe in the right of businesses to do anything they want, and have been responsible for advocating such things as opt-out legislation and even attacks on the exclusive remedy clause of workers’ comp laws.
Yet, as I wrote the other day in “Trends and Issues In Workers’ Comp 2016“, the Koch Brothers drew up a bill defending exclusive remedy so that businesses would be spared the prospect of tort liability.
But I suspect that there are many others who do not share the Koch Brothers view of exclusive remedy, and do seek to overturn it so that we go back to the bad old days of 1915.
One other excerpt from the report discusses workplace safety, and what steps were taken back then to address them. Pay close attention to the name, Frances Perkins, not only was she the first woman cabinet member (FDR), she was also the first Secretary of Labor, as the excerpt states.
Although working in mines was notoriously dangerous, mill work could also be quite hazardous. BLS reported about 23,000 industrial deaths in 1913 among a workforce of 38 million, equivalent to a rate of 61 deaths per 100,000 workers. In contrast, the most recent data on overall occupational fatalities show a rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 workers. Regarding on-the-job safety, Green notes, “There was virtually no regulation, no insurance, and no company fear of a lawsuit when someone was injured or killed.” Frances Perkins, who went on to become the first Secretary of Labor (1933–45), lobbied for better working conditions and hours in 1910 as head of the New York Consumers League. After witnessing the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which caused the death of 146 mainly young, immigrant female garment workers in New York’s Greenwich Village, Perkins left her job to become the head of the Committee on Public Safety, where she became an even stronger advocate for workplace safety. From 1911 to 1913, the New York State legislature passed 60 new safety laws recommended by the committee. Workplaces have become safer, and technology has been used in place of workers for some especially dangerous tasks.
So lest you think that the Donald will make America great again, that Cruz can be trusted, that Marco is the real deal, or whatever the hell his slogan is, none of them care about the American worker, none of them care what happens to them and none of them will be able to stop their fellow Republicans from carrying out Norquist’s commandment to take the country back.
Unfortunately, it is not 1915 they want to go back to, but before 1901, the year that “Socialist” Roosevelt became president. They want to repeal the 20th century. That’s what’s at stake.