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October 18, 2010

The Health Racket Bailout is an “Austerity” Bill

 

Obama’s core promise in pushing for his Stamp Act, AKA the health racket bailout, was his constant mantra, “if you like the coverage you have, you’ll get to keep it.” This was intended to neutralize the majority who have employer-based coverage. Most of them don’t really “like” it, but they consider it adequate and feel more fear over change than hope that a good policy will bring something better. Obama was pushing what they rightly considered a dubious health bill, but he assured them that at worst they’d be able to keep what they have now. They were right to fear.
 
Obama’s promise has already been unmasked as a Big Lie. Already the rackets and employers are moving on parallel tracks toward the bill’s real intended goal of driving people out of employer-based insurance and into the far more expensive, far less protected individual “market”, where we’ll face the rackets alone to buy our mandated individual Stamps. The goal here is to help employers get out of any responsibility for providing health insurance even as the government still refuses to exercise its own responsibility* to do so. The real goal is to revoke organized health care itself for a large portion of the population.
 
[*Basic, decent health care is a necessary element of a civilized society. If all the people don’t have access to it within the capacity the society allows, and for such a rich country as America that capacity is vast, then how can people be said to have civilization at all? And what would be the purpose of anything one wanted to call “society” if it couldn’t meet this basic, modest standard? (We know what’s the alternative – “civilization” as simply the front for a way of organizing resource extraction and labor indenture for the benefit of a handful of gangsters. That’s the essence of neoliberalism. That’s, for example, Obama’s ideology. This Stamp Act is an example of Obama’s neoliberal corporatist ideology in action.)
 
But health care, like any other basic civilizational requirement, cannot be delivered on a profit basis. The very concept contradicts itself. A “market” by definition has to be voluntary. But we need health care. Nature is the indelible coercive party to the transaction here. So on its face there can never be a legitimate market for health insurance. Since nature coerces us into the transaction, by definition a legitimate government has the duty of managing this transaction for the maximum benefit of the people. For government to instead inject “profit” into the mix is to abrogate its civilizational role and instead side with nature against the people. This can only be the criminal construct of a rogue government. By setting up this illegitimate health insurance market in the first place, and now further entrenching it with this bill, government has placed itself in the state of nature.
 
The people are always sovereign. This sovereignty can never be alienated, but it can be temporarily left stranded in an interregnum between when government abdicates and goes rogue and when the people choose to pick up and redeem this vacated sovereignty. We’re in such an interregnum now. The health “insurance” system in general, and the health racket bailout in particular, are stark examples of that.]
 
What does today’s politics call it when the elites seek to further cut their own costs and rob the people by further cutting the amount of the people’s wealth which is spent on the people’s well-being? They call it “austerity”. (The Orwellian quotation marks signify how true austerity would mean we purge ourselves of the parasites who afflict us; that we austeritize them. But when the parasites themselves invoke the term to describe their own robbery, to represent the victims as the subjects who make a necessary sacrifice rather than the objects of crime as they really are, the term is just another example of depravity. BTW, the meme of debtor-bashing in the Foreclosuregate Land Scandal should be put in that perspective as well.)
 
This was evident from the start in the way Obama and his hacks chose to focus on cost-cutting as such, “bending the cost curve”. The proper focus is never cost cutting in itself, but rendering health care (or anything else) more affordable for Americans. Where it’s clear that most of the costs and inefficiencies of a system are the result of bloated parasites, the only proper start toward affordability is to purge the parasites. Completely purge their rent extractions. Only after that, once the parasite costs have all been expunged, would it ever be appropriate to look into cutting costs as such, if the system were still too expensive. But we’re obviously a long way from there. So long as the health insurance rackets exist at all, we’re a long way from there.
 
So when Obama announced at the outset, even during the campaign, “I recognize the health insurance industry as a legitimate stakeholder, and we have to focus on cost-cutting in general”, the game should have been up right there. He was announcing that he had zero intention of making health care more efficient, less costly, more affordable. He was announcing that he wanted only to make it less costly and more profitable for the parasites. 
 
It soon became clear that he also wanted to solve the problem of employer costs, again not by austeritizing the insurance rackets, but by shifting the costs from the employers to the people. Let’s look at some math.
 
In recent years employer health insurance costs have been rising an average of 9% a year. Their industry groups think the racket bailout bill will add 2-3% a year to this. They claim that of this pre-existing 9% trend the employer generally absorbs 6% and passes on 3% to the employee. But as the Depression has been setting in they’ve passed more and more of the whole cost to the employee. They say this is because of their own economic hardship, which I don’t doubt is partially true. (But we can be sure it’s also because of the employee’s increasingly weak position. The game plan for forty years has been to weaken job security in order to squeeze more blood out of the turnip, and that’s not changing today.)
 
So employer-based insurance was already becoming more costly for the worker even before the bill. The employer was passing on more and more of the cost, while policies increasingly contain higher deductibles, higher co-pays, fewer covered services. Now the bill promises to make things even more costly. Since the bill imposes all manner of coverage requirements but imposes few nominal cost controls, insurers will evade the requirements simply by jacking up rates and further imposing deductibles and the other costs. (Nor are there any credible enforcement measures in the bill for the few controls it does purport to impose.)
 
Employers are encouraged to pass on or evade these costs. The administration’s been promsicuously handing out coverage and cost waivers. Employers are also increasingly resorting to previously exotic things like high-deductibility plans. The insurance rackets are pushing new plans with lower premiums but which severely restrict doctor choice (now how does “keep what you have” sound?). Meanwhile the bill actually imposes a penalty on employers who continue to provide good coverage. Few things more clearly demonstrate Obama’s anti-worker malevolence than his demonization of duly negotiated worker compensation in the form of decent health insurance coverage as “Cadillac plans” which need to be subject to an excise tax. Here again, all too many among the non-rich let themselves be swindled into fighting among themselves. But Obama’s rhetoric and actions make it clear that he regards ALL decent employer-based coverage as an affront to his pro-racket imperative. That’s why every aspect of this bill is meant to gut all employer-based coverage. “Keep what you have”? No, Obama and the Stamp rackets want to take what you have, every cent of it.
 
Meanwhile, in another piece of misdirection, the NYT has been leading the charge in representing costs on the provider side as the real problem. It seems that the problem is we peasants just demand too much health care. The NYT wants to pretend that most of the costs are because we’re all demanding Botox injections. So once again it’s the same old answer – we fat, spoiled indulgers must submit to austerity, we have to forego all these elective boutique medical services. That will “bend the cost curve”. The insurance rackets aren’t the problem at all.
 
Of course the truth is the exact opposite. We the people need and demand basic, decent health care. We need checkups and medicine and necessary care for ourselves and our children when we’re sick or injured. That’s all we demand of our society, and that’s what we demand. But I’m sure that in the eyes of the editors of the NYT, just as much as in Obama’s eyes, medicine for a sick child, if it’s not a rich man’s child, is just as frivolous and elective as a Botox injection. Indeed more frivolous and elective, since the wingnut who wants that injection is probably rich. To anyone in the system, any luxury the rich want, no matter how extreme, absurd, and obscene, is by definition a necessity, while anything the non-rich need, no matter how critical, is by definition an absurd luxury. That’s why all social wealth, 100% of which is produced by the working people, has to be stolen by the rich parasite elites – to achieve the proper balance of necessary and luxury spending according to them. That is, to turn truth, morality, and justice completely upside-down.
 
That’s the essence of neoliberal ideology and practice, and of the “austerity” regime. This health racket bailout is a classical example of it.
 
So the goal is to render employer-based insurance more costly and less adequate. In other words, they want to force you to stop purchasing employer-based insurance. That’s in order to absolve the employer of possibly having to pay any part of your Stamp cost at all. (Needless to say, none of what the employer saves here will be passed on to the worker in the form of higher wages. That employer-based insurance substitutes for higher wages was briefly true during WWII when it was a way to get around wage freezes. Since then it’s never been anything but a typical trickle-down lie.) The goal is to force us all into the individual “insurance markets”, where the hack CBO itself admits costs will keep going up.
 
So employers get to cut costs, government gets to shift its own costs onto the non-rich individual, and the rackets get to continue to increase their rent extractions. The individual worker will have to pay for it all by being mandated to buy an individual Stamp. This “insurance policy” will be ever more expensive and worthless, since it will be too expensive to actually use it given the rates we already paid and the deductibles and other extra costs piled onto it. No enforcement will restrain any of this, even the few parts the bill supposedly restricts.
 
This is a particularly vicious manifestation of “austerity”. Let’s sum up:
 
1. This government will still refuse its responsibility and instead prop up an artificial parasite racket.
 
2. The rackets will continue to maximize rent extractions. The bill will help them do this.
 
3. It’ll let employers off the hook for having any responsibilities toward the health of their employees. Indeed it penalizes those who might want to do the right thing by their workers. That’s a smoking gun. The plan is to destroy employer-provided “insurance” without substituting a government-based provision. The end goal here as everywhere is to force the atomized individual to stand naked, alone, and unarmed before the massive thug power of the corporation.
 
4. In that way Obamacare cuts costs for everyone within the system and enables greater top-down looting, but doesn’t cut costs in general. Instead it puts them all on the people. The same people it’s simultaneously subjecting to plunder.
 
There’s the template as always, the template to which Obama always adheres, the neoliberal “austerity” template. “Cut costs” doesn’t mean truly cutting costs. It just means shifting all costs of maintaining the parasite corporations and rich onto the non-rich individual. A true public-interest advocate would demand that we cut costs for the people by purging all rents.
 
Here’s the formula for true austerity:
 
*Total austerity for the big banks, for the big corporations, for the rich. Total demolition of all corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. Total purge of all parasites.
 
*Not one cent more from the people.
 
So applying that to paying for health care:
 
*Total austerity for the health insurance and drug rackets.
 
*Single payer.
 
Only then would we see what kind of cost-cutting might be worthwhile on the provider side.
 
One formula for the age: It’s austerity vs. “austerity”. As this vicious bill exemplifies, it’s a struggle to the death.
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11 Comments

  1. “Therefore, a wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always, and in every possible condition of things, have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him.”

    — Machiavelli, “The Prince”

    It seems like we’re moving in the direction of replacing “government” with “corporation.”

    I really wish I could argue against the thesis that we’re moving toward a new 21st century serfdom, but my idealism has been so completely shattered in the past four years that I can’t help but sigh at the realization that you’re probably right.

    How did we let things get so bad?

    Comment by ENC — October 19, 2010 @ 11:59 pm

    • Hi ENC,

      People let themselves be beguiled into relinquishing citizenship and embracing “consumerism”, and into using debt to prop up those consumer lifestyles even as their wages and job security were eroded.

      Meanwhile that erosion, and the debt consumerist propaganda, were elements of a systematic corporatist campaign to achieve political tyranny (the liquidation of democracy) and economic domination, including the ultimate liquidation of the middle class.

      This was embellished with neoliberal ideology.

      This was a campaign of forty years, and we’re seeing its full consequences now being drawn.

      But it’s not too late. They haven’t won, and the odds are against their success on their own terms.

      But that doesn’t mean the odds of success are in our favor, unless we actively resist and fight back.

      Where it comes to the Stamp mandate, the basic action is clear – refuse to buy the Stamp.

      Successfully doing this, however, will require a broader disengagement from the corporate economy (since otherwise the IRS will be able to carry out its privatized goon function).

      It just so happens that all the economic trend lines for the non-rich already point toward greater reliance on the informal economy. Relocalized production, growing our own food, barter, these are all the things the Depression will be forcing us to do anyway.

      Whether we turn them into an affirmative way of life and the basis of a healthy, vigorous, joyful democratic renewal is our choice.

      Making a virtue of necessity.

      When we look at Stamp resistance in that broader context, how it would synergize, how it could take support from existing trends and in turn reinforce them, it doesn’t look so hopeless.

      On the other hand, there’s the dismal fact that we’ll increasingly lack access to system health care. But that’s the trend anyway. The whole debacle of this bill proves it. The system, the rackets, both kleptocratic parties, intend to enclose health care so that only the rich have access to it, while the rest of us only pay for it. That state of affairs won’t change so long as this system exists.

      So burning our ships at the shoreline of the informal economy would really be only a symbolic act, since the criminals already stole the sails.

      That means we need to seek every kind of alternative. For example, I volunteer at a medicinal garden, and I’m learning about herbal medicine. (I’m still a novice, but it’s fascinating and fun.)

      That’s just one example of alternatives to the system. But the first thing we need to do is defend our freedom to act against the system depredations.

      For example, none of this is likely to work if we let them destroy our freedom to grow our own food and distribute it among ourselves. That’s the really big fight shaping up, far more important even than the health bill, yet few who aren’t dedicated food activists even seem aware of it.

      So I’ll have to write more about it here, to do what I can.

      Comment by Russ — October 20, 2010 @ 2:57 am

      • I appreciate your prolific writings. Quite often, you manage to articulate a point that I seem to be nebulously aware of, but can’t quite substantiate. Keep up the good work!

        At the end of the day, do you think that we can affect real change without some kind of violence?

        I’ll leave you with some damn good words from Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:”

        “… And here were these freemen assembled in the early morning to work on their lord the bishop’s road three days each–gratis; every
        head of a family, and every son of a family, three days each, gratis, and a day or so added for their servants. Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood–one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of
        that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and
        shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.
        There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other
        in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had
        lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand
        persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are
        all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror,
        so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe,
        compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty,
        and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror — that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

        Comment by ENC — October 20, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

      • Thanks for that quote. That’s excellent, and I think I’ll be using it against the cowards who tremble uncontrollably at the very thought of the risks and possible tribulations of real change, and who therefore are implicitly willing to accept the cold-blooded repression, terror, and violence of the status quo.

        But it’s a fact that this status quo terror is far worse than any revolutionary terror has ever been.

        And I’ll add the fact that “reigns of terror” are mostly provoked by and in reaction to the violent attempts of the dispossessed elites to seize back the power they’ve lost.

        Whatever e.g. Robespierre’s inclinations, he could never have instituted a reign of terror on his own. It was the people who saw how the violence of the monarchists (several monarchies mustering armies and invading France; Burke’s call to treat all French civilians as combatants was the typical attitude) necessitated a vigorous and indeed ruthless response in self-defense.

        Similarly, the “growth” elites must lose the power and wealth they’ve stolen, since it was all enabled by cheap oil. They’ll try to resteal it on the basis of restored feudalism. It’s the people’s choice, whether we pick up the power which is up for grabs, or let them steal it again.

        However it turns out, the level of violence will be 100% dictated by the actions of the criminals.

        But we can be sure that if the people don’t assert themselves, the violence which will be inflicted upon us in the course of our enslavement will be worse than any transformational tribulation could ever be.

        Comment by Russ — October 21, 2010 @ 4:51 am

  2. We let Cheney and his band off the hook, temporarily forsaking the rule of law. Congress must reinstate it, else We the People must abolish it, utterly and totally, without a trace.

    Comment by tawal — October 20, 2010 @ 1:12 am

  3. We let Cheney and his band tempoarily suspend the rule of law. Congress must restore it, else We the People will abolish it permanently, without a trace.

    Comment by tawal — October 20, 2010 @ 1:19 am

  4. Sorry for the duplicate.

    Comment by tawal — October 20, 2010 @ 1:20 am

    • Polishing?

      I don’t think Congress is going to restore anything. I expect never to see any significant public interest action from this federal government again.

      So that leaves only abolition.

      Comment by Russ — October 20, 2010 @ 2:35 am

      • Cross between a cell-phone with a shitty application, and a technological misfit. Emphasis on the latter.

        Let there be light: Burn, baby, burn!

        Comment by tawal — October 20, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

  5. […] Obamacare is meant to be a bailout for the health insurance rackets and an austerity bill wrapped up in one. Its design is fundamentally simple: Redistribute wealth from the people to the […]

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  6. […] the government instituted a bailout of the sector, in the form of Obamacare. (It’s also an austerity policy and a union-busting measure.) This is Obama’s core policy. The funds for this bailout are to […]

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