Sunday, August 30, 2009

Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer: The Health Care Debate --The Enemy Within

One of the most astute observers of the health care reform debate must be Doug Henwood, author, journalist and radio producer.

On his July 16, 2009 program radio program for WBAI-FM, New York, his guest, Len Rodberg of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), outlined the problems with current versions of ObamaCare. And Henwood followed up with a précis of the situation in his invaluable Left Business Observer (LBO) #120, August 2009.

It seems that the White House has effectively given up on an effective public option that would compete with private insurers. Instead we have an agreement between Obama and the insurance industry whereby they make certain changes to their restrictive practices in return for which they get to collect the premiums of dozens of millions of U.S. citizens and residents not currently insured. One can only guess at the rate at which the insurance companies will benefit over and above their current profits. For every dollar that they will expend under the new guidelines, can we not expect that they’ll take in an extra $10? $100? $1,000? or more? Thus we won't be surprised to find that the salaries of top executives of the ever more consolidated private insurance industry will be enlarged over and above their current payoffs –- in some cases $10 or $20 or $30 million or more annually-- into really healthy amounts.

There’s more. For example, current proposals are that the U.S. will subsidize some portion of the premiums under the mandatory rules that everyone must carry insurance. Who’s going to pay these billions? We’ve just answered the question. The U.S. taxpayer. But in order to squeeze the billions this will cost into an acceptable package for Congress, current proposals are that huge amounts will be – is “stolen” too harsh a word?-- from Medicare (and Medicaid?) disbursements. One number I’ve seen is half a trillion ($), so that seniors are correct to be scared –really scared --that their services will be reduced if not crippled.

In addition, according to Dr. Jerry Avorn of the Harvard Medical School (Author, "Powerful Medicines"), as reported on NPR’s All Things Considered (July 23, 2009; “Drug Firms Pour $40 million into Health Care Debate”

government negotiated drug prices is already off the table. While this immense concession has apparently not yet publicly been set in stone, such a consideration is not inconsistent with the way the Rahm Emanuel-Obama administration has tilted toward the previous administration’s policies on so many foreign and domestic issues.

One of the reasons I was so opposed to Hillary Clinton and supported Obama was because I was convinced that she and her husband intended to sabotage health care reform from the inception of their presidency in 1992. I suspected that they were opposed to reform because of some combination of their right wing ideology (the undeserving poor are truly undeserving) and their loyalty to some of their biggest financial supporters.

In 2008 I figured that our only hope for change was an Obama presidency. But the bad news is that for his own complex of reasons – perhaps slightly different from the Clintons but surely overlapping when it comes to seeking the favor of the movers and shakers -– we are faced with the prospect of legislation just as bad or worse than the Clintons managed to devise.

Ironically, I’m now wondering whether a 2009 Hillary Clinton victory might have produced a bill with elements of real reform simply because her former opposition (disguised as mistakes) was well known and for credibility’s sake she would have been forced into effective change. But such speculation runs into the reality of Hillary Clinton as a lightening rod and a divider.


Health Care and Consumer Spending

LBO # 120 follows up with a brilliant analysis of the astonishing degree to which consumer spending has been bolstered by health care costs. It turns out that consumer non- health spending has remained pretty steady over the years including the last two decades while close to 80% of the increase (is this possible?) has been due to health care spending. In other words, U.S. citizens (and residents) weren’t by and large on a buying binge: we were going into debt to pay for health care.

This turns out to be such a new finding that Henwood actually apologizes for not understanding this trend earlier.



Speaking of the LBO, Henwood’s #119 (July 2009) is worth the price for his insightful contrast between FDR and BHO. Henwood notes that Obama’s not the man to make a speech anything like FDR’s October 1936 announcement of a second New Deal. Henwood cites FDR’s famous lines:

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

And Henwood’s analysis continues with the suggestion that the difference between the two men is that FDR was a product of the aristocracy with all the self confidence of someone from that class, while Obama’s emergence from the meritocracy leaves him with little but admiration for the “establishment that groomed him.”


Go to for information regarding subscriptions to LBO (the print edition is $22; digital $20)



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