Artists tell their stories about what it’s like to live without health care

August 15th, 2014 by Sylvia Moore Leave a reply »

Being an artist often means pursuing one’s passion while sacrificing steady income, job security and health insurance. Below, the 30-minute documentary, Healthy Artists: The Movie, focuses on the making of a video series project, “Healthy Artists,” featuring the stories of more than 40 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, painters, poets and musicians. The project is the brainchild of Julie Sokolow, a filmmaker and single payer advocate.

h/t The New York Times

Commentary by Don McCanne, M.D.: What does California’s 4.2% premium increase mean?

August 14th, 2014 by Sylvia Moore Leave a reply »

Obamacare premiums to rise a modest 4.2% in 2015

By Stuart Pfeifer, Chad Terhune, Soumya Karlamangla
Los Angeles Times, July 31, 2014

Defying an industry trend of double-digit rate hikes, California officials said the more than 1.2 million consumers in the state-run Obamacare insurance exchange can expect modest price increases of 4.2% on average next year.

“We have changed the trend in healthcare costs,” said Peter Lee, Covered California’s executive director. “This is good news for Californians.”

State officials and insurers credited the strong turnout during the first six-month enrollment window that ended in April for helping to keep 2015 rates in check. But others cautioned it’s still too early to gauge the health law’s impact, suggesting several factors may be temporarily holding rates down in the individual market.

“We don’t really know what the real cost of Obamacare is yet because insurance companies are heavily subsidized for the first three years” of the law’s implementation, said Robert Laszewski, a healthcare consultant in Virginia who has closely tracked the overhaul. “The insurance companies essentially can’t lose money.”

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said the modest uptick in premiums was a positive sign, but he said insurers were likely motivated by a November ballot initiative, Proposition 45, that would give his office new authority to regulate health insurance rates.

“This is merely a pause in the double-digit rate increases we’ve seen historically,” Jones said.

Consumer Watchdog, the Santa Monica advocacy group pushing Proposition 45, said insurers held back this year to avoid that kind of voter backlash.

WellPoint Inc., Anthem Blue Cross’ parent company, Kaiser and other insurers have contributed more than $25 million to defeat the ballot measure.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

Before we discuss some of the possible reasons that the 2015 increase in premiums for California’s ACA exchange were held down to 4.2 percent, we should mention the bad news that is not being covered by the media. We are celebrating an artificially low increase that is still twice the rate of inflation – 2.1 percent (Consumer Price Index, June 2014 – Bureau of Labor Statistics), as workers continue to fall behind over the last three decades of increasing income inequality.

Although ACA enthusiasts are touting success in controlling health insurance premiums, there are many reasons why their celebration is premature, but two stand out.

Proposition 45, which will be on the November ballot, would provide authority to California’s insurance commissioner to regulate health insurance premiums. The last thing the insurers want to do is to anger voters with high rate increases just before this election. The insurers have already contributed over $25 million to defeat this measure.

The other important reason is that the insurers are still protected by reinsurance and insurance rate corridors. In fact, the Obama administration adjusted this coverage to be sure that the insurers were fully protected again next year should they not receive enough premium revenue to meet their expenses. They can’t lose! Of course they are going to come in with low bids when they are under the threat of voter revolt.

And what about the next year when they no longer have protection against losses? We already know the routine. “The patients enrolled in our plans were older and sicker while the younger, healthier individuals were covered by plans at work, or bought the cheap catastrophic plans, and the new drugs that cost tens of thousands of dollars or more placed a strain on our budgets, and our contingency reserves were depleted with the market crash of 2015, and we’ve lost our rate flexibility with the termination of government reinsurance, and…” Well, you know.

Although there are many other uncertainties as the implementation of ACA plays out, one certainty that we can rely on is that insurers will be requesting much larger premium increases for 2017, possibly double digits. That would not be happening under a single payer national health program.

$9,000 for a Band-Aid? When is enough, enough?

August 8th, 2014 by Sylvia Moore Leave a reply »

Here comes a story out of New Jersey that once again illustrates how sick our healthcare system really is: a man, who cut his finger on the claw end of a hammer, was charged a nearly $9,000 medical bill. The hospital and the man’s insurance company naturally pointed fingers at each other for the outrageous bill. In countries with single-payer systems, $9,000 for a bandage would never happen because they don’t treat patients like ATM machines. We will keep having horror stories like this one until health care is finally taken out of the hands of the profiteers and instead, treated as a public good.


How America turned away from the idea of universal health care

July 31st, 2014 by Sylvia Moore Leave a reply »

While we in the single payer movement fight to dismantle the fragmented, for-profit healthcare system, it helps to know how we got here in the first place. Jacobin Magazine‘s The Neoliberal Turn in American Health Care by A.W. Gaffney is a worthy longread about how the political climate in United States led to the emergence and entrenchment of the idea that health care is a commodity, rather than a human right – the complete opposite ideology of the more socially democratic nations of Europe.

Gaffney traces the history of American health care from President Harry Truman’s failed effort to establish a national health insurance plan, to the creation of Medicare, to the rise of health savings accounts to the current private insurance-centered Affordable Care Act. The fact that the U.S. still doesn’t have a healthcare system that is free and available to all at the point of service is, as outlined by the article, due to a combination of Cold War politics, corporate pushback against the New Deal, the influence of libertarian think tanks, and rising healthcare costs.

The fundamental social-democratic idea of universalism — of an entire population with the equal right to equally comprehensive health care benefits — has all but disappeared from the political center. Hayek’s dismissal of an “objectively ascertainable standard of health,” perhaps a fringe idea at the time, now seems to be the reigning paradigm.

The doctrine of consumer choice, whether with respect to the selection of tiered “bronze, silver, or gold” health benefits, or of choosing to divide one’s “own money” between health care and other goods, has been almost quietly triumphant. Of course, this great neoliberal transformation in the political economy of American health care wasn’t the result of the vagaries of nature or the unique cultural proclivities of Americans: it was part and a parcel of a much larger corporate-driven transformation, which, over these same years, has drastically exacerbated inequality while simultaneously fraying the substance of American civic democracy.

I wish the article had covered the role that race and racism played in America’s failure to establish universal health care and continues to impede efforts in doing so. After all, divide-and-conquer tactics are especially effective ways to stop social change. Toxic economic theories that celebrate a “you’re on your own” mentality and ridicule the ideas of “community,” “social justice” and “togetherness,” are much more likely to find sympathetic ears among a populace who  see their neighbors as “the Other.”