UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

August 6, 2009

THE INCREDIBLE, SHRINKING HEALTH CARE PLAN

Norman Solomon, Counterpunch - Like soap in a rainstorm, "healthcare reform" is wasting away. As this week began, a leading follower of conventional wisdom, journalist Cokie Roberts, told NPR listeners: "This is evolving legislation. And the administration is now talking about a glide path towards universal coverage, rather than immediate universal coverage."

Notions of universal healthcare are fading in the power centers of politics -- while more and more attention focuses on the care and feeding of the insurance industry.

Consider a new message that just went out from Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, which inherited the Obama campaign's 13-million email list. The short letter includes the same phrase seven times: "health insurance reform."

The difference between the promise of healthcare for everyone and the new mantra of health insurance reform is akin to what Mark Twain once described as "the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

The "health insurance reform" now being spun as "a glide path towards universal coverage" is apt to reinforce the huge power of the insurance, pharmaceutical and hospital industries in the United States. . .

Days ago, a New York Times headline proclaimed an emerging "consensus" and "common ground" on Capitol Hill. In passing, the article mentioned that lawmakers "agree on the need to provide federal subsidies to help make insurance affordable for people with modest incomes. For poor people, Medicaid eligibility would be expanded."

It's a scenario that amounts to expansion of healthcare ghettos nationwide. Medicaid's reimbursement rates for medical providers are so paltry that "Medicaid patient" is often a synonym for someone who can't find a doctor willing to help.

But what about "the public plan" -- enabling the government to offer health insurance that would be an alternative to the wares of for-profit insurance firms? "Under pressure from industry and their lobbyists, the public plan has been watered down to a small and ineffectual option at best, if it ever survives to being enacted," says John Geyman, professor emeritus of family medicine at the University of Washington.

A public plan option "would do little to mitigate the damage of a reform that perpetuates private insurers' dominant role," according to the letter from 3,500 physicians. "Even a robust public option would forego 90 percent of the bureaucratic savings achievable under single payer. . . "

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