Obama joins Wyden in selling short on health care
The progressive side of me is sorely disappointed in what has finally emerged as the White House version of health care legislation. Sorry, lefties, there will be no single-payer program -- heck, not even a public option. Under the Obama plan, the average guy and gal probably won't gain all that much, and the insurance companies definitely will laugh all the way to the bank.
Most people would be required by law to buy health insurance -- with federal handout money if they're really poor. And there'll be no one to buy it from other than the private insurance companies who are already raking in the dough from the current system. Oh, there'll be some goofball state-run "exchanges" that are supposed to create competition among these companies, but let's face it, they already technically compete against each other now, and look at how much profit they're making.
Apparently there will have to be some "nonprofit" companies added to the mix, but that's kind of a joke. Nonprofit -- like the hospitals? As if nobody's getting rich at the hospitals. The nonprofits' top honchos make seven figures a year these days, if not eight, all at the expense of the average worker. For example, OHSU is a "nonprofit charity" -- but check out the doctors' parking lot some weekday morning to see how "charitable" it is.
The tradeoffs that are being proposed for the insurance companies' huge financial windfall are that they will have their rates federally regulated (no doubt by a panel of friendly faces with weak standards), and that they'll have to stop playing their "pre-existing condition" games when they decide to pull the rug out from under people. That's a trade they'll take, especially since sooner or later they'll be prohibited from continuing their more egregious Scrooge moves, in any event.
The President's bill looks a lot like the plan put forth by Sen. Ron Wyden (R-N.Y.), who snuffed out hopes for real health care reform last summer with his hemming and hawing. Senators like Wyden, and Rockefeller, and Dodd, who parade around under the aegis of the Democratic Party but always answer to the big corporations when the chips are down, are the biggest problem in American government right now. If I wanted Republican policies, I'd vote for a Republican. Maybe this fall I will, rather than vote to re-elect the incumbent.
The height of cynicism in the President's bill is how it handles its proposed new income taxes on high-end health care plans furnished by employers to employees. I oppose such taxes generally, but if you're going to impose them, then at least have the guts to do it immediately. Instead, the White House plan says that these taxes won't start until 2018. Whenever politicians tell me what the tax system is going to be like eight years from now, I feel as if I'm about to vomit. These jokers can't even tell us what the tax law was two months ago -- maybe they'll retroactively raise people's taxes back to January 1, maybe not. Why should I pay the least bit of attention to what they pass today with respect to eight years from now? By 2018, or sooner, we may very well have somebody like Mitt Romney in the White House, in which case income taxes on "Cadillac" health plans will likely never come to pass. Some days all I wish is that our elected officials would stop jerking us all around.
They're also going to extend Medicare taxes (2.9%) for the first time to income from investments. That pretty much kills any chance at Republican support, and it's likely to get the AARP types howling as well. At the moment, this new tax would apply only to high-income folks, which makes it progressive enough, but it's a brand new wrinkle that's going to take months for people to process. And the closer we get to the November elections, the harder that processing is going to get.
To many of us who felt profound hope and accomplishment on Inauguration Day 2009, the White House health plan feels like one of the last embers going out. Ralph Nader was guilty of vast overstatement when he said that there are no differences between the two major parties. But on health care reform, he was 100% right. I'd be less depressed if Congress simply let health care reform die than if it passes the weak, empty Obama plan and acts as if it were actually achieving something that was promised in the last campaign.
And whatever they do, I wish the people under the toupees would get the health care agony over with. It's been 13 months now in which they've dealt with this and pretty much nothing else. The historic Democratic Party primacy is being squandered. We won't get fooled again.