US healthcare ‘reform’ one sick joke

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

With much ballyhoo, the Democrats have passed the ‘healthcare reform’ bill. In reality, the new Act has almost nothing to do with healthcare and everything to do with helping the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry and private hospitals bleed US workers dry. More than six months ago Business Week magazine told its readers: ‘much more of the battle than most people realise is already over. The likely victors are insurance giants such as UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, and WellPoint. The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill...the insurance industry will emerge more profitable ... insurance CEOs ought to be smiling.’

Simon Stevens, who advised Blair to butcher the NHS, has been hard at work for UnitedHealth, which ran a 50-person operation to twist the law in its favour by ‘advising’ and ‘assisting’ law-makers. Hundreds of other companies engaged in similar activities. Altogether, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, almost $700m was spent last year on lobbying by 1,700 healthcare companies and special interest groups.

The result is a health insurance bill: true healthcare reform still remains to be done. Every person will be forced to purchase health insurance – the only product which all consumers are forced to buy. This will bring the insurance companies hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite this, the Act exempts the insurance industry from anti-monopoly laws.

Only the very poorest (those with an income under $14,404 for individuals or $29,327 for a family of four) will have some kind of insurance from the state. Most people who don’t get healthcare from an employer, whether or not they are employed, will have to pay substantial sums – thousands of dollars a year, although the poorer ones will receive a partial subsidy. Anyone who earns between $14,404 and $43,320 (individuals) or between $29,327 and $88,200 (family of four) will receive some degree of government subsidy, but still have to buy health insurance, which will cost between $2,637 and $7,911 (for individuals) and $7,108 to $21,325 for a family of four, depending on age. Any adult without health insurance will be fined $690 or 2.5% of their income. The only exclusion from this compulsory coverage will be undocumented workers, who presumably are supposed to rot in agony if they get ill. How racist!

The pharmaceutical industry will be exempt for 12 years from competition from generic versions of drugs. The Act prohibits the government from negotiating prices and from permitting the importation of drugs. This forces up the cost of medications, whose US prices are far higher than on the world market.

The crucial step which bought the final votes necessary to pass the Bill was an unprincipled compromise to exclude abortion from coverage. This attack on women’s reproductive rights was enshrined in a new executive order signed by President Obama.

The catalogue of disgraceful outrages embodied in this criminal Act goes on and on. When people realise what a lie they have been sold, pressure will mount again for REAL healthcare reform – free and universal healthcare for all. Until then, the US healthcare industry will continue to inflict pain on those who are forced to use its services.

Steve Palmer, US correspondent


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