Thursday, June 02, 2011

Is not sauce for the gander

Another area where the general anti-left bias of the corporate media can be seen is in health care.

During the debate over the big "health care reform" - otherwise known as "health care deform" and "health insurance industry" - bill, there were numerous public opinion polls asking people if there were for or against the bill or sometimes more narrowly-defined parts of it.

The numbers varied somewhat depending on at just what point they were taken and who did the polling and how the question was phrased, but overall, as a general overview, opinion appeared to be roughly split. It really wasn't until rather late in the game, around September, when pollsters started asking people who said they were against the bill why they were. To what I expect was their surprise - although frankly not to mine - they found that a significant portion of opponents, equal to about 15 to sometimes nearly 20 percent of total respondents, were against it because it didn't go far enough. It didn't make enough changes. It wasn't hard enough on the health insurance industry.

As anyone who was around here during that time knows, I was among that 15-20 percent. I was against the bill because I maintained (and I still maintain) that it will do more to retard future gains than to advance them; it will do more to hinder further reforms than to help them; it will stand as a new, even bigger, roadblock than before on the path to where we need to go: truly universal access to adequate health care.

I'm not going to re-argue that here beyond saying I have felt no cause to take back anything I said here or here. My point right now is how those voices, those voices arguing for better, were ignored by the media throughout the entire debate; they were shut out, virtually silenced except for the occasional columnist sneering about how some people believe in "magic ponies."

Those voices are still being ignored even now: On May 10, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jim McDermott held a press conference to announce the introduction of the American Health Security Act of 2011, a single-payer health care bill, in the Senate and House. They were joined by representatives of the AFL-CIO, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, and National Nurses United, the country's largest union of registered nurses.

Did you hear about this? Did you know about this bill? Of course not! Not unless you closely follow the issue or keep up with certain lefty news outlets. No national newspaper, no TV news, no cable news, covered it. It got one very quick mention on CNN because the editor of The Nation was being interviewed and she was able to stick in a single phrase about it. That was it.

But meanwhile, Paul Ryan's "We have to destroy Medicare in order to save it" bill is headline news day after day - because since it came from the right, it must be given serious attention and extensive, respectful coverage even though it is transparently thoroughgoing crap that proposes to replace Medicare with inflation-limited vouchers to buy private insurance on the individual private market.

That actually relates - shifting gears somewhat - to a complaint about the health care deform bill: the individual mandate. In this case, though, it's not any of the "It's unconstitutional!" stuff; it's about the fact that, lacking any sort of government-issued insurance (i.e., some "public option"), people would be stuck with insurance they couldn't use.

I put it this way: I first wondered how many of the 30 million "newly insured" people the program was supposed to create actually didn't have insurance by choice, that they figured they were young enough or healthy enough that what they saved by not having a premium to pay was worth the risk - that is, they had access to health care, they just didn't have health insurance. But, I said,
[a] more significant question is how many of those 30 million people could get insurance now, for example through high-risk pools, but don't because that would just leave them paying premiums for insurance they couldn't use because the deductibles are so high - that is, leave them with crap and worse off than they were before? And how many of those newly-insured people will wind up in just that situation? How many of that 30 million will be people who, having been forced to buy insurance, find themselves with low-cost, high-deductible policies that still leave them without access to health care because even as they can afford the premiums, they can't afford the deductibles?
As it turns out, that sort of thing is already happening.

Other than those people on Medicare or Medicaid, the most common way for people to have health insurance here is still through their employer. In recent years, many employers have gone to cheaper plans, with reduced benefits, higher deductibles, and increased co-payments. The rapidity of the change has been dramatic: In 2008, just 5% of covered workers had a deductible of at least $2,000. Just two years later, in 2010, the figure had doubled to about 10%. Some report deductibles of $4,000 or more.

As a result, even people with health insurance are cutting back on medical care. They are putting off visits to the doctor. They are postponing important tests like colonoscopies and mammograms. They are delaying any non-emergency treatment. They are dropping plans for knee or hip replacements.

They are avoiding seeing specialists, sometimes because they can't afford the cost of gas to get there. One man admitted he'd delayed going to the dermatologist despite a family history of skin cancer. People are even avoiding getting routine yearly blood tests because they can't bear the cost and the insurance won't cover it.

The simple fact is, preventable illnesses and death will increase, do increase, when people are discouraged from getting medical and health care. The double whammy people are facing of higher costs and shrinking coverage is doing precisely that: This "cost-sharing," as the corporate apologists like to describe it, will kill people.

This is happening at the same time that the nation’s major private health insurers are seeing a third consecutive year of record profits, profits that are exceeding expected earnings by as much as 30 percent. Their reserve coffers are flush with profits and shareholders have been rewarded with new dividends.

In spite of that, these same companies continue to press for higher premiums, often for double-digit increases. For example, Regence BlueCross BlueShield, Oregon's largest private insurer, has filed for a 22% hike for individual policies.

Why? What's the justification for continued increases in a time of record profits and lower utilization? Well, they whine, they need protection against any future increase in demand.

That is, they need protection - but the people who need and by right deserve access to health care do not. That is the corporate way, that is what we are expected to accept, that is what Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive and now a consultant, says may be "the new normal.”

They need protection but we don't; they deserve to be protected but we don't. Sorry, Mr. Laszewski: It may be the norm, but it ain't new.

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