Sam Uretsky

Sacrificing Where It Hurts

Old saying &endash; you get what you pay for. You also get what you don't pay for. On Jan. 4, 2005, President Bush told anti-abortion marchers that the nation is making progress towards a "culture of life" by limiting abortions and stem cell research, while expanding the definition of "life." As reported by the Washington Post, the president said "I encourage you to take warmth and comfort from our history, which tells us that a movement that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts of our fellow Americans -- and that is based on a sacred promise enshrined in our founding document that this movement will not fail."

On Feb. 5, 2007, this same president proposed a federal budget that, if enacted as is, will answer the critics who complained that Mr. Bush hasn't asked the American people to make any sacrifices for the War on Terror or the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. There's a trick to it though. When President Johnson earned his place in the Barbara Tuchman's classic work The March of Folly, he was focusing on young men of draft age, 18 to 26. President Bush, by the simple device of cutting the budget appropriations for Medicaid and Medicare, has targeted the too-young, the too-old, and the very-ill to contribute to his war.

People who, in the past, would have been classified as 4-F, physically unfit for military service, are being asked to make the supreme sacrifice. The culture of life, the noblest and most generous instincts of our fellow Americans, stops short when it comes to caring for the old, the sick and the poor. As proposed, more that $100 billion would be cut from Medicare and Medicaid, and there would be cutbacks in food stamp eligibility and medical insurance for children. In the simplest possible terms, old people and children are going to die because Mr. Bush wants his tax cuts and his war.

On Feb. 6, Bloomberg Business News reported that Humana, the health insurer, reported a doubling of profits due to increased enrollment in its Medicare plans. Net income in the fourth quarter climbed to $155 million, or 92 cents a share, from $61.8 million, or 37 cents a share, a year earlier, Humana said. Revenue rose 54%, to $5.66 billion. The company's shares rose 52 cents, to $57.84.

Considering that we've reached a point where the Office of Management and Budget now uses numbers that were once considered solely in the province of astronomers and theoretical mathematicians, $155 million isn't that much. Michael McCallister, the CEO of Humana, only made $2.4 million in 2005. As a side note, Humana pays Grey Adverting $20 million a year to convince people to enroll in Humana Medicare. Humana is the "official health benefits sponsor" of the PGA tour. Humana is only one of hundreds of health insurance companies, but it was also the focus of the made-for-television movie Damaged Care, the story of Dr. Linda Peeno, who, as a reviewer for Humana, turned down medical procedures in the interest of boosting profits. Health insurers take premiums from subscribers and subsidies from the government, and then pay as few bills as they can get away with. Anything left is profit. (The same day, United Healthcare estimated its net earning forecast at $4.7 billion.)

The Department of Health & Human Services collects money from elderly people and pays money to hospitals and physicians, but instead of writing checks to people, the money goes through HMOs, and hundreds of millions gets diverted along the way. Compare Humana's quarterly income with the 46 million Americans without health insurance and ask, what kind of way is this to run a country? If President Bush's budget cuts are approved, will the money come out of benefits paid to providers, or sponsorship of Professional Golf tournaments? If we have to save money on health costs, will Mr. McCallister get by on $2 million even, or will a hospital fire a nurse?

In 1996, Dr. Peeno, in testimony before the House of Representatives, said, "We have gone too far under our current system called 'managed care.' How much more harm and death must occur before we have the courage to do something about it?" In the years since, things have only gotten worse. If there is any good news about healthcare costs, it's that there is plenty of fat to cut. The bad news is, under our current system, the fat will be the very last thing to go.

Sam Uretzky is a pharmacist from Long Island, NY.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2007

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2007 The Progressive Populist.