Time For Plan B’s

By Margie Burns

Democrats have several good Plan B’s. Time to use them! Two days after the Massachusetts special election for the senate was safely over, Goldman Sachs announced its fourth quarter 2009 earnings and projected bonuses. The huge bank, one of the top recipients of Bush’s Wall Street bailout, announced $4.8 billion in quarterly earnings and more than $16 billion in executive compensation. The bonuses, smaller than the firm could have awarded, still exceeded 2008 Goldman Sachs bonuses by 47%. The $4.79 billion profit set a quarterly record for the bank. Revenues for all of 2009 were $45 billion, and Goldman profits for the year exceeded $13 billion — partly because profits increased when the firm reined in executive compensation slightly.

Goldman Sachs had been due to announce profits and bonuses on Jan. 18 — the day before the special election that ended by placing Republican Scott P. Brown in the senate for three years. But in a move not noted by political commentators in corporate media outlets, the bank notified its employees that it would postpone the announcement. Reuters in London reported that Goldman Sachs told its staff that the announcement might come at the end of the month. Instead, the giant bank holding company merely avoided bringing out a provocative news item on the eve of the Massachusetts special election.

So much for “bipartisan” cooperation from Wall Street.

Democrats never had a ‘super-majority’ in Senate

There are lessons to be learned from the special election in Massachusetts, the first federal election in 2010. First, the special election definitively did not change several things. Democrats did not lose a “filibuster-proof” majority in the senate, because they never had one, with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) there. There can be no new Democratic push for “bipartisanship” in Congress, because the GOP has been determined from the start to destroy President Obama and to defeat any slight improvement in conditions for ordinary Americans, and is now more hardened than ever. The “honeymoon” for the Obama White House did not end, because there never was one, with people like the Washington Post’s David Broder and Howard Kurtz ensconced in the media, and the rightwing media machine continuously running.

Second, the Obama White House has already given both Wall Street and congressional Republicans more than enough rope, beginning with support for the Bush bailouts and continuing with endless negotiations over health care and financial regulation. After a near financial meltdown that should have chastened both Wall Street and the GOP, both have refused to make any effort at bipartisan cooperation. After a rescue that staved off disaster for the financial sector, the biggest banks in the US have responded to a giant favor from taxpayers by continuing their massive executive compensation including bonuses, declining to capitalize small business, and lobbying against every proposal that would ameliorate the transfer of wealth upward.

In other words, there is exactly no reason to believe that our largest and most top-down corporations will help President Obama on either jobs or health. Nor can congressional Democrats or the White House count on the GOP to help ameliorate unemployment or to help protect ordinary citizens from financial ruin.

Try Plan B

So any improvement may well depend on fallbacks, a “Plan B.” In health care, there are any number of fallbacks, good Plan B’s.

Here is one: Expand Medicare to cover young adults in America, the 18-to-26-year-old population. Advantages would be immediate and long-lasting, and would address some arguments floated against the public option in health reform:

1) Including college-age citizens, eighteen to twenty-six, would be an instant shot in the arm for Medicare, injecting a young and mostly healthy population into the coverage pool and thus thinning per capita cost.

2) Young people with streamlined single-payer coverage would have better access to health care and medical attention, increasing the likelihood that they would receive timely care and thus preventing worse and more costly conditions down the road.

3) Extending coverage to young people in college would remove an immense financial burden from the universities, relieving higher education of the strain of providing, overseeing and enforcing group health policies for students — policies that usually do not guarantee adequate medical care anyway. The university-mandated plans covering students are a white elephant in the insurance sector.

4) Extending the same coverage to young people not able to go to college would remove an immense burden from the families not able to send them there. “Family coverage” often lapses for young adults away from home, regardless of whether they leave the nest to go to college or to work.

5) This is one proposal that should not arouse divisive accusations of “socialism” or even of undermining the insurance industry by government competition. The overwhelming majority of young people cannot afford to buy private insurance. A large majority do not work for employers who provide group health. The insurance companies are not even competing very hard to get the overwhelming majority of these young adults as customers.

Once again: Taking the long view, the authentic national objective in health policy is health care for all Americans, not “health insurance” for all. Insurance is a means to an end –- facilitating health care, theoretically -– rather than an end in itself. An historic combination of industry consolidation and laissez-faire public policy has made the insurance companies the gatekeepers to health care, but “health insurance” does not actually substitute for health care any more than “job training” substitutes for jobs.

Bad faith practices — easily perceived as such by the man on the street who “chooses” not to submit an insurance claim because he doesn’t want his premiums raised afterward — include denying claims unreasonably; delaying or refusing reasonable settlement; refusing to pay promptly; failing to handle claims fairly; refusing to provide coverage; and unreasonable policy cancellations. There is the unsavory practice of “post-claim underwriting” — finding a reason to cancel the policy when the customer submits a claim, via examination the company did not make when the policy was issued. And then there are retaliatory rate increases, or just simply recouping any payout by raising the insurance premium afterward, as mentioned.

Under the previous administration, our DOJ was MIA regarding insurance-sector abuses. While fraud against insurance companies — and against Medicare — by customers has been extensively prosecuted, bad faith actions — delay, deny, defend — by insurance companies against customers have been little prosecuted as fraud by the feds. The Bush Justice Department’s aggressive pursuit of (individual) insurance fraud instead of insurance company bad faith, indeed, paralleled its aggressive pursuit of bogus ‘voter fraud’ instead of the genuine problem of election fraud.

Back to our young people: Young people are not always healthy. They also incur risks of injury, etc. But as a group, young adults would be a viable population for genuine spread-the-risk coverage. If we cannot make risk actuarily manageable for the healthiest cohort in our population, then perhaps we would do well to jettison the concept of ‘insurance’ altogether, agree to send everyone to the doctor as needed, and figure out how to do so.

Meanwhile, one further advantage to expanding Medicare to mostly healthy young people is that it would mitigate the insurance sector practice of pushing off the worst cases onto the public rolls.

In political terms, a major advantage to expanding Medicare is that it does NOT require 60 votes in the Senate. Not to reduce this issue to narrowly partisan politics, Democrats in office ignore insurance bad faith at their political peril. The big political trap for President Obama is Bush policies.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email margie.burns@verizon.net. See her blog at www.margieburns.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2010


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