Monday, October 12, 2009

the empire strikes back

For pessimists and students of corporate capitalism, it must come as no surprise that the unlikely marriage between Big Insurance and Barack Obama's healthcare reform is on the rocks. This article describes a final push from large insurance companies to defeat healthcare reform or at least the parts of it that could hurt their own profits: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/front_page/20091012_Health_insurers_to_launch_assault.html

There certainly is an "I" in FIRE, and it appears the Insurance leg of Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate will be going this battle alone. Could it be that the Finance and Real Estate industries are already so beholden to recent government bailouts and stimulus packages that they would risk sacrificing their cousins and neighbors turning a buck in the healthcare game?

The large insurance companies will of course "brand" themselves as protecting consumers by maitaining lower premiums as they fight off all the parts of Obama's plan that threaten their profits (public option, healthcare cooperative, etc.).

Will this work?

It seems like one potential obstacle for the insurance companies is that our total healthcare costs are already so high (for those of us who subsist in the middle and are lucky enough to have coverage), that the average insured person could have trouble comprehending how Big Insurance works to save said regular Joe or Josephine any money at all. Because this kind of average insured American is also likely to be a holder of stocks and bonds (through mutual funds most likely), it seems possible he or she is aware that private companies must first pass on profits to shareholders and workers before there is any talk of reduced premiums for average insured Joey and Josie who have a bad habit of getting older and older and closer to actual need for more expensive healthcare services.

Also, when the number of uninsured exceeds the number of votes either Gore or Bush received in the 2000 Presidential election, it would seem like there are millions of "consumers" who cannot afford to "consume" any current options; Big Insurance will not get very far targeting the unisured in ads. (Note that millions of these people--children, for example--do not have a right to vote.) Also, the trend in state budgets is to survive by adjusting to reduced tax revenue by reducing state welfare, so states are seeing a rise in waiting lists for state subsidies for health coverage. (The number of uninsured is rising and will continue to rise.)

As bad as the real economy gets, there are still millions more of us holding on to jobs and health coverage, so once again, it is up to us to decide which kind of America we'd like to live in. America has never been a static entity; there has always been change. The blend of capitalist and socialist (safety net) principles has been altered and adjusted throughout the 20th century; one could argue that a 21st-century move toward a public option is more consistent with historical precedent than keeping an industry unregulated, so it can survive. "Creative destruction" plays out in many different ways in a capitalist democracy.

If Obama fails on health-coverage reform, do we look for an attack on Big Macs and KFC? There are other ways to fry potatoes and protect the health of one's citizens.

Rumor has it that Michael Moore is leading a campaign to get Chris Dodd to donate all of his profits from politics (his life savings that is) to pay the insurance premiums of uninsured adults in Hartford, CT. If I'm not mistaken, CT's central pulse was once the insurance capital of the world. It remains unclear if Mr. Moore plans to use his own life savings to pay the premiums for the citizens of Flint or Detroit.

Michael, is that you on the phone? Sorry, wrong number.

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