On to Health Care Reform!

by Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the 150,000-member National Nurses United.

. . . . Where the bill falls short

-The mandate forcing people without coverage to buy insurance. Coupled with the subsidies for other moderate income working people not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid, the result is a gift worth hundreds of billions of dollars to reward the very insurance industry that created the present crisis through price gouging, care denials, and other abuses.

-Inadequate healthcare cost controls for individuals and families. 1. Insurance premiums will continue to climb. Proponents touted a “robust” public option to keep the insurers “honest,” but that proposal was scuttled. After Anthem Blue Cross of California announced 39 percent premium hikes, the administration promised to crack down with a federal rate insurance authority, an idea also dropped from the bill. 2. There is no standard benefits package, only a circumspect reference that benefits should be “comparable to” current employer provided plans. 3. An illusory limit on out-of-pocket medical expenses. But even in the regulated state exchanges, insurers remain in control of what they offer and what will be a covered service. Insurers are likely to design plans to attract healthier customers, and many enrollees will likely find the federal guarantees do not protect them for medical treatments they actually need.

-No meaningful restrictions on claims denials insurers don’t want to pay for. Proponents cite a review process on denials, but the “internal review process” remains in the hands of the insurers, and the “external” review will be up to the states, many of which have systems now in place that are dominated by the insurance industry with little enforcement mechanism.

-Significant loopholes in the much touted insurance reforms: 1. Provisions permitting insurers and companies to more than double charges to employees who fail “wellness” programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings, or other medical conditions. 2. Permitting insurers to sell policies “across state lines”, exempting patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will likely set up in the least regulated states in a race to the bottom threatening public protections won by consumers in various states. 3. Allowing insurers to charge three times more based on age plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees. 4. Insurers may continue to rescind policies, drop coverage, for “fraud or intentional misrepresentation” – the main pretext insurance companies now use.

–Taxing health benefits for the first time. Though modified, the tax on benefits remains, a 40 percent tax on plans whose value exceeds $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families. With no real checks on premium hikes, many plans will reach that amount by the start date, 2018, rapidly. The result will be more cost shifting from employers to workers and more people switching to skeletal plans that leave them vulnerable to financial ruin.

–Erosion of women’s reproductive rights, with a new executive order from the President enshrining a deal to get the votes of anti-abortion Democrats and a burdensome segregation of funds, that in practice will likely mean few insurers will cover abortion and perhaps other reproductive medical services.

–A windfall for pharmaceutical giants. Through a deal with the White House, the administration blocked provisions to give the government more power to negotiate drug prices and gave the name brand drug makers 12 years of marketing monopoly against competition from generic competition on biologic drugs, including cancer treatments.

Most critically, the bill strengthens the economic and political power of a private insurance-based system based on profit rather than patient need.

As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote after the vote “don’t believe anyone who says Obama’s healthcare legislation marks a swing of the pendulum back toward the Great Society and the New Deal. Obama’s health bill is a very conservative piece of legislation, building on a Republican (a private market approach) rather than a New Deal foundation. The New Deal foundation would have offered Medicare to all Americans or, at the very least, featured a public insurance option.”

Unlike Social Security and Medicare which expanded a public safety net, this bill requires people – in the midst of the mass unemployment and the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression — to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket to big private companies for a product that may or may not provide health coverage in return.

Too many people will remain uninsured, individual and family healthcare costs will continue to rise largely unabated and private insurers will still be able to deny claims with little recourse for patients. . . .

http://counterpunch.com/demoro03252010.html

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