Let’s say you are trying to negotiate with someone. You want them to give you $100. They want to give you none. You sit down at the table and give your opening bid.
If you’re an aggressive negotiator, you open with saying you want $200. You know they’re going to haggle you down, so why not start with more than you want?
Some folks would start honestly, with $100. Make your case for why you want that because hey, maybe the opponent will see reason and capitulate right away.
Other folks might reason that we can meet in the middle and start with $50. Half is better than none, and it shows you’re trying to compromise.
If you’re Obama and the opponent is the health insurance industry (either as itself or in its guise as Republicans and “moderate Democrats”), you start with $5 and honestly, it’s not a figure you’re married to…we can still talk.
Because even though our health care system is the laughingstock of the world, even though we spend more than anyone else for less, even though we have a shameful number of uninsured, underinsured, or currently-insured-but-god-help-them-if-they-actually-try-to-USE-it people, we certainly wouldn’t want to do anything that would upset the status quo too much.
After all, this is America, a land where someone without any health insurance at all will deride a sane insurance system because a millionaire on TV (or a Congressman who already enjoys government-funded health care) told him it’s bad.
Our horrendous health insurance system is the stuff of nightmares — everyone either has a horrible story about it or knows someone personally who has such a story. It is completely failing the citizens at the expense of enriching the insurers. And yet, we have allowed those insurers to completely control the terms of the “debate” so that no real solution is possible.
Let’s take a look into the mind of one of the people who, until recently, was representing the insurance companies. Here’s an interview with Wendell Potter, who worked for Cigna for 15 years. Read through it and become horrified.
WENDELL POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.
And lest you think this is a Republican problem:
BILL MOYERS: Why is the industry so powerful on both sides of the aisle?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, money and relationships, ideology. The relationships– an insurance company can hire and does hire many different lobbying firms. And they hire firms that are predominantly Republican and predominantly Democrat. And they do this because they know they need to reach influential members of Congress like Max Baucus. So there are people who used to work for Max Baucus who are in lobbying firms or on the staff of companies like Cigna or the association itself.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I just read the other day, in THE WASHINGTON POST, that Max Baucus’s staff met with a group of lobbyists. Two of them had been Baucus’s former chiefs of staff.
WENDELL POTTER: Right.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, they left the government. They go to work for the industry. Now they’re back with an insider status. They get an access, right?
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, they do, they do. And these lobbyists’ ability to raise money for these folks also is very important as well.
Lobbyists, many of the big lobbyists contributed a lot of money themselves. One of the lobbyists for one of the big health insurance company is Heather Podesta, the Podesta Group, and she’s married to Tony Podesta, who’s a brother of John Podesta.
BILL MOYERS: Who used to be the White House chief of staff.
WENDELL POTTER: Right. Right. And they’re Democrats.
There is no debate here. This is not a way to find a solution. there isn’t even the possibility of a solution here. Even if whatever new law the insurance companies write for themselves nominally prevents them from doing certain things, they will simply find new things to do that will continue to harm people and reap profits. It’s what companies are built for. (We’ve seen it over and over again with the credit-card companies.)
There is an alternative to this, a single-payer system like the ones in Canada and elsewhere. You have heard horror stories about these systems because, as Mr. Potter explains, the people who are currently profiting from the system are disseminating these stories. The reality of the situation is that these systems work and they work well. When you hear a Congressman talking about how awful a government-run health system would be, keep in mind that that Congressman currently enjoys a government-run health system. When you hear someone talk about how this would remove “choice”, remind yourself of the last time your employer switched plans (or you switched jobs) and how this forced you to take a different plan, whether you wanted to or not. When you hear someone talk about government bureaucrats making medical decisions, remind yourself that your current medical decisions are made by corporate CEOs looking solely at their bottom lines.
If that isn’t enough, here’s an actual American doctor talking about the sanity of a single-payer plan.
Private insurance companies just do what businesses do — they make money. To maximize their profits, they avoid losses by cherry picking. They know that the healthier half of the population accounts for only three percent of the spending, so they want to sell premiums to them. The sickest 10 percent account for over half of the medical spending each year, so they deny them coverage whenever possible. And let’s not kid ourselves — each of us is going to end up in that sickest group someday.
Pluralistic insurance options will not work. We may soon prove it again at the national level, though it has been proven already by individual states many times: Oregon in the ’80s, our own TennCare in the ’90s, and the 2006 Massachusetts plan, which is failing now. Making it mandatory to buy health insurance does not make it affordable. We need single-payer insurance.
We need for our congressional representatives to stop taking their marching orders from the insurance lobbyists and start listening to their citizens. We need leaders with the guts to stand up to these vultures and say, “No more” and start putting the needs of the people ahead of corporate profits. And we, the people, need to stop imbuing the Free Market with miraculous powers it doesn’t have.
We are looking to the insurance companies for a solution even though they hold us hostage and threaten us with fear. They’re terrorists, and there is no negotiating with them.