Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Healthcare vs. Corporate Care

Photo by Glow Images
(Getty Images)
United-Health Group, Inc. is demonstrating what is wrong with healthcare in America – and it is not the Affordable Healthcare Act. The problem is our expectation of profit rather than access to healthcare as the measure of success.  The front-page news in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal (11/20/2015) read that UnitedHealth, the largest insurance provider in the country, is losing money on Obamacare and may pull out of the ACA exchanges altogether. The truth is that they are not losing money – it is just that they are not making as much money as they would like. A look at the New York Stock Exchange reveals that UnitedHealth has made profits for the first three quarters of 2015, and has done better than it did in 2014. The fact that the company would threaten to back out of its participation in the Affordable Care Act due to less than expected profits demonstrates that quarterly gains are more important than covering people’s healthcare needs.

Healthcare in America took a wrong turn when someone figured out that it could be a moneymaking industry. For-profit hospitals began to set the standard, then insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies quickly accelerated their profit making as well. One problem with the for-profit model is that not only is a profit expected, but the profit also has to be greater than last quarter’s profits in order to make shareholders happy.

There is a difference between making money and making a profit, as Peter Ubel pointed out in an article in Forbes Magazine last year (“Is the Profit Motive Ruining American Healthcare?”). Hospitals, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies have to generate enough income to pay salaries, cover expenditures, and have some operating capital. It is certainly important that hospitals and clinics remain solvent so healthcare workers can be paid for the work they do. It is also important that people have access to the healthcare we provide. As Peter Ubel put it, “No one should go bankrupt either paying for medical care or providing it. But that doesn’t mean health care businesses, whether profit or non-profit, should enrich themselves at the expense of society.”

If it is getting to the point that insurance companies cannot deliver policies that will cover the healthcare needs of the people because they think it is too risky for the company, then perhaps it is time to look for a different model. If UnitedHealth is representative of health insurance companies’ attitudes toward healthcare, then it is demonstrating the need for Medicare for all, or some other version of a single-payer healthcare system. Every other developed country has figured out how to provide healthcare for their citizens.

Political Opposition

From the day that the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, there has been continued opposition to it from Republicans.  Many of the arguments have to do with costs. Companies claim that added insurance costs hurts their ability to maintain a profitable business. Now the Republicans are jumping on the news that UnitedHealth cannot profit from ACA exchanges. They will look for any reason to make Obamacare not work.

The sad thing is that it is people in need of healthcare who will suffer in the ongoing political debate of how to make healthcare work and who will pay. One measure of a nation is how it cares for its citizens, particularly the sick, the elderly, and the needy. While other countries find ways to make healthcare work, the U.S. is mired down in politics and profits.

Putting People ahead of Profit

Steven Hill, a contributing writer to the book, Dream of a Nation has an article, “Tackling the Profit Problem in Healthcare: What the US Can Learn from Europe?” Hill poses the question,  “How do the French, Germans, British and other European countries manage to provide better healthcare than most Americans receive for about half the per capita cost?” One big reason, he says is one of philosophy, namely that “The various European healthcare systems put people and their health before profits.” He goes on to point out that not every European country has a single-payer, government-run healthcare system. “France and Germany have figured out a third way,” he says, that “appears to perform better than single-payer, but it also might be a better match for the American culture.” That “third way” is a hybrid that allows for private insurance companies as well as individual choice of doctors who are in private practice. In France and Germany, this hybrid is apparently working, but our own hybrid attempt with the ACA is being threatened now by corporate greed. We are missing that ingredient of putting people and their health ahead of profit.

Businesses seem reluctant to provide healthcare as a benefit, and insurance companies seem reluctant to accept a reasonable profit in providing healthcare policies. Therefore, it is time for the U.S. to make an investment in its citizens and find a way to deliver healthcare for all. If we had a single payer universal healthcare system, for example, it could be a boon for the economy and a shot in the arm for every entrepreneur.  I personally know of people who would like to launch their own business, but do not want to risk losing healthcare benefits they have in their present job. Indeed, there are many who are working at a job they don’t particularly like just to have insurance coverage.  So not only would big business benefit from not being saddled with healthcare costs, small entrepreneurs would have more freedom to do what the Republicans say this country is all about – start new businesses.

Why must we lag behind other developed countries when it comes to providing for healthcare needs of the people? There are some great ideas out there that put people ahead of profits and look to the common good. With profiteering companies balking at providing health coverage, it is the perfect opportunity to look for other models of healthcare delivery.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Donald Trump: "Southern Strategy" on Steroids

Donald Trump's Demagoguery Evokes Memories of Asa Carter

Trump Rally in Birmingham
Photo by Joe Songer (
This week we have seen some frightful things in Donald Trump's political rallies that amount to sheer rabble-rousing and using fear to incite crowds. In my own city of Birmingham, Donald Trump held a rally in which some white Trump supporters actually beat up on a black protester with Black Lives Matter. Trump's response was, "Maybe he should have been roughed up." At that same rally, Trump called for surveillance of mosques speaking to, as CNN reported, "a raucous and approving crowd." That crowd loved Trump's promise to build a wall to keep Mexican immigrants out, chanting "Build that wall!" In other rallies, Trump has made the preposterous claim that he saw film footage of "thousands of New Jersey Muslims" cheering and celebrating when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. 

Memories of Our Racist Past

My friend, Chervis Isom wrote a memoir, The Newspaper Boy, in which he recounted growing up in the racist climate of 1950s Birmingham, Alabama. One of the things he tells about is the White Citizens Council rallies led by Asa Carter, who really knew how to tap into people's prejudices. His public rallies served to whip up the crowds by using racism and fear to incite action. [You can read my review of his book here] Asa Carter went on to be a speechwriter for George Wallace who exhibited demagoguery par excellence.  I have often witnessed what I see as the same base tactics of fear-mongering and hate in the social media as well as in political rgetoric, but when I read about the shameful acts at the Trump rally in my own town, the similarities seemed just too great.

I decided to ask Chervis Isom himself what he thought about what we are seeing today compared to what he witnessed during our state's civil rights struggle. He told me that it does indeed remind him of the White Citizen Council meetings that he attended when he was a teen. Chervis went on to elaborate:   

 Asa "Ace" Carter would speak so knowingly about the worlds and the International Communist Party and its intention to bring us down, our government was full of Communists, the unions were led by Communists, McCarthy was right about all his theories that there's a communist or fellow traveler behind every bush. And it was that kind of motivation that caused all the civil unrest by blacks. Nothing but a Communist plot to cause a race war in America. The WCC was against the Jews, the immigrants, and of course the blacks. It was the place where crazies gathered along with normal law abiding people who were being brainwashed to distrust anyone not like us. Thankfully, I met some good, law abiding people, customers on my newspaper route, who were from up north, who showed me a better place. I wrote about my emergence from racism in my memoir, The Newspaper Boy 

Unfortunately, I see too many parallels today to those days a half century ago. You would have thought we would have learned something but I suppose we should never be surprised about the abyss of ignorance out there. Today, we see the same xenophobia that was rampant sixty years ago. WE are hearing demagogues like Ace Carter on every front. Trump is one of them, among the worst. It is not Communism today that is the enemy but an amorphous danger called "Islamic Jihad" or words to that effect. Frankly, I think Communism was the greater fear by far. Does anyone remember the concept of "Mutual Assured Destruction", an assurance that no matter who sent the rockets with the "Bombs" first, the reaction would be devastating, and all civilization would be wiped out? Now those were the days when we worried about existential problems. Yes, I see the parallels, and if we play our cars well, Russia will be our ally in this more recent problem. I would say to people to lighten up. Xenophobia and fear are not the answer. It was not the answer then nor is it now.

[See more information about Mr. Isom's book at his website:]

A Call for Fairness, Equality, and Reason

I appreciate Chervis Isom's perspective. Today we need to especially take some time to assess the social and political climate. It is one thing to regret the hateful actions, racism, and misogyny of our past. It is another thing altogether to fail to see that same dynamic coming around again. We need to advocate for a better way. Fairness, equality, and reason should be the watchwords of the day. Anytime we let fear guide our actions, we will come to regret those actions.

Our politicians would serve us better by demonstrating some decency and statesmanship in public life rather than the hateful and fearful rabble-rousing we are seeing in the likes of Donald Trump and his ilk. Hate, racism and fear of other ethnic groups did not bring us peace and security in the past, and will serve us no better today. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...