Toward Single-Payer: We're Almost There
Seventy-five years ago, it was lawyers, doctors, and shop owners; today, it's insurance companies. These free-enterprise for-profits are the main obstacle to instituting a single-payer health care system in the U.S. They must be removed from the equation if Obama is to realize his dream.
While everyone focuses on the latest ObamaCare IT screw-up, the ongoing abolition of for-profit insurance companies continues.
Consider this timeline. In June 2003, Obama made his future intentions clear.
From an Illinois AFL-CIO speech:
I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program. [Applause.] I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that's what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that's what I'd like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.
Five years after his AFL-CIO declaration to bring single-payer/universal health coverage to America, Obama was asked in a Feb. 21, 2008 debate if he differed with his opponent Hillary Clinton concerning insurance mandates. Obama replied that their goals were the same but that "we have to take a different way."
Five days later, on February 26, 2008, in Cleveland, the future president clarified how insurance companies would play a key role in achieving his 2003 vision of "everybody in, nobody out." In other words, a single-payer system.
If we don't know the level of subsidies that [Hillary's plan is] going to provide, then you can have a situation, which we are seeing right now in the state of Massachusetts, where people are being fined for not having purchased health care but choose to accept the fine because they still can't afford it, even with the subsidies.
And they are then worse off. They then have no health care and are paying a fine above and beyond that. And the last point I would make is, the insurance companies actually are happy to have a mandate. The insurance companies don't mind making sure that everybody has to purchase their product. That's not something they're objecting to.
The promise of millions of new customers would be music to any free-market company's ears. Obama's strategy to partner with the middle-man in order to overhaul America's health care system materialized when he became president in 2008.
Nominating a former Kansas insurance commissioner, Kathleen Sebelius, to be secretary of health and human services was Obama's first move. Kathy Greenlee, who worked with Mrs. Sebelius at the Kansas insurance commission and is now an assistant secretary at HHS, lauded the secretary: "Kathleen knows everything there is about insurance."
Insider Sebelius would be important in fostering the kind of relationships Obama needed to quell dissent among naysayers in the health industry. In August 2009, the Huffington Post reported that the president had hosted at least 27 meetings with some of the most influential private health-industry executives in the country "in an effort to placate or at least quiet potential opponents of reform in what remains a tenuous legislative process."
Prior to HuffPo's revelation, the White House convened a health forum bringing together all the major players in the industry. At the conference, health insurers pledged their support to Obama's plan for health care reform, with one stipulation: that Obama drop the public option.
Obama's relentless pursuit of the insurance companies continued throughout the first year of his presidency. Lobbyists in turn persuaded D.C. politicians to pass the Affordable Care Act despite an outcry from a majority of Americans.
A few months after the ACA was passed in December of 2009, and two weeks before Obama signed it into law, the president hauled insurance executives from the top five companies into another meeting. It didn't take long before they realized that the honeymoon was over. He vilified the health insurance providers for caring more about profits than about folks going through hard times.
Propped up by his former insurance commissioner Kathleen Sebelius, Obama read aloud a letter from a 50-year-old cancer survivor whose premiums were set to rise 40% in 2010. "This is clearly unacceptable and unsustainable," the president told the CEOs. Sebelius proceeded to call out the executives for enjoying healthy profits in the billions of dollars while "sick people are segregated" and saddled with high premiums.
... people across America who are really frightened that they are priced out of the market, don't know what's coming next, want some information about how this is happening and what strategies we have for looking at costs into the future. Because they are terrified that they are next.
Sebelius's heartfelt ploy on behalf of a citizenry, most of whom were vehemently opposed to ObamaCare, led to her suggestion that the CEOs practice increased transparency. The secretary asked them to make information on rate requests public along with the actuarial data that supports those rate requests: what they're paying out, what they are collecting for overhead costs, and what they're collecting for administrative costs.
At the meeting, Obama proposed more regulations in an industry already heavily regulated. What Americans attending town halls had been warning their representatives about for over a year -- namely, a total government takeover of the health care system -- had begun.
Fast-forward to October 2013. Due to this month's $600-million IT blunder, the same ensnared insurance companies set to add 30 million new individuals to their books are finding out the real cost, financial and human, of joining their fortunes to Obama's radical plan to transform one sixth of the economy.
Insurance companies like Florida Blue, Kaiser Permanente, and Highmark Pittsburgh have already sent out hundreds of thousands of letters to consumers in recent weeks canceling their health care policies. The plans do not meet essential health benefits required by the health care law and are not eligible for the state- and federally run exchanges. According to policy experts, if members dropped from the rolls shop for coverage in off-exchange alternatives, they will not qualify for subsidies.
If this is the case, the road to single-payer will be littered with canceled policies and desperate consumers looking for a solution.
A few days ago, Fox News's Chris Stirewalt suggested that the bumbling IT rollout could lead to a break in the relationship between insurance carriers and Obama.
While Hill Democrats might be placated with promises of urgent action to fix the fouled Web site and sign-up system, the insurance chiefs are likely to be less understanding If ObamaCare doesn't deliver the millions of desirable customers the president has promised, widespread rate shocks even higher than those already reported could cause more insurers to dump customers and get out of the business altogether.
What Stirewalt and others don't get or don't want to believe is that putting the private insurance industry out of business was all part of the plan. The president's 2003 utopian agenda of a single-payer system cannot happen as long as they exist.