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Are Backstabbing Wounds Covered By Your HMO?

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Abandoned Hospital.jpg

UPDATE: Chris Bowers at Open Left has a much more detailed breakdown of the Baucus plan. It's far, far worse than implied yesterday. And if you care about this sort of thing, it also looks like Max let an insurance industry shill write the whole thing, and made sure that those overtly part of the insurance sector read the bill before the White House.



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Tomorrow, President Obama is set to give a what pundits insist will be a "historic" speech before a joint session of Congress. He intends to gin up support for his Health Care Reform plan, such as it is. After 3 long months of watching the Democrats continuing their time honored tradition of pathetically failing to anticipate anything the Republicans will do to them1, color us unenthused.

Many observers are looking to this long overdue injection of Obama's patented Hope™ and Change© into the debate as a hopeful sign that maybe, just maybe, we'll actually get something good out of all this aimless political meandering. Well, to those of you who quaintly assumed that a President who won his election by deft application of progressive talking points and the constant suggestion that he supported the implementation of a slew of liberal ideas would, you know, actually deliver on one or two of them, instead of constantly caving in like a tapped out coal mine to any conservative or centrist who throws a temper tantrum, I offer my sincerest condolences.

Those of us paying attention have seen this debate, over the basic ethical obligation owed by a wealthy, developed nation to its citizens, descend into outright insanity. It's been... rough, to say the least, watching the lunatic babbling of lying sociopaths be allowed to set the terms of public discussion, while the voices of those who are not histrionic, selfish, lying assholes, are marginalized, ignored, or silenced outright. (Even if we did get used to it during the run up to the war in Iraq.) Hysterical claims that Obama is a Nazi and simultaneously, a Marxist. Insane claims that he intends to round up conservatives in concentration camps. Even the hilarious death panel nonsense. Oddly though, in this late stage of the debate, the biggest sideshow of all isn't the hideousness of our shockingly awful health care system, or even the insane cranks, but whether or not the Democrat's plan will include something unimaginative hacks are calling The Public Option.

A centerpiece of Obama's Health Care proposal from day one, the Public Option is a poorly described plan for creating a government run health care entity that would compete with private insurance companies on their own terms, similar to expanding Medicare to everyone. As recently as July, Obama was insisting it be a part of his ultimate plan but since then, the clumsily-named idea has been increasingly backpedaled with less subtlety than Van Jones. Sure, he reiterated his support for the option yesterday (in tepid terms), but the fact that he won't commit to a knock down fight over it, combined with the other dangerous compromises he's apparently made, has led progressives attached to meaningful reform to stage their first ever paid-attention-to royal shit fit.



Blogs erupted en masse the second Obama's proxies began to hint that maybe another Clintonian sellout was coming w/r/t the Public Option, but astonishingly, even the normally spineless members of the House of Representatives are joining in the fun. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said more than once, on the record, that a bill without a Public Option cannot pass. Better still however is the fact that the House's so-called "Progressive Caucus" announced, in a letter penned last week by the group's two leaders, that they would kill deader-than-disco any bill that failed to contain a robust health care reform including a Public Option. It's enough to make one hopeful that this time, Democrats might actually do something with the power they've been handed.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast is squishy with a chance of Fail.

On Friday, in response to this massive outpouring of congressional "oh no you di-int!", Obama spoke privately by phone with members of the Progressive Caucus and apparently told them to STFU.

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His logic, we are not fucking kidding, is that they are being selfish because they live in rock-solid party majority districts with no chance whatsoever that voting the way their constituents expect will result in their being tossed out of office. The poor widdle Centrists in the Senate, and their poor widdle Blue-Dog counterparts in the House? These unloved, neglected members of the Party live in conservative leaning districts, and Obama's crack team of center right douchenozzles fear that if they were to actually work to enact the platform the American people were promised, they might be tossed out of office by voters too idiotic to know that eating their own shit might kill them, much less vote. The poor centrists would then have nothing left to fall back on, other than the millions upon millions of dollars they've received from the various industry lobbies of course.

Or to sum up: if the stories are true, then Obama is afraid that actually living up to his promises might rid the Democratic party of its weakest, least loyal and most-prone to betrayal members. Apparently, this would be worse than 50 million people without insurance, and millions more who can't afford the coverage they have, so Progressives, whose only crime is being consistently loyal to their party and trying to do the right thing, are being covertly threatened in order to save the political careers of people who are their exact opposite. And it wouldn't be the first time progressives have been asked to eat Blue Dog manufactured shit sandwiches either. All in the name of the odious shiboleth of the day, "bipartisanship." Good policy, you see, isn't what matters; what matters is that we all get along2. Anyone who has ever cared about something other than the next Xbox Live download knows how ludicrous this idea is. And yet it's happening. Worse, far, far too many well meaning centrists have actually swallowed this line of thought.



"You're overly hung up on this so-called 'Public option'," we're told during the Sisyphean conversations on this topic. "What's the big deal? Shouldn't the goal be a good bill, rather than some arbitrary position?" Well, since we're obviously just ignoring reality today, that's certainly a good question.

First, and I'll revisit this later, the good bill you have imagined doesn't exist. That non-Public Option bill with strict pricing controls, consumer protection and a well-funded, affordable mandate isn't being offered. What is being offered is a collection of variants on the wonderful little bill put forth by Max Baucus on Saturday, and if you think that's a good bill, we're really having a very different conversation.

Second, those who accuse us of being unduly hung up on the public option are really missing the point. They frequently admonish us not to let "perfect" be the enemy of "good", the implication being that our insistence on a Public Option above all else is some how going to ruin the bill, and furthermore, if we kill the health care bill on that issue, the lack of reform will be our fault. To be blunt, progressives are not letting "perfect" be the enemy of jack-fucking-shit. The simple fact is that we already lost "perfect" when the inveterate compromisers who in 2008 promised us "hope", "change" and a slate of progressive liberal pornography that, in this dismal era, would have William Gladstone suffering from acute carpel tunnel after 30 seconds, bargained away Single Payer before this conversation even started. Note to the fiscal scolds and idiotic centrists currently haranguing us about being inflexible and unwilling to compromise, then cleverly suggesting that the subsequent possible failure of this effort will be our fault: The Public Option is the compromise, you weak-livered fucks. We've already given up far more than you have, and you're still trying to steal from us. If this is how it's going to be with the Democrats in charge, bring back Bush. At least they told us to our faces how they were going to fuck us.

This whole business about "Perfect" putting a hit out on "Good" has got to go, like now. Oh sure, it's a nice turn of the phrase that rolls off the tongue, is easy to remember and has the added benefit of making the stupid and the shallow feel like they've just said something profound. Which is probably why centrist politicians keep trotting it out every time the wish to intone with a heavy sigh that, shucky darn it, we just can't let this here gummint spending get outta control, no matter how sick Americans get! But it's not, actually, very clever at all - it's just a clumsily ironic juxtaposition that relies more on a reversal of expectations than actual content, and even that escalated description gives it way too much credit, because it's content-fucking free. Frankly, it should lead thinking people to conclude that opponents of meaningful health care simply hired Will.i.Am to write their copy:

"Tonight's the night
Let's live it up
I got my money
Let's spend it up"

"Fill up my cup
Look at her dancing
Just take it off "

"Feel the shot
Body rock
Rock it don't stop (stop,stop,stop,stop)"

"Don't let Perfect (perfect)
Be the En-
Emy of
The Go-ood (good good good)"

Complex debates should not have to be settled via catch phrase, but because America has transformed from the land of the free to the home of No Homo, we're now incapable of serious, and honest, policy discussions. The result is that in a nation with millions of uninsured and millions more one sneeze away from being dropped by their insurance company and slipping into medical bankruptcy, where huge majorities support a national health care plan like those found in every single other developed nation on earth, we're instead approaching our problem as though the central goal is to make sure that those poor insurance industry workers don't lose their jobs.

Also, and more relevantly, far from being perfect the Public Option isn't even Good (capital G), it's only "good". It's thin gruel that more or less patches the current system but doesn't scrap it. Don't lecture us about how we can't afford a new car, and then try to trick us into thinking that the Pinto with Von Dutch flames is actually a Mercedes, okay? Especially since we know for a fact you gave a blank check to your cousin who asked for an SUV, offered to cover all gas expenses, and didn't once complain about the escalating price per gallon. You're lucky you haven't been kicked out of the house.

Now, somewhat good policy is being tormented and mutiliated into a deformed, unrecognizable stump, all to make sure that ignorant pricks, who would rather you die than they have to pay even a cent more in taxes, feel included and respected. Meanwhile, as the shameful Van Jones sellout illustrates, it's actually considered ruder to call an ignorant prick out for their ignorance and penile personality, than it is to be ignorant and prickish.



So, why exactly are we so hung up on the Public Option? It's partially because we're tired of seeing our priorities being sacrificed so that Democratic leaders can impress Republicans by insulting liberals. At some point, we have to draw a line just to be afforded basic respect, and it might as well be here. But more importantly, as has been pointed out by a million and one people, the Public Option is not only the biggest money saver, it's also the only item on the Health Care Reform agenda that would actually address the single biggest problem with our depraved health care system - the usurious extortion committed against each and every person who isn't wealthy enough to pay for their own medical care. Darcy Burner does a good job of breaking down just why this is the case, but FWIW, here is our own insignificant explanation:

All the plans floated by the Conservative Fiscal Scolds have the following in common:

Mandate to purchase.

Weak, practically meaningless subsidies: the government would give money to people who couldn't afford premiums. Unfortunately, in nearly every plan, the threshold for qualifying is in almost every proposal ridiculously low - meaning that many people who can't actually afford to purchase insurance on their own would get no help. One "reasonable" plan suggests that people pay up to 13% of their income for this wonderful reform.

No rules restricting the non-administrative expenses incurred by insurance companies - namely, executive compensation, bonuses for immoral behaviour, and what not.

A requirement not to drop people from coverage or deny services due to pre-existing conditions. This sounds great, except for one thing:

Rather nonexistent price and cost controls.

It gets worse though - earlier, we mentioned Max Baucus' lovely little Health Care plan, and it's worth summing up here. In short, all of the above with the added bonus of a co-op instead of a public option that would be hilariously incapable of competing with the insurance industry, and a tax imposed on insurance companies that they've already stated would be passed on to their customers. Worse, it actually makes it more expensive for companies to hire lower income workers. It's expensive for self employed people, the government subsidey comes in the form of a fucking tax credit, and he's even included measures designed to, get this, actively discourage people from using their insurance.

No, we're not kidding about this either. Baucus actually designed a plan designed to increase unemployment and fuck over the middle class. He also believes, as do all fiscal scolds and industry shills, that the problem isn't that people can't afford coverage, or that people keep getting dropped just when they need coverage the most. It's that people use "too much" health care. And sometimes, lawsuits. And that young, healthy people are gaming the system because they don't think they'll get sick3. No, seriously, read about the plan and ask yourself if we're kidding.

Put simply, you'd be forced, under threat of legal repercussions, to buy insurance, whether you can afford it or not. If you're employed as anything other than an entry level fast food worker, you'll make too much money to qualify for public assistance, which means you'll be paying out of pocket for this "coverage". But guess what - the law doesn't require them to provide the same coverage to everyone, just equal access. Now sure, they have to cover you, but costs would be raised due to expense of onerous imposed taxes. Welcome to Health Care as envisioned by the Auto Insurance industry - The wealthy will be able to afford full coverage, while the poor and middle classes will be stuck with liability. Meanwhile, nothing prevents their other immoralities, which means their CEOs will still be living in palatial mansions while you're working 2 jobs to afford your wonderful new Health Care plan.

We'll now take a moment to rebut this plan. Our response will be translated from the French (whose National Health Care system is the envy of the industrialized world):

1) Fuck you.
2) Super fuck you, with dirty knives.
3) Fuck your discarded entrails, while vultures tear out your internal organs. And yes, it's official: "Baucus" is now the Greek God of being a tremendous dickhole4.



But never mind how much of a mendacious prick Max Baucus is, let's focus on the Public Option, which happens to be the only plan offerred that would actually provide a viable alternative to the mushy, confusing shakedown being peddled by our backstabbing friends on the right. Providing cheaper, and better coverage to people than they'd be allowed otherwise, not to mention a real escape from the prison of private insurance, it also has the unique advantage of actually being popular. Of course, it was a strategic error not simply calling it, as Huffpo and Talent Show blogger Greg Saunders suggested, "Medicare for everyone", but we make due with what we have. If enacted, and it turns out to work, people will love it and rightfully associate the program with Obama and his party. Republicans have always known this (unlike Democrats, they actually pay attention to these things), and have admitted outright that one reason to block Health Care Reform is to keep people from loving the Democrats for improving their lives.

Failing to pass a bill that would be both effective and popular in favor of something people will instantly hate, resent, and blame you for, isn't just bad policy, it's political suicide. Watching the Democrats fold on something so critical, and so obvious, is heartbreaking. Imagine being attacked by a thug a with a tire iron who want to beat you to a pulp, and trying to bargain them down to breaking your legs. A Democrat would probably argue that you ought to let him put you in a coma so next time he'll be more likely to show you restraint.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration's backhanded dithering, seemingly constant stream of contradictory leaks5, and their apparent preference for pleasing Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans instead of the people who actually voted for him, don't do much to give us hope for decent Health Care Reform bill, but it's worth fighting for. The Progressive Caucus has reiterated their willingness to kill any bill that doesn't meet this very meager requirement, but they're being subjected to tremendous pressure to fold, something they've shown great aptitude for in the past. We have to make them do it. Here's the Progressive Caucus member list, and here's a list of the Los Angeles Area's congressional delegation. (see also the official HOR Website.) If you care at all about this, now might be the time to start calling these people and letting them know how you would ever so much appreciate not being screwed over by their campaign donors.

Rest assured, if the effort fails, we can look forward to a sickening giveaway to the insurance companies in the form of a barely-subsidized insurance-purchase mandate, low to no practical expense reduction, or even the meagerest publicly run service that might actually compete with the private sector vultures. Corporate Feudalism, indentured servitude, total being-fuckedness. In short (and with apologies to Duncan Black), we can look forward to tithing 20% of our incomce to the church of Kaiser. Or else.




1) This despite the fact that unless my understanding of linear time is wrong, all Democrats in congress were, in fact, very much alive during the Clinton and Bush Administrations, and the 2004 election, and thus have no goddamned excuse for failing to see this stuff coming a mile away.

2) When will people learn that the purpose of a debate is to convince your audiance, not your opponent? You're not supposed to get along with the opposition, you're supposed to fuck them up. How I long for the days when people got into fist fights on the Senate floor. At least then we were an honest country.

3) Does anyone out there actually believe that the problem is that people are using their insurance too much? Does anyone out there even know someone (who wasn't a lawyer or doctor or rich) who neglected to buy insurance when they were young because they didn't "need it? Silly us, we thought it was because working shit jobs for shit pay left us with hardly enough money to buy ramen. Not having insurance when you can't get a job that offers coverage, or enough hours to qualify, isn't a bet, it's a rational decision: Rent and food now, or homelessness but barely affording health insurance.

4) Classicists, please note: The "Baucus" can be found in Homer's The Odyssey. He's the demigod with two faces and no brain. Antiqui-Zing! (h/t Greg Saunders)

5) Honestly, why does this only happen when the President has a "D" next to his name? Republican administrations magically have total message discipline and rarely leak except on purpose. Hell, Cheney was willing to go to the supreme court to defend the secrecy of his dirty little energy task force in 2001. Democratic Administrations, on the other hand, can only do one thing with total unity: alienate and insult the liberal base whenever possible, so that they can get a pat on the head from the people who hate them. This, by the way, is the sort of thing that made Nader sound so appealing in 2000. Failing to remember that is a strategic mistake. Just saying...

Photo, "Abandoned smallpox hospital" by mirsasha, via Flickr.

Photo "Senator Max Baucus", by CAP via Flickr.

Photo: "Jellyfish" by Maury McCown via Flickr.

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