Republicans’ first attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare has failed, largely because a strong conservative holdout in the House considered the bill “Obamacare lite.” Therefore, the so-called American Health Care Act was pulled by President Trump and Speaker Ryan before ever taking the official vote on it.
Rather than blame conservative opposition, however, the president blamed the narrow loss largely on the Democrats, who would not even come to the table to discuss options.
I see the complexity in passing or repealing health-care law, but I don’t think it’s rocket science, primarily because there are a few key issues we all can agree upon, every faction and political persuasion.
If the feds want to accomplish major health-care reform, then first reign in the unaccountable and out-of-control health insurance and big pharmaceutical companies that are controlling and ruling over the American people like the king of England once did. Their methods and policies border on extortion and dirty laundering.
For example, executives from 13 insurance companies – including large, for-profit carriers, regional nonprofits and others – told Congress in January if they removed the individual mandate of Obamacare, premiums would increase 5 percent to 15 percent, and possibly even above 20 percent. That wasn’t a warning, but a threat.
Insurance companies and lobbying groups want us to believe that continuous and universal coverage is the only thing that will lower premiums. However, Obamacare, which offers both of those, has done nothing but resulted in an average hike of insurance premiums by 44.5-68 percent across the country, despite one’s age or gender, according to CNS News.
“A recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [even] shows that premiums for policies sold on the Healthcare.gov exchanges are rising at a national average of 25% [in 2017],” according to Consumer Affairs.
And if you think that American kids are skating through by piggybacking on their parents’ insurance until age 26, consider the recent report that explained, “Overall, young people can expect to have rate increases [under Obamacare] between 58.9 percent and 91.8 percent using national averages.”
So, the insurance companies win either way, whether the feds enforce individual mandates or not. Americans die if they do, or die if they don’t.
While the government tries to figure out ways to cut health and insurance costs, the health-care industry just figures out other ways to charge us and make up their profits. The industry seems to have the government in its pocket.
When the feds try to step in and save the day, I’m always reminded of President Ronald Reagan’s wise words about the nine most terrifying words in the English language, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
People often only hear what the politicians are saying through the lamestream media, but few Americans know of the actual health-care industry’s high profits and salaries that our outrageous premiums and prescription costs are paying for.
The Consumer Affairs article “Health insurance industry rakes in billions while blaming Obamacare for losses” explains about how, despite health insurance companies crying about record losses, they are actually yielding record profits as well as astronomical salary increases for their executives.
For example, CR reported: “Aetna, whose CEO Mark Bertolini reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission a $27.9 million compensation in 2015, has similarly celebrated sky-high profits. ‘In 2015, we reported annual operating revenue of over $60.3 billion, a record for the Company,’ Aetna recently told its investors.”
Similar record profits and sky-high executive salaries were found in the majority of health-care insurers. Look at the size of salaries that Becker’s Healthcare Review reported in the “20 highest paid health-care CEOs of S&P 500 companies”:
- Leonard S. Schleifer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (Tarrytown, New York) – $47.46 million
- Jeffrey M. Leiden, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (Boston, Massachusetts) – $28.09 million
- Larry J. Merlo, CVS Health (Woonsocket, Rhode Island) – $22.86 million
- Robert J. Hugin, Celgene (Summit, New Jersey) – $22.47 million
- Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, New Jersey) – $21.13 million
- Michael F. Neidorff, Centene (St. Louis, Missouri) – $20.76 million
- Alan B. Miller, Universal Health Services (King of Prussia, Pennsylvania) – $20.43 million
- Kenneth C. Frazier, Merck & Co. (Kenilworth, New Jersey) – $19.89 million
- Miles D. White, Abbott Laboratories (Chicago, Illinois) – $19.41 million
- John C. Martin, Gilead Sciences (Foster City, California) – $18.76
- Richard A. Gonzalez, AbbVie (North Chicago, Illinois) – $18.53 million
- Heather Bresch, Mylan (Canonsburg, Pennsylvania) – $18.16 million
- David M. Cordani, Cigna (Bloomfield, Connectivut) – $17.31 million
- Mark T. Bertolini, Aetna (Hartford, Connecticut) – $17.26
- George A. Scangos, Biogen (Cambridge, Massachusetts) – $16.87 million
- Robert L. Parkinson, Baxter International (Deerfield, Illinois) – $16.65 million
- John C. Lechleiter, Eli Lilly & Co. (Indianapolis, Indiana) – $16.56 million
- Marc N. Casper, Thermo Fisher Scientific (Waltham, Massachusetts) – $16.31 million
- Robert A. Bradway, Amgen (Thousand Oaks, California) – $16.09 million
- George Paz, Express Scripts Holding (St. Louis, Missouri) – $14.84 million
The health-care industry’s monumental profits are greater and ascend faster than any other industry on the planet, including all goods, services, utilities and technology, according to the International Business Times report, “Healthcare and pharma CEOs paid more than top execs in any other industry.”
- Johnson & Johnson: $276 billion (market value)
- Novartis: $273 billion
- Roche: $248 billion
- Pfizer: $212 billion
- Merck: $164 billion
- Sanofi: $134 billion
- Bayer: $123 billion
- Novo-Nordisk: $118 billion
- Bristol-Myers Squibb: $115 billion
- AbbVie: $110 billion
- GlaxoSmithKline: $103 billion
- Eli Lilly: $98 billion
- AstraZeneca: $84 billion
- Teva Pharmaceutical: $59 billion
- Shire: $49 billion
BBC News reported that staggering prescription costs is what prompted 100 leading oncologists from around the world to write an open letter in the journal Blood calling for a reduction in the price of cancer drugs.
Another contributor to out-of-control health-care costs is the never-ending cycle of rate hikes between medical services rendered and what insurers are willing to cover. The insurance companies only pay hospitals what they feel is their “fair share” for the service, and it is generally a very small fraction of what has been billed. Hence, this medical merry-go-round continues to spiral up as hospitals raise costs in grabbing a little larger piece of the pie, especially as they also have to offer the same treatment to the uninsured for an even smaller margin of profit.
And who is pulling the puppet strings the entire time? Insurance and Big Pharma companies. That is why I say no government policy or law is going to correct these problems unless it directly confronts and addresses the money monopoly and dictatorship run by health-care moguls. Washington needs to work piecemeal on health-care law by first restraining the health-care juggernaut of medical insurance and Big Pharma.
The largest recession-proof companies are found in the health-care industry. Think about it. During the big recession a decade ago, companies like Blue Cross, Aetna and others were as quiet as church mice, because they were raking it in while most of us were being ravaged by the economic downturn. They were cruising on their commodities while most of us were paying those vassal health overlords.
I feel like saying as the queen did in the Disney classic, “Alice in Wonderland,” “Off with their heads!”
The bottom line is, Obamacare has enabled the growth of power and profits of the health-care industry juggernauts, and it must be repealed and replaced, but not with another Republican version that also increases the corruptions of the health-care industry. Any and all federal (or even state) subsidies only put gas in the already corrupt insurance and medical costs tank, until corruption is stopped.
The real problem is that the American Health Care Act didn’t really offer much to restrain or fix the health-care behemoth. In fact, one could make a case that it fueled the fires of corruption by even “providing tax cuts for the health care industry,” as Adam Gaffney, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, a pulmonary and critical care physician, and a writer on health-care politics and policy, explained in the March edition of Fortune.
To state it simply and succinctly: Neither Obamacare nor the American Health Care Act will solve our health-care cost problems, at least as they are presented now. They are like dogs chasing their tails. Even the president himself admitted Friday there are portions of the bill he didn’t like. It’s going to take a concerted effort of all Americans and state officials fighting back against big insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants to get the train back on the track.
Eight years ago, in former President Obama’s first year in office, I wrote a column warning America about “6 reasons Obamacare is bad medicine.” That bad medicine has been forced through the arteries of America, resulting in higher premiums, the growth of health-care corruption and an imminent imploding of the health-care market.
That is why President Trump said Friday when his bill didn’t have enough votes, “Let Obamacare explode.”
However, all is not lost. Conservatives can still save the day by putting the federal monstrosity called Obamacare out of its misery through supporting individual-to-state efforts to impede its continual funding and implementation.
A couple years ago, in a column I headlined “Obamacare jiu-jitsu,” I explained that the art of jiu-jitsu is to use an opponent’s weight and strength to your advantage. I believe state governors and other local representatives can further choke the life out of Obamacare by using this martial arts technique. I’d like to repeat some of that information, as it would be timely right now.
What state officials (and our conservative representatives in Washington) need to do is leverage (jiu-jitsu) Obamacare’s next chess moves, and then offer more fiscally responsible and freedom-loving piecemeal alternatives or reforms, such as those proposed by Avik Roy, a health-care investment analyst and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
Roy wrote about “Obamacare jiu-jitsu” in his four-step solution to tackle the U.S. health-care crisis. It includes:
Step 1: Replace or fix Obamacare’s exchanges
It starts by improving the market orientation of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. With the states’ pressure and even the leverage offered them via the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions regarding Obamacare, they and Republicans in Congress can reduce the excessive mandates, regulations and subsidies in Obamacare. Utah, for example, created a health-care exchange that is far more palatable and market-driven than the one offered through Obamacare. The 10th Amendment is still alive.
Step 2: Migrate Medicare enrollees into the exchanges
The next step would be to move Medicare patients into Obamacare’s (reformed) exchanges. Roy explains, “For example, Congress could agree to raise Medicare’s eligibility age by three months every year for the foreseeable future [and] transfer the ‘dual eligible’ population – seniors who are enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid – onto the exchanges.” Roy adds, “In effect, over time, this would gradually introduce premium-support-style reforms into the retiree population, without requiring Congress to get bogged down in complicated reform legislation.”
Step 3: Let more people buy insurance on their own
In the third step, “Congress could consider reforms of Obamacare’s employer mandate – for example, exempting businesses with fewer than 200 employees, or eliminating it entirely – so as to stimulate economic growth while improving the market for individually purchased health insurance.”
Step 4: Offer Medicaid patients a way out of that broken system
The last step would be to “move the Medicaid population into the [reformed] exchanges. … Another approach could be to give Medicaid’s long-term care program back to the states, in exchange for federalizing Medicaid’s acute-care, pediatric, and dual-eligible populations.”
Though Roy’s conclusion was written nearly five years ago in Forbes, he could have essentially said the same words when President Trump and the Republicans in the House lost their first fight Friday: “Conservatives have lost the battle to repeal Obamacare. But they haven’t yet lost the larger war against out-of-control health spending. The opportunity to seize the mantle of reform is theirs for the taking.”
When I think of Obama and Obamacare, I can’t help but think of the words of Rickson Gracie, retired mixed martial arts world champion and a member of the renowned Gracie family, who once said, “If size mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle.”
Let’s continue to fight and show Washington that We the People are the kings of the jungle.