One of the guest bloggers here, the esteemed Ed Harrison, was initially more hopeful about Obama than some of us (I an sufficiently cynical that I find it hard to get excited about any politician, although I will confess to falling for Australia’s Kevin Rudd) but is now calling him a black Herbert Hoover.
Even that is not quite sufficient, but is directionally correct. One of the defining characteristics of Team Obama its preference for spin in lieu of substance. Admiittedly, the Bushies had a variant of that, in their obsession with the visual staging of any presidential appearance (the attention to props and lighting detail would do Annie Liebowitz proud).
But with the Obama cohort, the focus is Orwellian, the use of language to misrepresent substance. Recall the totally mislabeled “stress tests” which were not tests. The tests were self-administered and the result pre-determined, since Administration officials said repeatedly that the point of the exercise was to show that the banks were sufficiently well capitalized. And since there were doubts about the seriousness of the exercise, it was helpful to the PR process that the banks got pissy and pushed back, which gave the misleading impression that they were being handled roughly (as opposed to they were given a yard and wanted to see if they could take a mile).
A similar charade is in motion on the health care front. My bullshit meter went into high alert earlier this week with this New York Times story, “For Health Insurers’ Lobbyist, Good Will Is Tested,” which was clearly a PR plant. It featured Karen Ignagni, a $1.6 million-a-year earning lobbyist to the health insurance industry as a heroine (I started getting nauseaous as soon as I saw the deliberately low-key picture of her in her office). And why should we see a representative of one of the biggest forces undermining democracy in America, the usually-successful efforts of well-funded industry groups to steam-roll legislative process, as a good guy, or in this case, gal? Because she supposedly talked a mean and obstructionist industry into playing nice.
This NYT article thus manages to be a two for one, trying to re-image both the health insurance industry and lobbyists. Consulting my Divine Comedy, I find lobbyists are relegated to the eight circle of hell no matter how you cut and slice it, as either flatterers (second bolgia) or false advisors (bolgia eight) or falsifiers (bolgia ten, along with alchemists and perjurers). This puts them on the same general level as corrupt politicians (bolgia 5), although one could make a case they belong in the ninth circle, traitors.
To the Times’ puff piece:
For the insurance industry, long an opponent of health care reform, it was a striking change: with a new administration coming to Washington, insurers agreed to abandon some of their most controversial practices, like denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing medical conditions.
The truly offensive bit of the piece was the Grey Lady running full bore with the line that they were being unfairly castigated, they really had turned a new leaf, and those people who were Calling Them Bad Names were risking breaking up Ms. $1.6 million woman’s fragile coalition:
For a while, it seemed to be working — until recently, when the insurance industry re-emerged as Washington’s favorite target. “Villains,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, called health insurers. And Mr. Obama derided the industry for pocketing “windfall profits.”
Taken aback, Ms. Ignagni, the 55-year-old chief executive of the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans, wondered on Tuesday why insurers were being singled out when, in her view, they had accepted that change was necessary.
“Attacking our community will not help get anyone covered,” she said.
The last statement was very revealing. It’s tantamount to “We still hold the whip hand.” And it appears they do.
The “nice” act by the insurance industry could mean only one of two things. First would be that they see that reform really is coming, and they will have more leverage if they try to shape legislation, which means being part of the process rather than in the wilderness in a losing battle to stop it. Or else they have already won and want to make sure no one connects the dots before legislation is passed.
It turns out the latter theory is correct, that the insurers come out of this faux reform even better than before. And since one of the reasons the US has the highest health care costs in the world is that we have far and away the highest administrative costs,. All those fights to get care you thought you were entitled to just serve to make the overall tab higher. The parasites will suck even more from the host.
From Business Week:
As the health reform fight shifts this month from a vacationing Washington to congressional districts and local airwaves around the country, much more of the battle than most people realize is already over. The likely victors are insurance giants such as UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Aetna (AET), and WellPoint (WLP). The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable. Health reform could come with a $1 trillion price tag over the next decade, and it may complicate matters for some large employers. But insurance CEOs ought to be smiling…
Impressing fiscally conservative Democrats like [Jim] Matheson, a leader of the House of Representatives’ Blue Dog Coalition, is at the heart of UnitedHealth’s strategy….big insurance companies have quietly focused on what they see as their central challenge: shaping the views of moderate Democrats.
The industry has already accomplished its main goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking altogether, any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business. UnitedHealth has distinguished itself by more deftly and aggressively feeding sophisticated pricing and actuarial data to information-starved congressional staff members. With its rivals, the carrier has also achieved a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry….
Yves here. So did you get that what the $1.6 million woman was selling was a crock? According to Dante, flatterers are steeped in human waste. Sure, the industry isn’t fighting extending coverage, because it will collect fees for covering bupkis. Back to the article:
[Mike] Ross is frustrating the Obama White House by opposing proposals for a government-run insurance concern that would compete with private-sector companies. The President argues that without a public plan, premiums and medical bills will remain prohibitively high. Ross and Matheson have given strong voice to the industry’s contention that such a public insurer would actually reduce competition by undercutting private plans on price and driving them out of business. “We have concerns about a public option if it’s not done on a level playing field,” Ross says….
The several competing bills pending in Congress would guarantee all Americans access to health coverage, addressing the plight of the 47 million who are now uninsured. Congress plans to achieve that by expanding Medicaid, the government program for the poor and disabled; requiring insurers to accept all applicants regardless of their health; and mandating that everyone purchase coverage. Government subsidies would make the obligatory coverage more affordable. The legislation would do little, however, to slow spending by Medicare, the public program for senior citizens, or cut overall medical costs. Congress is considering taxes on the wealthy and on benefits now provided to many white-collar workers.
During the UnitedHealth road show in July, Democrat after Democrat clambered into the company’s promotional vehicle beneath a sign declaring: “Connecting You to a World of Care.” Judah C. Sommer, who heads the company’s Washington office, looked on with satisfaction. “This puts a halo on us,” he explained. “It humanizes us.”
And that Democratic proposal to tax insurance companies? It seems to be fading after the industry said it would raise rates for workers and their families.
I strongly suggest you read the piece, It is well reported and quite nauseating.