Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bush Only Wants to Improve “Private Healthcare”

President Bush reached across the aisle to reform the U.S. health care system so more of the nearly 47 million uninsured can afford coverage. Our nation’s CEO said he wanted to “find practical ways to improve our private health care system”.

What about the public health care system currently serving those legions of uninsureds? His budget proposals hurt those facilities. Locally owned hospitals will take it on the chin with a Medicare regulation change. As most safety net facilities are public in nature, shifting disproportionate share funds from providers to states will hurt hospitals doing more than their share to serve Bush’s target population.

The President’s own estimates suggest his tax credit plan will reduce the number of uninsured by only 5 to 10%. If he hits his higher target, that reduces the number of uninsured to 42 million, a number crossed in 2002. The President’s signature solution only gets us back to the size of the problem in his second year in office? It happens to be the same year he offered health savings accounts as the solution to the ills of the system. After hawking his Bush tonic, the number of uninsured grew by 6 million people.

I believe tax credits will be as astoundly successful in reducing the number without coverage as health savings accounts. However both strategies shift responsibility for purchasing health insurance to the individual, making the system much more private and personal. Businesses would love to shed that ever rising benefit cost. They’ve had the chance to shed it incrementally via high deductible health plans/health savings accounts. Under the President’s new plan, they can shed responsibility in one fell swoop. Why should businesses pay the cost when the employee gets the $15,000 tax credit?

Anyone who believes Democrats will stand up for the middle class in this are wrong. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon already submitted a proposal for employers to pass the cost of purchasing health insurance to their employees. Sure it involves increased pay for two years, but afterwards businesses have no obligation to do anything towards employee coverage.

Private insurers reported record profits in 2006 as a result of expanded government sponsored business from Medicare Part D to Medicare comprehensive plans. Most state CHIP plans are private and a number of Medicaid managed care plans come from that same sector. President Bush wants to move all government sponsored insurance to the private sector.

Does it help that his Uncle Bucky sits on the Board of WellPoint, a large health insurer? "Uncle Bucky" sits next to Susan Bayh, wife of Evan Bayh-D Indiana. And an empty seat next to them was once occupied by Al Hubbard, the President’s chief economic advisor who contributes greatly to Bush’s health care strategies.

Ten Senators offered to work with President Bush on this pressing problem.

Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Robert Bennett (R-UT), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Trent Lott (R-MS), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and John Thune (R-SD).

A prominent Democrat on the list is the esteemed Senator from North Dakota, Kent Conrad. Senator Conrad accepted campaign donations from both insurance companies and investors banking on greater healthcare privatization. Two hospital chains, HCA and Triad Hospitals are leaving Wall Street courtesy of private equity money. Goldman Sachs is one sponsor of Triad’s move. Ironically all three names are included in Mr. Conrad’s list of recent donors.

Goldman Sachs $10,000
HCA $4,000
Triad $5,000

Yet neither HCA nor Triad has one hospital in North Dakota. The list of donors with no North Dakota facilities gets larger when one looks at LifePoint, Kindred Healthcare ($9,750), Universal Health Services ($4,000), and Tenet Health Care ($2,000).

As for Kent’s interest in helping his other donors, many health insurers funded his campaign in 2005-2006. UnitedHealth ($6,000), WellPoint ($4,500), Aetna ($5,000) and Humana ($2,000) all kicked into Senator Conrad’s coffers.

It’s a good thing Evan Bayh-D, Indiana didn’t sign up for the bi-partisan working group. Ironically health care happy Goldman Sachs gave Evan $10,000 over two election cycles. But Senator Bayh didn’t get in bed with Kent's for-profit hospital chains. He chose to get up close and personal with the health insurance sector. WellPoint, with Evan’s wife Susan on the board, ponied up $12,500 in the last 4 years. UnitedHealth, Aetna and Pacificare also graciously contributed to the Senator’s campaign money trough.

Susan's hard board duties paid off for the Bayh household. Evan's wife flipped her WellPoint stock option grants in the last two years to the tune of $1.2 million in sales proceeds. That's gotta help the home front finances.

WellPoint likely will have undue influence in how the bi-partisan deal works out. In addition to the board connections of Al Hubbard, Susan Bayh and Uncle Bucky Bush, their PAC greased the coffers of seven of the ten dealmakers the last 6 years.

$1,000 to Jim DeMint (R-SC), $4,500 to Kent Conrad (D-ND), $6,000 to Robert Bennett (R-UT), Ken Salazar (D-CO), $10,000 to Trent Lott (R-MS), $3,000 to Mike Crapo (R-ID), and $5,000 to John Thune (R-SD).

While a few Democrats appear untainted by health insurance donations, key blue power people are more than smeared. Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus of Montana bears the same shame as neighbor Kent Conrad for taking beaucoup dollars from for-profit hospitals with no facilities in Big Sky country. He’s also soiled by investment house money lined up to make big bucks from Bush’s continued privatization of everything governmental. On his top all time donor list sits J.P. Morgan & Chase at $76,500 and Goldman Sachs with $55,700. Blue Cross Blue Shield provided $41,000 and Morgan Stanley invested $35,000.

The aforementioned Evan Bayh is sponsored heavily by the investment community. Goldman Sachs funded him to date to the tune of $165,000, followed by Morgan Stanley and The Carlyle Group neck and neck at $74,000. Blue Cross Blue Shield comes in at $73,000 with J.P. Morgan & Chase at $54,000.

Guess what kind of health care reform will be coming out of this pack? One that makes a lot of money for proprietary hospitals, insurance companies, and the investment houses going wild in each area. Remember the President’s bold plan will only reduce the number of insureds by 5 or 10%. Democrats are lining up to work with George W. Bush. Many would think, why bother? Now we know why…

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