- In almost the same breath on August 17, the White House
effectively dropped a real public option (that likely never existed) while
Obama was telling the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) that the Pentagon
will escalate the Afghanistan/Pakistan war into a long-term conflict that
will assure "more difficult days ahead." He did so in defiance
of international and Constitutional law, the lives and welfare of American
forces, millions in both target countries, and lied at the same time saying:
"This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity" in
plain contradiction of the fact that in October 2001, US forces launched
a long-planned premeditated attack against a non-belligerent country posing
no threat to America.
- Obama's Central Asia agenda matches his domestic arrogance
against the rights and welfare of millions of Americans. Denying them real
health care reform is one of many ways he defiles the public interest in
deference to the corporate ones he serves.
- On financial matters, it's trillions for Wall Street.
On "defense," it's imperial wars and handouts to weapons and
munitions makers, and on public health it's promoting mass-innoculations
of experimental, toxic vaccines and rejecting real health care reform -
universal single-payer, the only real kind that all other Western nations
provide. But not the richest country in the world more focused on corporate
than public welfare.
- Simply put, the obstacle to real health reform is the
insurance and drug lobby's stranglehold on Democrat and Republican administrations
and Congress. Corporate lawyers draft new laws, sign-off on changes, and
industry officials staff the FDA, CDC, and other related agencies, then
return to high-paying jobs in the sectors they represent. Public welfare
is unconsidered under a system favoring profits, so achieving real reform
is near-nil. Whatever, if any legislation, passes, will make a dysfunctional
system worse by rationing care, leaving growing millions uninsured, many
others underinsured, while enriching insurers, drug companies, and large
- Predatory Drug Giants
- Called Big PhRMA with good reason, they wield inordinate
power over policies affecting their industry. Poorly tested new drugs are
fast-tracked and only withdrawn after hundreds, often thousands, are harmed.
Yet no congressional committee ever investigated a process endangering
millions of lives because lawmakers reap huge campaign contributions regularly
in return for industry-friendly legislation and regulations.
- In January 1997, Rezulin got swift FDA approval to control
blood sugar for patients with Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes.
It was only withdrawn in March 2000 after dozens of liver failure deaths
were reported and many others found to be afflicted with serious, potentially
life threatening damage.
- In May 1999, the FDA fast-tracked Vioxx (the anti-inflammatory
NSAID) despite suspicions at the time that Merck knew of dangerous side
effects and marketed the drug anyway. Evidence later emerged that the FDA
knowingly approved, promoted, and refused to recall it after as many as
100,000 heart attacks were reported and thousands of deaths.
- Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said this after
reading Wall Street Journal-published insider emails on how Merck hid damaging
clinical trials evidence and sold the drug anyway:
- "In the case of Vioxx, the FDA was urged to mandate
further safety testing after a 2001 analysis suggested a 'clear-cut excess
number of myocardial infarctions.' It did not do so. This refusal to engage
with an issue of grave clinical concern illustrates the agency's in-built
paralysis, a predicament that has to be addressed through fundamental organizational
reform....the FDA acted out of ruthless, short-sighted, and irresponsible
self-interest" to protect the interests of its own - and it happens
regularly by approving dangerous drugs and only recalling them in cases
too egregious to ignore. Even then only reluctantly to assure maximum industry
- The agency also censors its own scientists as Dr. David
Graham, associate director for science in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety,
explained in summer 2005:
- "....the review and clearance process has been turned
into a battleground, full of contention and intimidation because our managers,
the people who fill out our performance evaluations, had created a system
where it was taking a great risk to stand firm in our scientific beliefs."
- He essentially called the FDA a corrupted, industry-controlled
tool placing bottom-line considerations over public health and welfare,
then punishing whistleblowers who expose abuses.
- On September 30, 2004, Merck, not the FDA, voluntarily
recalled Vioxx after facing growing numbers of lawsuits (burgeoning later
to around 50,000), but admitted no fault or responsibility at the time.
It was later learned that around 80% of Vioxx claimants were on Medicare
or Medicaid. Government, not Merck, will pay 80% of settlement claims.
Merck may later repay some or all of them.
- However, under a subsequent FDA preemption policy, no
lawsuits may be filed in state courts pertaining to agency-approved drugs
so winning them in federal ones, stacked mostly with hard-right Federalist
Society-affiliated or approved judges, will prove far more challenging,
expensive, and time consuming. In addition, getting approvals for class-actions
will be harder.
- Dr. John Abramson's Expose of Drug and Insurance Company
- In his book, "Overdosed America: The broken promise
of American medicine," Dr. Abramson explains how drug and insurance
giants controlled US health care after the Reagan administration transformed
an essential need into a commodity as follows:
- -- by massively reducing federal funding for independent
medical research and mediation trials;
- -- forcing researchers to be funded by the drug giants;
- -- corrupting the whole system for profit, including
some medical journals accepting funding in return for publishing industry-friendly
studies on new drugs, other products, and treatments; for example, a New
England Journal of Medicine report claimed Vioxx was safer than earlier
NSAIDs when no such evidence existed; as worrisome, doctors are trained
to use medical journal data in treating patients;
- -- in 1991, 80% of clinical trials took place at universities
with considerable private funding but some academic oversight; by 2000,
universities conducted only 34% of trials;
- -- more than ever, drug companies design and control
trials of their own products to hide unfavorable findings and promote positive
ones; in addition, test results are private and unavailable to the public
on the pretext they'll compromise proprietary secrets beneficial to competitors;
as a result, peer review is impossible and dangerous drugs are made available
for sale; and
- -- one study found that industry-run clinical trials
are 5.3 times more likely to be positive than independent or public ones.
- Dr. Abramson's advice on drug usage:
- -- if possible, avoid new drugs that may or may not be
- -- choose a generic alternative; they're cheaper and
for drugs that have been around long enough for serious problems to emerge;
- -- whenever possible, choose an alternative treatment
as all drugs have disturbing side effects, some very dangerous from prolonged
- -- follow sound medical advice, not TV ads, articles,
or non-expert opinions, and always use sound judgment since protecting
human health is a personal responsibility, not to be taken lightly.
- Secret White House-Big PhRMA Deal Revealed
- In mid-August, it was learned that the White House and
Big PhRMA secretly agreed to what both sides denied. According to a knowledgeable
insider, the Obama administration won't use government leverage to bargain
for lower prices, import them from Canada, demand Medicare rebates, or
shift some drugs from Medicare Part B to Part D under which prices stay
high most often. In return, PhRMA agreed to (but may not follow through
on a promise to) cut up to but no more than $80 billion in projected costs
over a ten year period, a small fraction of the extra billions it will
reap if universally-mandated insurance coverage becomes law and drug coverage
available under it.
- Martin Weiss' "20-Year Battle with Insurance Companies"
- In an August 17 commentary, financial expert and investor
safety advocate Martin Weiss explained his own confrontations with insurers,
starting in 1989 when he began rating them honestly.
- At the time, large insurers like Executive Life, Fidelity
Bankers Life, First Capital Life, and others were over-invested with risky
junk bonds. He rated First Capital Life a D- and felt he was generous.
Days later, company lawyers and officials threatened to sue and "put
me out of business....if I didn't give them a better rating."
- "Who the hell do you think you are," they asked.
"All the established ratings agencies give us high grades." Weiss
refused and cited the company's own financial statement for proof. An "ultimate
- "Weiss better shut the f... up or get a bodyguard,"
one official said.
- Instead, he "intensified" his warnings, and
"within weeks, the company went belly up, still boasting high ratings
from established agencies on the very day it failed. In fact, AM Best,
the nation's leading insurance rating agency, didn't downgrade (the company)
to a warning level until five days" after it went out of business
along with two of its closest competitors, leaving their investors and
policy holders high and dry.
- The moral to this horror story is simple. If investing
in these companies was foolhardy, why would anyone buy their health insurance
and entrust them with their lives!! Why should anyone HAVE to buy private
insurance that sacrifices human health for profits at extortionist premiums!!
Why should drug prices be sky high!! When will the public demand better
from the bipartisan criminal class in Washington, and get activist enough
- Weiss calls insurers "denial machines" that
spend substantial sums as follows:
- -- for computer programs and systems that deny and/or
delay claims payments;
- -- hire doctors to poke holes in legitimate claims; and
- -- pay bonus premiums to employees denying the most claims
and/or approving the lowest amounts of payments.
- "In sum, health insurers build massive machines
designed" solely to deny and delay claims. The less they pay and longer
they wait, the greater the bottom line profits and share prices. In 2008
alone, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) reported
nearly 200,000 complaints against insurers, excluding states that don't
keep records and millions of cheated policyholders who don't act.
- According to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo:
"All too often, insurers play a game of deny, delay, and deceive."
- On August 11, a Health and Human Services Department
(HHS) study reported that:
- "Insurance companies can retroactively cancel individual
policies if any condition was not disclosed when the policy was obtained.
More to the point, insurers can cancel the policies" even if people
aren't aware of them or if a current condition is unrelated to a past one.
- "Coverage can also be revoked for all members of
a family, even if only one family member failed to disclose a medical condition."
- Two major insurers told Congress that they automatically
investigate medical records of policyholders with histories of medical
conditions like leukemia, ovarian and brain cancer, pregnancy with twins,
and numerous other situations linked to high costs.
- One of the worst abuses is direct interference with medically
recommended procedures and using their concentrated market clout to literally
get away with murder.
- When CNN reports that "More than eight in 10 Americans
questioned in a (March 2009-released) CNN/Opinion Corp. survey....said
they're satisfied with the quality of (their) health care, ignored were
the above abuses that might have produced different results. In addition,
respondents without insurance weren't interviewed. Coverage cancelation
wasn't addressed or experiences with the most abusive companies. Weiss
named some major ones based on frequency of customer complaints:
- -- American International Group (AIG)
- -- Atlantis Health Plans, Inc.
- -- Celtic Insurance Company
- -- CIGNA Healthcare of NY, Inc.
- -- Fortis Group
- -- GHI HMO Select, Inc.
- -- Mutual of Omaha Group
- -- Oxford Health Plans of NY, and
- -- United Health Group
- He also named those with the fewest complaints:
- -- CNA Insurance Group
- -- Mass Mutual Life Ins. Co.
- -- Northwestern Mutual
- -- Sun Life Assurance Company of CN
- -- Universal American Financial, and
- -- UNUM Provident Corp. Group
- The best advice is avoid the worst, choose the best,
work for change, and demand responsible government provide it.
- High Drug and Insurance Costs
- In America, drug costs are high, and lengthy patent protection
fosters monopoly pricing for extended periods. While charges vary by country
and products, a 2008 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) study found,
on average, that US drug prices are 70% higher than in other OECD countries.
- It also showed that insurance administrative costs are
six times those in other developed nations. They go for marketing (including
sales and advertising), claims processing, utilization review, high executive
pay, and profits - all of which deliver no health care, just needless costs
that can be eliminated under a universal single-payer system.
- Yet the Obama administration won't consider one in deference
to industry demands and hard-liners in his own party. Even the AARP representing
seniors, its denial notwithstanding. On August 17, CBS News reported that
up to 60,000 people cancelled their memberships since July 1, angered over
the group's position on health care.
- Many are switching to the American Seniors Association,
a libertarian-sounding organization that "provide(s) seniors with
the choices, information, and services they need to live healthier, wealthier
lives." Its president Stuart Barton believes "seniors are most
upset with (proposed) cuts in Medicare (and) flat-out (opposes) Obama's
plan (calling) for $313 billion dollars in Medicare cuts over ten years"
and another $300 billion from Medicaid. Obama told a recent town hall meeting
that AARP is "on board because they know this is a good deal for our
- An AARP spokesperson denied it, but members believe it's
waffling by supporting Obama through the back door, while telling members
no plan is being endorsed. According to its Social Impact vice president,
- "AARP has not endorsed any plan at this point. We
haven't seen provisions in legislation yet, so we're going to reserve judgment
until we see them." But she admitted that so far she knows nothing
to quibble with, leading members to view that as a tacit endorsement causing
thousands to exit in anger. Still, the organization represents 40 million
seniors, adds thousands more monthly, and loses them naturally through
attrition. Whether current loses lead to greater ones may depend on what
side of the health care debate AARP supports once legislative efforts are
- Obama Administration Waffling
- Over the August 15 weekend, the Obama administration
dropped its demand for a "public option" in capitulation to the
insurance giants that reject one out of hand and have lobbied ferociously
against it. In its place, a Senate Finance Committee-proposed "non-profit
health insurance cooperative" scheme may be adopted, similar to ones
in many states that sell insurance, can pick and choose their members,
reject ones judged costly, exclude pre-existing conditions, and charge
premiums comparable to private insurers.
- It's why critics denounce them as flawed, so we're back
to square one if they're adopted. After initial government funding, they'd
be on their own much like private for-profit businesses and end up operating
the same way. They'll leave a dysfunctional system in place, do nothing
effective to fix it, and keep private insurers and Big PhRMA in charge.
- A Flawed Public Option Perhaps Abandoned
- It was ill-conceived from the start as co-founders of
Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), Drs. Steffie Woolhandler
and David Himmelstein explained in a July 22 commentary:
- "Private health insurance doesn't work. Even middle-class
families with supposedly good coverage are just one serious illness away
from financial ruin. Illness and medical bills contribute to 62 percent
of personal bankruptcies - a 50 percent increase since 2001. And three-quarters
of the medically bankrupt had insurance, at least when they first got sick."
- Coverage bought in good faith often fails because it's
beset by co-payments, deductibles, and loopholes denying situations that
arise. For others, lost jobs end coverage at a time those still having
it pay more and get less.
- "Now Congress plans to make it a federal offense
not to purchase such faulty insurance." It may also do the following:
- -- tax workers' health benefits to meet the cost of covering
the poor and provide more revenue for insurers;
- -- drain funds from hospitals serving the neediest in
deference to the large chains;
- -- rely on unenforceable promises from hospitals, insurers,
Big PhRMA, and the AMA to control costs; and
- -- generate savings by computerizing medical records
for more centralized control and better management, an idea the Congressional
Budget Office says won't work.
- Obama's "health plan can't make universal, comprehensive
coverage affordable," something only universal single-payer can do
and at an annual saving of about $400 billion now and much more later on
- "enough to cover the uninsured and to upgrade coverage for all Americans"
- Everyone would be in, no one left out. Wasteful administrative
costs would be eliminated as well as exclusions for pre-existing conditions.
Seniors would be fully covered when they need it most. So would the poor
and uninsured, and no one would be one serious illness away from insolvency.
- Insurers today compete by denying care, choosing healthy
customers, not the sick, shifting costs onto patients, and lobbying for
public subsidies and industry-friendly legislation. "Decades of experience
(have shown) that private insurers cannot control costs or provide families
with the coverage they need." They're the bane of the system, not
the solution, and government-run clones won't fix the problems because
no effort will be made to try.
- Obama wants to ration health care by instituting a "global
payments" system in place of the current fee-for-service one that
reimburses for each visit or procedure. It assures expensive services would
be limited or denied, outpatient treatment and drugs will substitute for
many surgeries, and full coverage will only be available for higher fees
or expensive supplemental insurance premiums.
- Obamacare is reactionary and class-based. It's industry-friendly
at the expense of real reform. It assures affluent households top-flight
care, others only as much as they can afford, and imposes fines on people
too poor to buy coverage, so whatever plan is imposed on them will be inadequate
when they need it most because current ones are designed to fail. It subordinates
an essential needs to bottom-line considerations and leaves a broken system
- Obamacare is to health care reform what No Child Left
Behind is to educating the nation's youths in for-profit schools; what
Operation Iraqi Freedom is to liberating an occupied people; what Operation
Enduring Freedom is to bringing democracy to Afghanistan; and what the
Global War on Terror is to peace and good will.
- It's a scheme to ration health care, enrich corporate
providers, and leave a broken system in place. It's a patchwork idea to
repackage failure and claim success. It's a corrupted way to sacrifice
real needs on the alter of marketplace medicine by doing too little and
leaving growing millions out in the cold, on their own, and at the mercy
of for-profit predators. The solution is everybody in, nobody out under
a universal, single-payer system. It's time has come, and no one should
accept anything less or politicians who won't provide it.
- Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate for the Centre
for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
- Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Monday
- Friday at 10AM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished
guests on world and national issues. All programs are archived for easy