"Let them eat cake," the notoriously callous words ascribed to Marie Antoinette, were probably said a century earlier by Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV. But whoever said them, the mindset the statement conveys of an aristocracy oblivious to the realities confronting the poor is still with us today.
"Congressmen, what shall we do about the 30 million Americans lacking health insurance?"
"Why, that is simple. Force them to buy it. Fine them heavily if they don't!"
"What if they don't have the money?"
"Then take it from those who do!"
The health reform bills now coming through Congress are not focused on how to make health care cheaper or more effective, how to eliminate waste and fraud, or how to cut out expensive middlemen. As originally envisioned, the public option would have pursued those goals. But the public option has been dropped from the Senate bill and radically watered down in the House bill.
Rather than focusing on making health care affordable, the bills focus on how to force people either to buy health insurance if they don't have it, or to pay more for it if they do. If you don't have insurance and don't purchase it, you will be subject to a hefty fine. And if you do purchase it, premiums, co-pays, co-insurance payments and deductibles are liable to keep health care cripplingly expensive. Most of the people who don't have health care can't afford to pay the deductibles, so they will never use the plans they are forced to buy or be fined.
To subsidize those who can't pay, the Senate bill would make families earning two to four times the poverty level who don't have employer-sponsored insurance surrender 8% to 12% of their income to insurance payments, or pay a fine. In another effort to make the insurance payments "affordable," the Senate bill calls for the lowest cost plan to cover only sixty percent of health care costs.
"In other words," writes Dr. Andrew Coates, "a guarantee of insurance industry dominance and the continued privatization of health care in every arena."
Medical Tyranny by the FIRE Sector
Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is quoted as warning two centuries ago:
Unless we put medical freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into an underground dictatorship. . . . The Constitution of this republic should make special privilege for medical freedom as well as religious freedom.
That time seems to have come, but the dictatorship we are facing is not the sort that Dr. Rush was apparently envisioning. It is not a dictatorship by medical doctors, many of whom are as distressed by the proposed legislation as the squeezed middle class is. (For a critical analysis of the Senate health care bill by an organization of 17,000 physicians, see here.) The new dictatorship is not by doctors but by Wall Street -- the FIRE (finance, insurance, and real estate) sector that now claims 40% of corporate profits.
Economist L. Randall Wray writes that ever since Congress threw out the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from investment banking, insurance and Wall Street finance have been "two peas in a pod." He maintains:
Here's the opportunity, Wall Street's newest and bestest gamble: there is a huge untapped market of some 50 million people who are not paying insurance premiums--and the number grows every year because employers drop coverage and people can't afford premiums. Solution? Health insurance 'reform' that requires everyone to turn over their pay to Wall Street. . . . This is just another bailout of the financial system, because the tens of trillions of dollars already committed are not nearly enough.
Compulsory health insurance is like compulsory selective military service (the draft), except that all of our numbers have come up. The argument has been made that auto insurance is compulsory, so why not health insurance? But the obvious response is that you can choose to drive a car. The only way to escape the vehicle we call a body is to give up the ghost.
The Right to Sovereignty Over Our Own Bodies
And that brings up another issue alluded to by Dr. Rush: the matter of freedom of choice in health care. Some people would equate it with freedom of religion. Not everyone believes in Modern Medicine. If we the people have a right to choose what we believe about life after death, we should have the right to choose what we believe about life before death, by choosing how to maintain our own bodies.
The conventional treatment promoted by the medical/pharmaceutical complex is an aggressive approach that can wind up killing the patient as collateral damage in its war on the disease. Among other researchers questioning the wisdom of this approach is Gary Null, who reported the results of an exhaustive independent review by the Nutrition Institute of America in 2004. Conventional medicine was found to be responsible for an estimated 783,936 deaths annually, including 106,000 deaths from adverse drug reactions, 98,000 from medical errors, and 88,000 from infection. And those figures were conservative, since no more than 20 percent of iatrogenic (doctor- or drug-caused) mishaps are ever reported. The review concluded that the number one killer is not heart disease or cancer but is conventional medicine itself.
There are more natural, less invasive alternatives, but most are not covered by insurance; and even such simple remedies as healthy organic food may be too expensive for people forced to use a major portion of their incomes for medical insurance. A true public option of the Medicare-for-all variety could have solved the problem by keeping health care affordable. If most other industrialized countries have managed to fund a national health service, we could too. For a model, we could follow the lead of Canada, which originally obtained the money for its national health service from its own publicly-owned central bank. But that will be the subject of another article. Stay tuned.
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