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Congress Makes Corruption Legal... And We Pay The Price



In mid-September, we ran a post, Lucas Kunce Wants To Criminalize War Profiteer Lobbyists; Don't Stop There, noting that the politicians who take the most direct lobbyist money have been Hillary ($5,873,569) and Biden ($1,739,774) and that the two in Congress who gobble up the most in direct payments from lobbyists now-- Kevin McCarthy ($1,471,447) and Steny Hoyer ($1,399,591)-- don't make a move without consulting the lobbyists. In fact, most establishment legislation from both parties is written, at least in part, by lobbyists who represent the special interests the legislation impacts.


Kunce's uncompromisingly anti-corruption Twitter stream and powerful populist platform-- which highlights ending monopoly domination of the economy and abolishing corporate PACs-- aren't meant to endear him to K Street. I get the impression that he sees corporate handouts by politicians who have been paid off by lobbyists working for corporate special interests, the same way I see it: legislatively uncriminalized corruption. A few days ago, we noted that the Biden administration had just released an exhaustive anti-corruption action plan, good as far as it went... which isn't nearly far enough.


Yesterday Jacobin's Andrew Perez, referencing that same Biden administration report, asked why we don't just call all that money from government to corporations what it is. He noticed that the report "noticeably avoided mention of a particular form of corruption: corporate capture, where companies and their financial interests completely dominate the policymaking process. The Biden administration, as it turns out, is a perfect example of this: every policy solution they propose involves some sort of corporate giveaway. This is the kind of institutionalized and legalized bribery that’s almost never discussed-- the corruption that’s responsible for high health care costs and poor health care outcomes in the United States, and that has made it effectively impossible for lawmakers to rationally respond to the COVID-19 pandemic here and around the globe."


The proposed strategy is just the latest example of the Biden administration’s preferred approach for dealing with virtually every health care problem: funnel it through health insurance corporations that bankroll Washington politicians. The situation will continue to drive health care disparities and pad profits in a health care sector that helped finance Biden’s presidential campaign.
Then there’s the issue of containing the pandemic. The fastest way to stop the spread of COVID and prevent new strains from emerging is to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible. But the United States and other wealthier countries with powerful pharmaceutical lobbies are hoarding vaccines and continuing to block countries like South Africa and India from manufacturing their own vaccines, choosing to protect private profits instead.
...Instead of creating a promised public health insurance option or expanding Medicare, Biden and Democrats have pushed to put more Americans on expensive private health insurance plans with subsidized premiums.
Democrats similarly decided the best way to help poorer residents in GOP-led states that have refused to expand Medicaid coverage is to allow those people to sign up for heavily subsidized private health insurance plans.
Those efforts are likely to be a windfall for health insurers that have seen huge profits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also be lucrative for hospitals and doctors, who get paid more by private health insurance plans than by the government.
Definitionally speaking, preserving, and propping up a health care system based around private health insurance-- instead of establishing a universal, single-payer program-- means allowing for different tiers of coverage. It also allows for the continued existence of a significant and durable health care under-class: 28 million Americans were uninsured last year.
If the Biden administration was concerned about everyone having quality health care-- or about disparities in care-- they would not be working to put more people on private insurance. But that’s exactly what they and Democrats have done.
While providing premium subsidies will surely help people, private health insurers regularly deny claims, create barriers to care, and put people through hell for profit. One potentially relevant example: some health insurers are currently requiring documentation of a doctor ordering a COVID test before they agree to pay for it. Why make people deal with these vultures?
Some big insurers are already expressing confusion about how the Biden reimbursement policy is supposed to work. “Spokespeople for major health insurers including Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield say their companies are awaiting guidance and will work with the administration on implementation,” Politico recently reported.
The administration isn’t planning to issue the guidance on the testing plan until January 15. That’s more than a month from now, which of course undercuts the entire purpose of their COVID testing policy: “to provide additional protection to Americans and fight the Omicron and Delta variants, while keeping our economy growing.”
At least the Biden administration still has some time to change course and prove that they can respond effectively to a public health crisis-- but that might involve countering corporate capture.

Former Orlando Congressman, Alan Grayson, now running to replace Marco Rubio in the Senate, told me this morning that "We spend 17% of our GNP on healthcare. Everyone else spends less than 12%. Nevertheless, our life expectancy is 40th in the world, and it has increased less during the past 20 years than any other country in the top 40. And this was before 800,000 COVID deaths and 200,000 overdose deaths in the past two years. How could we spend so much on health, and get so little health for what we spend? The answer is that we are the only major country in the world that funds healthcare primarily through private insurance. Private insurance charges as much as it can, provides as little in healthcare as it can, and it calls the difference profit. It then takes that profit and spends large parts of it-- for instance, $2 million just against me, alone, in 2010-- to perpetuate its control of policymaking and government. Obamacare simply has become a method for insurance companies to guarantee themselves a larger market, and more profit."


Morgan Harper is the progressive running for the open Ohio Senate seat. A few minutes ago, she told me that "Everyone deserves health care. Subsidizing insurance premiums and a corrupt health insurance industry won't get us there. We need Medicare for All to ensure both coverage and affordability." You can contribute to her campaign-- as well as Grayson's and Kunce's by clicking on that 2022 Blue America Senate thermometer above.

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