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Friday: Haggle

Paul Krugman takes on the healthcare insurance industry this morning. That’s not entirely accurate.  Paul Krugman takes on Obama’s lack of willingness to take on the healthcare insurance industry this morning.  No one who has been reading this blog in the past 16 months will be surprised that Obama is not a fighter and I suspect, Paul isn’t surprised either.  The babies that just had to have their way last year are going to have to explain why *this* is happening:

The story so far: on May 11 the White House called a news conference to announce that major players in health care, including the American Hospital Association and the lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans, had come together to support a national effort to control health care costs.

The fact sheet on the meeting, one has to say, was classic Obama in its message of post-partisanship and, um, hope. “For too long, politics and point-scoring have prevented our country from tackling this growing crisis,” it said, adding, “The American people are eager to put the old Washington ways behind them.”

But just three days later the hospital association insisted that it had not, in fact, promised what the president said it had promised — that it had made no commitment to the administration’s goal of reducing the rate at which health care costs are rising by 1.5 percentage points a year. And the head of the insurance lobby said that the idea was merely to “ramp up” savings, whatever that means.

Obama is willfully misconstruing what the American people were demanding last fall.  They weren’t “eager to put the old Washington ways behind them”.  They were *desperate* to put the old Republican ways behind them.  In short, they wanted Obama to act like a Democrat.  They were scared to death by the financial crisis in October and took a giant leap of faith that a Democrat would be the better option.  But if all Obama is going to do is behave like a weak willed, country club Republicanesque, minivan driving, stay at home wife, suburbanite corporate shmoozer of a president, I think he may end up as a one termer.  It could happen.  Ask Jon Corzine.

I have a relative who works for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.   She works in an unmarked building in central PA in what I can only assume is an attmept to keep the desperate from going postal on them. Her bosses are not nice people. They’re the kind that monitor keystrokes and bathroom breaks.  They eliminated her management position and hired her back at a 40% reduction in salary in a different division.  Oh, she still supervises and works overtime.  They just don’t pay her like a manager anymore.  Recently, they booted spouses from their own health insurance coverage.  Yeah, her husband will now have to pay $500/month to be covered by her insurance policy.  No, she didn’t get a raise to make up for this.

If you want to get an idea of how easy it will be to negotiate with a company, just look at the way they treat their employees.  They don’t have to be as meanspirited, untrustworthy and cheap as they are.  They don’t have to behave as though human beings with personal lives are out to take advantage of them in the workplace.  These penny pinching, hard hearted skinflints do it because there is profit in reducing people to cogs in a machine and they can get away with it.

Obama is a fool if he doesn’t know this.  As inexperienced and weak as he is, I don’t think he is a fool.  He’s just not much of a Democrat.

PS.  I do take issue with Paul lumping the drug industry with the healthcare insurers.  Yes, they are caught up in the same kind of financial skullduggery at the shareholder level.  But pharmaceuticals face a completely different set of challenges from patent expirations, a less than adequate FDA and class action lawyers.  I think there is room to haggle with them.

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53 Responses

  1. You hit the nail right on the head. It is a willfull obtuseness to blame the system that is used to promote an agenda rather than the agenda itself. I am not opposed to Republicans, just their agenda. If republicans start pushing for the middle class and working man as hard as they have pushed for the rich I will probably support them.( I’m not holding my breath )Conversely I do not support the current Democrats because of their agenda and apparent support of the past Republican agenda.

    The system does not set the agenda the system operators are what needs changing.

  2. Wow. I think most of us assume that the Insurance companies could at least cover the spouses of their employees! I’m kind of shocked.

    • I was shocked when I heard about it too. Basically, they were told that if the spouses employer offered insurance, they would no longer be covered through the BC/BS policy. They could buy into it for $500/month. In the case of this relative, her husband’s company also offered insurance but it also has a monthly charge of something like $500. Either way, they pay.
      They’re both seriously considering moving to North Carolina. If the work and benefits are going to be shitty anyway, might as well live where you like.

      • When I was running a small manufacturing company back in the 1980s, I had to do something similar. At the time, we were subsidizing employee health care coverage 100%; but, all of a sudden, family policy expenses went out of sight. I think the insurance industry assumed that “family” meant children, who are fairly expensive to cover because they tend to require more care while their immune systems are developing. (Isn’t it interesting that there is no hybrid policy for two adults who comprise the entire family?)

        Anyway, I had to change the company policy on insurance so that the employee’s portion was covered, regardless of whether single or family, but the balance of the premium for family coverage had to be paid by the employee. My goal in providing an insurance package was to keep my employees healthy, not their spouses or children. I also learned that many of them could have been covered by a spouse’s health policy but were signing up for ours–in addition to the spouse’s policy–because it was free. Since we had a profit-sharing program back then, the extra dollars saved ended up benefiting all employees.

        Your relative’s company is still a separate business unit of BC/BS, even if it is part of the larger organization. Better to trim a benefit policy than to trim an employee. It’s a brutal decision, but one that many companies have had to make with today’s obscene health costs. Personally, I know the costs for companies of carrying health care for employees, and that is why I am totally opposed to any program except Universal Health Care.

        Obama’s idea that companies should continue to foot health care costs for employees is absurd. Too many companies are struggling to stay afloat. Obama seems to think that every business is Shell Oil and can afford these extra expenses. For a small business, health insurance is increasingly an extravagance.

        • I think health insurance should be completely detached from employment. It’s a ridiculous system that puts too much pressure on employers and doesn’t do anything for people who lose their jobs.

        • A.) She still works for BC/BS. She’s not in some adjunct subsidiary.
          B.) They’re still bastards to work for. I mean, SERIOUSLY not nice. But there aren’t a whole lot of choices in Central PA.
          C.) I can understand it if it were any other industry but the health insurance industry. But these are the guys that are hiking the premiums on everyone else. You’d think they would be able to offer an employee discount.

        • BC/BS is no longer a good insurer. You have to fight them for every drop of coverage.

        • BB: I’m with you!

          I have known so many people who want to retire but won’t have healthcare because they aren’t old enough for Medicare or the spouse isn’t old enough…

        • My sister has run into the same problems with her business. She tried to join a pool of other small businesses so they could negotiate with health care providers, but none would work with them. She offers them extra money to get private care, but with the bad economy she’s having difficulty filling positions because it’s not much more benefit than stayin on unemployment. Needless to say, she is for universal healthcare as well.

  3. While I have always had reasonably good insurance coverage as a health care worker, I have always had to kick in a relatively whopping sum for family coverage.

  4. I am disheartened and discouraged.

  5. Health insurance for my husband and me is going from $760/mo to almost $900/mo (with $2,000 deductables for each of us) — and we cannot possibly afford another rise like that next year.

    This current situation (or anything like it) is unsustainable. In fact there are estimates that if the rise in premiums continues at this rate, by 2025 health insurance premiums will be 100% of income.

    Of course, long before that we’ll have all canceled our coverage.

    At what point can we start suing these companies for extortion (give me your money or your spouse/child dies)

    • Whoa! That’s a huge chunk o’change. My premiums are much less than that, but then again, I have a much more restricted selection of doctors. Still, I can’t complain too much. I am almost never sick and visit the doctor very rarely. My colleague down the hall goes to the doctor for every little thing. She monitors her internal organs constantly. I don’t understand it. She’s on so many drugs and antibiotics all of the time that I think she’s making her health worse by overtreatment.

      • We actually lost some choices this next year. Our old plan included access to hospitals like MD Anderson & the Mayo Clinic. Now we’re restricted to Kansas City Hospitals. Which is a little frightening considering my family’s Cancer History.

        • And to think, we cannot possibly consider government health care because it will limit our choices. Good grief.

        • I’d be more than happy to have my choices limited. It would be better than not being able to get treatment if something terrible happens–like when I broke my elbow a couple of years ago. Thank goodness I had my crappy insurance with very limited options. At least I was able to get the emergency surgery I needed even if they wouldn’t pay for any physical therapy to speak of.

        • Our choices are and have been limited by HOMs, PPOs and contractual agreement, That’s the ridiculous part of the whole argument. The government interferes less with my choices in Medicare than the private insurers did when I am was working.

      • i agree R,D, my ex daughter in law is at the Dr,or emergency room almost daily.
        the old time Doctors had it right,
        keep the patient comfortable while the body heals itself.

        • Hippocrates said “let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” I think in a lot of cases that old adage applies. I’m concerned about the need to get on antibiotics for any little thing. I was hopeful although with resignations that Obama would start a dialogue about natural health/alternative remedies, since he is into organic food. But then I realized he just buys corporate organic food (before he had the WH organic farmer), so that told me where his priorities lay.

    • According to a neighbor of mine, who works in IT security for a major local hospital chain, the latest issue is medical identity theft. So few people can afford the kind of premiums that people like you are paying, and those who need operations can’t just go into the emergency room. So now there are those without insurance who are stealing the identities of those who do have insurance in order to get treatment.

  6. OT

    The Bipartisan Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act Needs Your Support!

    Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Senators Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) recently re-introduced the bipartisan Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act in Congress. Thanks to its viewers, Lifetime has so far collected more than 23 million online petition signatures urging Congress to pass this critical legislation, which would end the practice of so-called “drive-through” mastectomies when women are forced out of the hospital only hours after invasive breast cancer surgery.

    Help restore patient and consumer rights to breast cancer patients and their families:

    * Sign Lifetime’s growing petition. Lifetime will continue to deliver the signatures to Congress and make your voice heard.
    * Share your story. If you or someone you love has experienced a drive-through mastectomy, we want to know. Tell us in the official Breast Cancer Survivor community discussion.
    * Call or write your members of Congress and ask them to support the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act. You may reach your member of Congress by calling the U.S. House of Representatives switchboard at 202-225-3121. To find your representative in Congress, go to: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW.shtml.


  7. Oops did not mean to post on the thread that I did. Somehow that always happens when I come here…anyway

    Happy Memorial Day weekend.

    • Hi Afrocity! Hope you have a great long weekend. I think a lot of people here have already split for the Cape. Traffic was minimal last night in the rush hour. I love staying here when everyone leaves. Between the students being gone and the holiday weekend it’s so much more pleasant to drive around here.

  8. looks like MR hopey change . has turned into MR -more of the same….

    • He’s already worse than Bush II and he’s quickly moving into Cheney territory.

      • speaking of Cheney, he is out and about right now , scaring the children, in order to make Barry look good in comparison . IMO

      • Well, Cheney is his cousin, so what do you expect? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

  9. Great post….RD , you have been missed!

    They just don’t pay her like a manager anymore.

    Mission Accomplished!

    Anyone like your relative , who has a middle management job, ( by middle management, I mean someone who actually manages ) or any civil servant, is in the freaking cross hairs .

    The city just told my librarian husband, they want 30 days of lockout, ‘er I mean , furlough a year ….among other demands. Isn’t that a 12% pay cut? They also want our personal financial info to be part of public record and alot of other shit.

    • It’s a fabulous post! I’m glad RD took a break, because she has returned with a flourish!

    • Holy Shit paper doll !

      Why on earth would they want people’s financial info to be a part of public record? Unless they are trying to scare people into accepting a 30-day furlough. We are having a 8-day furlough per year without any salary increase. I haven’t even figured out how much of a loss that will be to me yet.

  10. ANY discussion of Obama’s “progressive” agenda is incomplete without an input of my peeps at BAR:

    White House Health Care Ploy Backfires

    President Obama’s mission to keep the U.S. health care system safe for the profiteering classes got waylaid last week by – the profiteers, themselves. The health care industry “refused to corroborate Obama’s claim that they had agreed to reduce health care spending by $2 trillion dollars over ten years.” Worse, some of them pointed out that, in point of fact, Obama doesn’t have a fully developed health plan. The president’s business allies’ failure to back up his fiction means Obama will have to pick another occasion to proclaim that the private sector has made sacrifices, and it’s time to take the axe to “entitlements.”

    Actually I hate these guys. They are consistently brilliant.

    • You’re right. We should cite them more often.

    • The president’s business allies’ failure to back up his fiction means Obama will have to pick another occasion to proclaim that the private sector has made sacrifices, and it’s time to take the axe to “entitlements.”

      wow, I’m in awe. That says it very well!

    • BAR gives me, um, hope that the black vote won’t be quite so monolithic in 2012. Don’t know if they have any sort of community outreach going, but it’s much needed.

  11. Riverdaughter said, “As inexperienced and weak as he is, I don’t think he is a fool. He’s just not much of a Democrat.”

    Absolutely. Also, he has no developed character to persevere, and in fact no developed health care plan to persevere with. He is stll the small time political hustler and opportunist with a history of going along to get along with his promoters without committing to anything.

    Community Organizer, thanks again DNC.

    • So when will he develop character?

      He is stll the small time political hustler and opportunist with a history of going along to get along with his promoters without committing to anything.

      He is also lucky that his sugar daddies and mommies are always there to protect him. He really doesn’t have to work hard for anything.

    • I never thought Bush was a fool either. Just a lazy frat boy. I feel the same way about Obama.

    • More like Community Gladhander!

  12. I have thought about this issue for a long time because my first job, 40 years ago, was in a city Emergency Room. After that I worked for another hospital and a couple of insurance companies, writing group health plans. I also managed health plans as an administrator.

    I think that employer provided insurance has long since ceased to be a good idea, especially now with so much job volatility. I favor a single payer plan similar to an expanded Medicare (although Medicare is messed up now.)

    We are already very limited as to what doctors we can see, with private insurance. I think that is a non-issue. The issue is how care is paid for. The issue is to provide care, not to be a gatekeeper, whether it’s paid by gov’t or by insurance.

    BO sent me an email telling me that I should support his health plan. I responded that I could not possibly support his ill-conceived plan.

    I am really alarmed that he comes out weekly with some new half-baked plan to wreck things. I feel as though he is cutting a swath of destruction.

  13. Meanwhile, I just received an email from this group, which support an expanded Medicare type of plan for everyone. You can easily send a fax from this website to congress members.


  14. If you want to get an idea of how easy it will be to negotiate with a company, just look at the way they treat their employees. They don’t have to be as meanspirited, untrustworthy and cheap as they are. They don’t have to behave as though human beings with personal lives are out to take advantage of them in the workplace. These penny pinching, hard hearted skinflints do it because there is profit in reducing people to cogs in a machine and they can get away with it.

    You know someone is sick when they put maximizing profits over the health and lives of human beings.

  15. “they wanted Obama to act like a Democrat. ”

    Nay, that was the problem. Him just “acting” – we want him to be a Democrat.

  16. Another great one and eye-opener into an industry that is corrupt. Good for you! So sad for your relative, RD.

    One of the reasons I liked McC was that he planned to give people $5,000 so they could go buy some care. I loved that. That was a plan.
    Actually, he seemed like a Dem with a heart on that one.

    Only Dems know Dem-like behavior! Even if that comes from a Republican.

    Actually the fix on this is to have comapnies provide the insurance like they used to? The gov should make that mandatory and go after insurance rate reform.

    What a mess, and what a failure.

    • It at least was a plan, and one that I could have lived with until 2012 for us to elect Hillary. It was a moment when McC showed his more populist concern for the American people.

  17. At a certain level, everything has been criminalized .
    Call it the Bush2 /Chicgo Slim, one two punch

  18. A few years back when my kids qualified for the NYS CHIP program, I was talking to a woman at Empire Blue about my account, and she told me HER OWN KIDS were on the SCHIP program.

    Now, she worked for Empire Blue servicing clients on the SCHIP (and probably other) insurance programs, and her own children did not have health insurance thru her employer.

    Something way messed up about this.

    • Plus, she made little enough money working FOR the insurance man that she qualified for the SCHIP program! Disgusting.

  19. they should have known when he ran a racist campaign accusing everyone who did not support him, or ran against him, or said he was inexperienced, of shouldn’t have had corrupt dealings with Rezko, or palled around with American terrorists….of being racist.

    ps…did anyone else barf lunch when he was on TV today talking about the evil lobbyists?

    • oops this was supposed to be in another thread.

      I wanted to say “we told you so” too.

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