From the Harvard Crimson

If you were anywhere near Harvard Business School last Saturday you might have seen a 12-foot tall puppet dancing to accordion music while a merry band of “Congresspeople” and “health insurance executives” swilled champagne, showered each other in cash and sang round after round of “For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” If you weren’t near HBS, you missed a fantastic party. Here’s what happened:

Karen Ignagni, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, was greeted by this band of Occupy Harvard and Occupy Boston at the 9th Annual Healthcare Conference at HBS, where she was the keynote speaker. The merry band feted the insurance industry’s lobbyist-in-chief with an impromptu gala, honoring Ms. Ignagni with an award for “Excellence in the Business of Denying People Medical Care.” The revelers welcomed conference goers with cheers of “A-HIP-Hooray” and explained why Ms. Ignagni had been chosen for this ignominious award.

The award read: “Be it hereby known that Karen Ignagni has successfully upheld the interests of private insurance in the face of efforts to reduce the costs of administrative waste and to insure all Americans, preserving company rights to profit before the public’s right to health.”

Nearby, a comatose patient lay under a sign declaring “45,000 deaths per year due to lack of insurance”, citing a well-publicized study by Harvard Medical School.

The 12-foot tall puppet was allowed to pay to register for the conference but barred from entering any of the conference buildings; poignantly illustrating that corporate medicine will gladly take the money of those not invited to the table. Unperturbed, the outdoor gala-goers still had plenty to say. “We want to thank AHIP and the insurance industry for making us all filthy rich,” said one protester dressed as Max Baucus, the senior US senator from Montana.

More seriously, another protestor noted that, “the target here is not just the insurance industry, but the wholesale corruption of our government by corporate interests.” He told conference-goers, “when the health care industry spends half a billion dollars each year lobbying Congress, it’s difficult to achieve meaningful health reform that prioritizes the health of the public.”

It’s fitting that Ignagni was the keynote speaker at a conference titled “The Future of Healthcare: Innovative Business Models.” The current business model in healthcare legislation goes something like this: Large corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists and contribute millions more directly to politicians on both sides of the aisle. Politicians then allow private health insurers to profit tremendously from a system that provides neither adequate coverage nor adequate care and has failed utterly to contain costs.

AHIP’s success in this model is exemplary. Health insurance and drug companies donated $26.2 million to the 111th Congress. Politicians receiving the largest campaign contributions from health insurers were Barack Obama, John McCain, John Kerry, Max Baucus, Eric Cantor and John Boehner. After a vigorous ($86 million) campaign against health reform, health insurers not only defeated the public option but also got a bill that will compel all Americans to purchase private insurance. Critics may call AHIP two-faced, but we believe that its goals are clear: promoting the profitability of the health insurance industry.

Since Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) passed into law, health insurers have seen record profits, raising premiums well above inflation. Last year the profits from the five largest insurers, UnitedHealth, WellPoint, Aetna, Humana and Cigna totaled $12.6 billion. That’s enough money to increase the number of low-income children receiving healthcare by 6.45 million. As working families and employers struggle to pay rising premiums, insurance CEOs rake in salaries of $10-20 million a year, which is 300 to 600 times greater than the median personal income in the U.S.

Obamacare will expand coverage to many of the over 40 million Americans without health insurance. Still, health insurance often fails to provide adequate coverage. Twenty-five million Americans are underinsured. In 2007, medical bills contributed to 62% of all personal bankruptcies. And 69% of those experiencing medical bankruptcy actually had health insurance at the time they got sick or injured—just not enough.

For health care, the US pays more and gets less on key outcomes, such as health status (life expectancy) and financial risk protection (not being bankrupted by out-of-pocket medical expenses). The U.S. spends $7,500 per person on healthcare each year, twice as much as other rich nations spend, including Japan ($2,700), Spain ($2,900), Sweden ($3,500) and France ($3,700). And yet U.S. life expectancy is 78.2 years, while Japan’s is 83.0, Spain’s is 81.8, Sweden’s is 81.4 and France’s is 81.0.

Happily, there are plans that could truly reform our health system. One promising fix for our health system is to consolidate to single-payer insurance, a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private. With one payer, the US could save enough on administrative costs (more than $350 billion annually) to cover all of the uninsured. Patients would regain free choice of doctor and hospital, and doctors would regain autonomy over patient care.

Of course, there’s nothing that private health insurers and their lobbyists will fight harder against. After all, although a single-payer healthcare system would save American lives, it would hurt the profitability of the health insurance industry. The industry will continue to fight so that the champagne will keep flowing, the money will keep showering down, and the accordion will keep playing.

1 Comment

  1. jacksmith on February 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    REALITY!! And A Fix for Unemployment, Homelessness and Hunger

    In addition to fixing healthcare the right way we need a NewDeal. We need a permanent and updated FDR WPA (Works Progress Administration). A Full employment act requiring the government to provide a job for everyone able to work that wants to work at a living wage or better. At safe, meaningful work where they live. Guaranteed by the US government. With free or very affordable excellent healthcare and free or very affordable education and training for advancement or just personal enrichment.

    ( http://my.firedoglake.com/iflizwerequeen/2011/05/16/how-about-a-little-truth-about-what-the-majority-want-for-health-care/ )

    ( Gov. Peter Shumlin: Real Healthcare reform — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yFUbkVCsZ4 )

    ( Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator — http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator.html )

    ( Briefing: Dean Baker on Boosting the Economy by Saving Healthcare http://t.co/fmVz8nM )

    START NOW!

    As you all know. Had congress passed a single-payer or government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one, our economy and jobs would have taken off like a rocket. And still will. Single-payer would be best. But a government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! that can lead to a single-payer system is the least you can accept. It’s not about competing with for-profit healthcare and for-profit health insurance. It’s about replacing it with Universal Healthcare Assurance. Everyone knows this now.

    The message from the midterm elections was clear. The American people want real healthcare reform. They want that individual mandate requiring them to buy private health insurance abolished. And they want a government-run robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one. And they want it now.

    They want Drug re-importation, and abolishment, or strong restrictions on patents for biologic and prescription drugs. And government controlled and negotiated drug and medical cost. They want back control of their healthcare system from the Medical Industrial Complex. And they want it NOW!

    THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL NOT, AND MUST NOT, ALLOW AN INDIVIDUAL MANDATE TO STAND WITHOUT A STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE.

    For-profit health insurance is extremely unethical, and morally repugnant. It’s as morally repugnant as slavery was. And few if any decent Americans are going to allow them-self to be compelled to support such an unethical and immoral crime against humanity.

    This is a matter of National and Global security. There can be NO MORE EXCUSES.

    Further, we want that corrupt, undemocratic filibuster abolished. Whats the point of an election if one corrupt member of congress can block the will of the people, and any legislation the majority wants. And do it in secret. Give me a break people.

    Also, unemployment healthcare benefits are critically needed. But they should be provided through the Medicare program at cost, less the 65% government premium subsidy provided now to private for profit health insurance.

    Congress should stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on private for profit health insurance subsidies. Subsidies that cost the taxpayer 10x as much or more than Medicare does. Private for profit health insurance plans cost more. But provide dangerous and poorer quality patient care.

    Republicans: GET RID OF THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE.

    Democrats: ADD A ROBUST GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION TO HEALTHCARE REFORM.

    This is what the American people are shouting at you. Both parties have just enough power now to do what the American people want. GET! IT! DONE! NOW!

    If congress does not abolish the individual mandate. And establish a government-run public option CHOICE! before the end of 2011. EVERY! member of congress up for reelection in 2012 will face strong progressive pro public option, and anti-individual mandate replacement candidates.

    Strong progressive pro “PUBLIC OPTION” CHOICE! and anti-individual mandate volunteer candidates should begin now. And start the process of replacing any and all members of congress that obstruct, or fail to add a government-run robust PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! before the end of 2011.

    We need two or three very strong progressive volunteer candidates for every member of congress that will be up for reelection in 2012. You should be fully prepared to politically EVISCERATE EVERY INCUMBENT that fails or obstructs “THE PUBLIC OPTION”. And you should be willing to step aside and support the strongest pro “PUBLIC OPTION” candidate if the need arises.

    ASSUME CONGRESS WILL FAIL and SELLOUT again. So start preparing now to CUT THEIR POLITICAL THROATS. You can always step aside if they succeed. But only if they succeed. We didn’t have much time to prepare before these past midterm elections. So the American people had to use a political shotgun approach. But by 2012 you will have a scalpel.

    Congress could have passed a robust government-run public option during it’s lame duck session. They knew what the American people wanted. They already had several bills on record. And the house had already passed a public option. Departing members could have left with a truly great accomplishment. And the rest of you could have solidified your job before the 2012 elections.

    President Obama, you promised the American people a strong public option available to everyone. And the American people overwhelmingly supported you for it. Maybe it just wasn’t possible before. But it is now.

    Knock heads. Threaten people. Or do whatever you have to. We will support you. But get us that robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one before the end of 2011. Or We The People Of The United States will make the past midterm election look like a cake walk in 2012. And it will include you.

    We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. They have already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

    Spread the word people.

    Progressives, prepare the American peoples scalpels. It’s time to remove some politically diseased tissues.

    God Bless You my fellow human beings. I’m proud to be one of you. You did good.

    See you on the battle field.

    Sincerely

    jacksmith – WorkingClass :-)