High-Stakes of Stupak-Pitts Amendment for Women of Color

A few Saturdays ago, on November 7th, we were at the annual SisterSong meeting, a gathering of about 300 reproductive justice advocates. What was exhilarating and unusual about this meeting was that the vast majority of people attending were women of color who are focused on gender and sexuality issues. This was a fantastic event that showcased and harnessed the power of women of color, a group often portrayed as politically and socially marginalized.

At the same time, the House was considering and voting on the now-infamous Stupak-Pitts Amendment to the health care reform bill. Stupak-Pitts bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, whether through a public option, or through federal subsidies to private insurance plans offered through an insurance exchange. While that, in and of itself, is extremely limiting and dangerous, the amendment goes even further—it bars the use of federal funds to “cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion.” Essentially, the amendment bars any insurance plan operating in the health care exchange from offering abortion services.

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What next for the single payer movement?

Does passage of a bill that funnels millions of additional Americans into the private insurance system, and the decision of House leaders to shut down debate on one single payer amendment and scuttle another, mean the end of the years of efforts by single payer activists to win the most comprehensive reform of all?

For the nation's nurses and the many grassroots activists, the answer is clearly no.

In discussions and organizing, now occurring coast to coast, including a strategy conference this weekend in St. Louis hosted by Healthcare-NOW, many are charting a new course that turns next to the U.S. Senate, to the Senate-House Conference Committee, and then to state capitols from Sacramento to Harrisburg where vibrant single payer movements and campaigns continue to grow.

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Socialist Health Care

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

Some of the Obama's more incoherent detractors have labeled his health care plan as "socialized medicine." It is assumed, naturally, that socialism is Bad (with a big B).

While socialism may be less effective in many industries and fields (just look at the Soviet Union's fate, after all), the insurance industry as a whole is rather different. Think for a moment - how is capitalism supposed to work? The company that makes the most profit wins. Companies make profit by selling goods and services to consumers; the better the product, the more consumers buy it, the more money said company makes, and the more effort said company puts into making an even better product. Society as a whole benefits from this invisible hand.

With insurance, on the other hand, companies don't make profit by selling consumers the best product. Instead, they make money by denying insurance claims from consumers. The incentive is perverted; the insurance company that does the best denies the most claims. And because one has to begin with a lot of preexisting money to start an insurance company, it is very difficult for competition to emerge. Meanwhile, the customer is trying to make insurance companies pay for something (a medical crisis, for instance) he or she could not afford on his or her own. It is as if both sides are continually trying to rob the other.

Obviously, this is Bad (with a big B) for society. Partly as a result of the above problem, the United States spends far more than its peers on health care and gets far less for its cash.

Does this mean that the United States ought to switch to a socialist health care system? Doing so would certainly constitute a wretching change. Terrible mistakes could be made with implementation; moreover, other failings of the U.S. system (e.g. malpractice lawsuit costs) are just as or even more responsible for its high costs.

Yet nations with socialist systems, such as Britain and France, tend to have far "healthier" health care by most measurements - especially cost per capita. As even the most persistent free-market advocates acknowledge, some fields  (e.g. the financial industry) are simply not suited to capitalism. Health insurance seems like one such domain.

To switch or not to switch? At the very least, it's worth considering.

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The Problem with Profits; Katie Meacham's story

A small story appeared in the New York Times recently that few nationally are likely to have noted. It was published on page MB1 of the New York edition, not exactly high profile placement for a national newspaper, but what it covers should be central to the national debate going on today about health care in America:

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Weekly Pulse: Finance Committee Passes Health Bill

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

Yesterday, the Senate Finance Committee finally passed its health care bill. John Nichols of the Nationreacts:

If every kid in class finishes their homework except for one, guess which kid will get the most attention. That's right, the slacker.

And, when the slacker finally does turn in the assignment, it is invariably a slapdash job that fails to meet minimum standards.

So it is in the U.S. Senate, where the Finance Committee finally got around to finishing its health care reform assignment.

The bill passed by a vote of 14-9. All the Democrats, plus Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted in favor. As we know, it doesn't include a public option.

Robert Scheer, also of the Nation, sums up the bill as written:

The main thrust of the proposal is to forcibly submit even more customers to the tender mercies of the insurance industry while doing nothing significant to cut costs. Insurers will now pretend that the burdens on them are onerous and will demand concessions to make this an even bigger boondoggle for the medical profiteers than George W. Bush's prescription drug coverage initiative.

Sheer sees the Finance Committee bill as a sop to the health insurers. If it were to pass in its present form, it would deliver millions of new customers to private insurers by requiring everyone to carry insurance. The free market keeps costs down when companies compete to give the best value for the lowest price. But most health insurers operate as monopolies on their home turf. If insurers had to compete for customers, they'd have an incentive to lower their prices. That's why progressives want to introduce competition in the form of a public option.

An all-private insurance system gives power to an industry that it is indifferent to the needs of the people it claims to serve.

Before we go any further, our warmest congratulations to Robin Marty, who is expecting her second child. In a piece for RH Reality check, Marty details how the private insurance industry toys with people's lives in pursuit of profit. For Marty and her husband, joy is mixed with apprehension because their maximum out-of-pocket insurance cost just doubled. By the time the baby arrives, Marty's husband expects to pay 10% of his pre-tax income just to keep his family insured. And they'd better hope that bundle of joy is of an actuarially-approved size. An insurance company in Colorado refused to cover a 4-month-old baby because he was "too fat," according to the boy's father. The company relented after media pressure, but there's no indication that they plan to drop their general rule that babies whose weight is above the 95th percentile don't get covered.

Earlier this week, the insurance industry broadsided the Obama administration by releasing a "report" warning that health care reform would cause premiums to skyrocket.

As economist Robert Reich explains in TAPPED, the industry was upset that the Senate Finance Committee was considering more lenient punishments for young healthy people who don't buy health insurance. (They would still be fined, just not as much.) The industry report claimed that if the government spares the rod, only old sick people will sign up, and premiums will be higher for everyone. Reich argues that the report inadvertently makes the case for the public option:

But the bomb went off under the insurers. The only reason these costs can be passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums is because there's not enough competition among private insurers to force them to absorb the costs by becoming more efficient. Get it? Health insurers have just made the best argument yet about why a public insurance option is necessary.

Steve Benen of the Washington Independent notes that former Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) went on Don Imus's syndicated shock jock radio show to echo the insurance industry's talking points. "I'm afraid that in the end, the Baucus bill is actually going to raise the price of insurance for most of the people in the country," Lieberman said.

With all this hypothesizing and posturing, it's easy to forget that neither Lieberman-nor anyone else--is going to vote on the Baucus bill as written. The Finance Committee bill is just one of several proposals to have passed their respective committees. In the Senate, the more liberal Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) passed a bill with a public option this summer. All the House health reform bills also include a public option.

As Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent explains, the tone of the debate is expected to shift dramatically: Now that the various bills have cleared their bipartisan committees, power shifts to the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate who are in charge of shaping the final legislation.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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