Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ruling Class Racketeers

This is rich:
(Reuters:) U.S. Health Secretary-nominee Sylvia Mathews Burwell sought to allay a major Republican worry about Obamacare on Thursday, telling lawmakers that President Barack Obama's reforms would not lead to a government-run single-payer healthcare system on her watch.
Her assurance against an approach reviled by Republicans and industry leaders came during a two-hour Senate confirmation hearing at which Burwell received an important endorsement from Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina. Burr sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which will decide whether to send her nomination to the floor for a final vote.
Awwwww. Burr hearts Burwell! Because when it comes to the perpetual enrichment of the ruling class at the expense of the poor, bipartisanship always has a way of magically breaking through the fake congressional gridlock. Sylvia Mathews Burwell is a dream come true from neoliberal heaven (or more aptly, hell) for the elites controlling both sides of the Money Party.

Not content to simply lick the boots of both Republicans and "industry leaders," a/k/a the predatory insurance cartel, the current White House budget director also used her Senate confirmation hearing to broadcast her disdain for ordinary people. Her message hovered somewhere between a dog whistle and a bullhorn:
"I am hopeful that we will have the opportunity to continue to work together closely in the months ahead to deliver impact for the American people," she said.
Ouch. What a weird choice of words. It kind of takes the whole TLC equation right out of Obamacare, doesn't it?  Then again, Burwell's comparison of medical care to a body blow is most likely an apt one, given the severe emotional impact of that first 50% co-pay bill from your Bronze Plan.

A millionaire centrist technocrat who was Treasury undersecretary under Robert Rubin, she was later named deputy chief of staff in the Clinton administration. Not only is she expected to sail right through the confirmation process, her corporate cred is even serving to mute the always-phony hatred of the GOP for the Affordable Care Act. The ACA was, after all, crafted in one of their own think tanks. 

And what self-respecting Republican can ignore the fact that the Obama nominee once ran the charity wing of the right-wing Walton Family of corporate welfare queens, as well as administering the charity begun by Bill Gates, the richest man on earth? She's worked for Erskine Bowles, he of safety net-slashing Catfood Commission fame. She's worked under Rubin, who helped orchestrate the repeal of Glass-Steagall in between his own stints at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. She's sat on numerous corporate boards. She belongs to the Aspen Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission.

She has no experience in health care administration. But so what? She's a member of the Club. She knows how to efficiently deliver impact, and deliver it good and hard.

 "I look forward to, if confirmed, making that system work as efficiently and effectively as possible, both in terms of cost and access," she gushed during the first part of her Senate confirmation schmooze-fest. Her testimony was to continue on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, now that Team Obama has blundered over the public relations hurdle of getting 8 million out of 45 million uninsured people "covered," the  Efficient Impact is finally starting to set in.... with a vengeance. The New York Times ran a front page story on Tuesday, all about how the newly-insured are finding the pickings mighty slim as they venture into the Obamacare Shopping Mall of America:
In the midst of all the turmoil in health care these days, one thing is becoming clear: No matter what kind of health plan consumers choose, they will find fewer doctors and hospitals in their network — or pay much more for the privilege of going to any provider they want.
These so-called narrow networks, featuring limited groups of providers, have made a big entrance on the newly created state insurance exchanges, where they are a common feature in many of the plans. While the sizes of the networks vary considerably, many plans now exclude at least some large hospitals or doctors’ groups. Smaller networks are also becoming more common in health care coverage offered by employers and in private Medicare Advantage plans.
That must be what Burwell meant when she said more Americans will be impacted. They'll be covered with bruises trying to squeeze through all those tiny passageways, not to mention bumping their heads on those ridiculously low coverage ceilings. 

The Times article continues,
 Insurers, ranging from national behemoths like WellPoint, UnitedHealth and Aetna to much smaller local carriers, are fully embracing the idea, saying narrower networks are essential to controlling costs and managing care. Major players contend they can avoid the uproar that crippled a similar push in the 1990s.
Oh my. We're not only getting impacted and squeezed -- we're getting played. Under Obamacare, patients are hockey pucks or golf balls. We'll either get slammed into a net, or driven down a deep dark hole. Not that we have any choice in the matter:
“We have to break people away from the choice habit that everyone has,” said Marcus Merz, the chief executive of PreferredOne, an insurer in Golden Valley, Minn., that is owned by two health systems and a physician group. “We’re all trying to break away from this fixation on open access and broad networks.”
OK, now I get it: the quest for health care has become a bad habit, like heroin. And so it is up to the insurance cartel to break us of this tawdry addiction and deny us our fix. So get thee to rehab, proles! (and please don't expect reimbursement from the insurance racket.)
Employers remain concerned about the quality of the networks... and many are doing an analysis to see how disruptive changing the network would be for their workers.
Nonetheless, the bottom line is that more employers are considering smaller networks. Many, like Walmart and General Electric, have gone so far as to steer employees to specific hospitals for certain expensive procedures like joint replacements.
In the case of Walmart, employees will likely be steered to in-store Joint Replacement Clinics run by sleep-deprived moonlighting interns. Care will be provided during unpaid meal breaks. Post-op physical therapy will consist of returning to work ASAP.  Shoulder replacements, for example,  are most efficient when they are used to restock store shelves with cheap Chinese electronics.

Of course, I am being facetious. Right?

But seriously, Sylvia Matthews Burwell is full of baloney. When she talks about how efficient Obamacare is, what she really means is that Wall Street and CEOs and investors and revolving-door politicians will continue to profit most handsomely and efficiently from the market-based system that only pretends to deliver medical care to millions of desperate people.

The Physicians for a National Health Plan advocacy group efficiently cuts through the crap and delivers some real impactful true facts:
The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) aims to expand coverage to about 30 million Americans by requiring people to buy private insurance policies (partially subsidizing those policies by government payments to private insurers) and by expanding Medicaid. However:
• About 30 million people will still be uninsured in 2023, and tens of millions will remain underinsured.
• Insurers will continue to strip down policies, maintain restrictive networks, limit and deny care, and increase patients’ co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
• The law preserves our fragmented financing system, making it impossible to control costs.
• The law continues the unfair financing of health care, whereby costs are disproportionately borne by middle- and lower-income Americans and those families facing acute or chronic illness.
A handy chart comparing Obamacare and Single Payer can be found here.

So let's buck the system, and exercise some all-American free choice. We have the absolute right to be whatever sporting accessory we choose. But forget about the passive hockey pucks and golf balls.

Let them feel our impact. Let them feel it good and hard. 


Pearl said...

'More Insured but the Choices are Narrowing' in the NYTimes exposes what is happening in the health care department. Many angry responses calling for a national health care set up is a hopeful sign. It will get worse before it gets better and the financial figures of what the present program is costing is bankrupting the country. More proof of who is running (owns) the country.

Pearl said...

Worst yet even with Obamacare we don’t insure about 15% of our citizens. We
get nothing for about half the $3 trillion we spend every year on
healthcare. That’s $1 ½ trillion or $1,500,000,000 lost every year. That
number is astronomical. It is almost incomprehensible.

From 'How Health Care is Killing our economy' by Ron Anthony

Jay–Ottawa said...

Sylvia Mathews Burwell reminds me of a couple of Bill Clinton’s nominees for cabinet posts in the early 90s. They were corporate bred and in bed with big insurance (no problem) but still run out of town before confirmation when it became known halfway through the hearings that they never paid taxes on the work of their full-time nannies and housekeepers. That kind of people.

Will those of you who are able to mingle among the Times commentariat please refer people to Karen’s article here, then send it on to Truthout for wider circulation.

Karen, if you’re interested (and think you can abide him), John Cook, the foot-dragging new editor-in-chief at The Intercept, has moved his Help Wanted column, job descriptions and all, to the front page. You could probably fill half of them with your eyes closed. Cook says writers can be on the staff from afar, without moving to the big city.

annenigma said...

I second Jay, and agree with you Karen about Gretchen Morgensen (from the previous post). She's great.

Here's your future position at The Intercept, Karen. They need more women on board there, and unlike the NYT, they know it. You'd be a perfect fit.

'Reporter/Bloggers: Fast, clean writers capable of jumping on breaking stories and finding ways to advance and own them. Must live on the internet; should be conversant/passionate about politics, technology, and national security. Experience variable, but these are junior positions. We’re hiring several.'


And as James F. Traynor would undoubtedly say,

"Fuck the old Gray Lady!"

Zee said...

Goshdarnitall, Karen! There you go again! Spreading lying lies about ObamaCare horror stories when you KNOW that none of them is true. Harry Reid says so.

Who are you going to believe? Our beloved Senate Majority Leader, or your own two lying eyes and endless phony reports of “horror stories” from prevaricating news outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal?

Everybody's HAPPY with ObamaCare, dontcha know? Everybody gets to keep their doctor, everybody's paying lower premiums and co-pays and everybody's getting better care and greater access to that care.

Nancy Pelosi said so, therefore it must be true:

“ And [thanks to ObamaCare] everybody will have lower rates, better quality care and better access.”


Get with the program, Karen, before the Federal Communications Commission revokes your internet journalism credentials.

Zee said...

Gotta laugh at the appointment of Sylvia Matthews Burwell—an individual with NO experience or credentials in the field of health care—to clean up the ObamaCare mess at the U.S. Deparment of Health and Human Services.

This reminds me of the place where I used to work.

When I started there in 1980, managers had credentials and experience in the same scientific and engineering areas as the people whom they supervised.

Now, of course, as one rose up further on the management “chain,” this became more difficult because the breadth of disciplines under one person's supervision/purview became larger.

Still, those at the top of their respective chains of command were damned smart, and, by virtue of the fact that they were progressively promoted to manage personnel representing an increasingly broad spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines, they “grew” intellectually into their positions.

After all, you couldn't command the respect of scientists and engineers (often of national or international reputation) whose work you didn't understand, and so you didn't last long if you couldn't. Once upon a time, self-respect mattered, and we often had managers who chose to step down some time after being promoted. There was no shame in that.

Well, that all changed somewhere in the mid-nineties when my organization decided that managers could be “interchangeable parts.”

Send them off to a few management courses at a major university, teach them to scrutinize time cards and budgets carefully, learn how to monitor the ever-growing number of mandatory training requirements (and punish recalcitrants like me), and keep the company out of trouble with the Department of Labor, and, presto, chango, you could manage anybody.

It became a great system that allowed existing management to promote their like-thinking buddies, instead of promoting someone who had to command the respect of the minions below.

Thus, we had—for example—a Master's-level mechanical engineer managing Ph.D.-level solid-state physicists of international repute. The ME couldn't understand a word of what the physicists said—or represent their work come “performance review” time—but by golly, he/she could keep track of the fulfillment of training requirements by those physicists, and sign off on their time cards with the best of them! Mission accomplished.

Well, Burwell's appointment is exactly like that. Just another insider being advanced by her buddies simply because (1) she ALREADY IS a millionaire member of the club; and, therefore, (2) she won't make any waves for the existing Powers-That-Be; and (3) most definitely NOT because of anything in her past that recommends her for the current post and the serious problem at hand.

Hey! Any millionaire with half a brain—who has also graduated from Hahvahd and Oxfahd (Yawn. Just two more clubs for privileged children.)—can really manage anything, right?


Pearl said...

Son of U.S. Vice President Biden Joins Ukraine Gas Company | Business | The
Moscow Times
via @MoscowTimes

Biden Pledges Economic Support to Ukrainian Parliament | News | The Moscow
via @MoscowTimes

Zee said...


Is it any surprise that a scion of the Biden family should suddenly profit from the "crisis" in the Ukraine?

It would only be a "surprise" if some little guy or gal from, say, Sheepdip, Idaho--who happened to be a financial and/or legal genius--got the job.

But Joe Biden's kid? Hell.

The fix was in from the get-go, no matter how smart or dumb (probably the latter) Biden's kid.

There is, indeed, nothing new under the sun...

James F Traynor said...


"And as James F. Traynor would undoubtedly say,

'Fuck the old Gray Lady!'"

ANN! MOI? Perish the thought dear girl (if I may be so bold).

Kat said...

More on the Gray Lady: I saw that they announced a change of executive editorship. I looked up the new editor, Michael Baquet, on wikipedia.
Here's an article about how he killed a NSA whistleblower story (Mark Klein)

annenigma said...

Thanks for that link, Kat.

So now we know that Dean Baquet plays ball, Obama-style, and Jill Abramson does not. Her comments at various conferences and during interviews post-Snowden regarding the administration's egregious crackdown on journalism and whistleblowers made me wonder if she'd get blowback. Looks like she did. Obama does take those kinds of thing personally. NYT won't be publishing any leaks now, not even little drips.

Then again, maybe Jill didn't bake cookies for that male bastion of journalism or otherwise play her proper role as lightweight clown or nurturing mother figure for the Very Serious People at the NYT (men).

I just read a Politico piece published last year about a kerfuffle at the NYT involving these two, and it was revealed that Dean Baquet likes to slam his fist into walls and doors. I imagine throwing things is also in his repertoire. Can you imagine if a woman exhibited such violent aggression? They would have either called the cops or put her into a straight jacket, but the man gets the promotion.

Anyway, another good reason to be wary of the NYT and take everything they say and print with a big shaker of salt - and to go elsewhere for news.

Zee said...


This may be the Politico piece to which annenigma refers:


Personally, I hope that the next time Baquet decides to smash a door or wall with his fist during a tantrum, he breaks a bunch of small hand and wrist bones that turn out to be very difficult to repair.

While I am reluctant to use the word "hate," well, I just don't like overly-emotional and "physically demonstrative" bastards like him.

It's...well--unprofessional--and a pathetic attempt to intimidate a woman. Or so I read it.

Had Abramson been a man, Baquet might have thought twice about punching that wall: a male superior might just have grabbed him by the shoulder and punched Baquet out for his insolence.

And so might have done a female superior with martial arts training and the proper mindset...

Well, one can dream, can't one?

Especially one who knows that his wife, Mrs. Zee, was screwed by the corporation to which she offered total loyalty, when it came to salary vis-à-vis males with far fewer credentials and experience?

James F Traynor said...

Has anyone seen yesterday's and today's editions (hell, the internet blogs are the real media) of Democracy Now? Great stuff.

James F Traynor said...

Yes, I have to confess, I once put my fist through a wall long ago... in private, in my basement, through the drywall. I won't go into the details, but I did learn how to repair holes in drywall. Very edifying. Very Zen.