Seattle, Washington - Approximately 75 spirited protesters celebrated the 57th anniversary of the enactment of Medicare here on Friday, July 29, with a picket line and rally outside the Columbia Center chanting, “Whose Medicare? Our Medicare!” and “Medicare is not for profit! Keep your corporate hands off it!” The Columbia Center is where the Northwest Regional Director of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Ingrid Ulrey, has offices, along with other staff of HHS, including the Division Director of the Center for Medicare Services (CMS). The protesters demanded that President Joe Biden and Congress terminate ACO REACH, which stands for Accountable Care Organization Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health. It’s an impressive sounding name, but it amounts to letting a profit-seeking third party like an insurance company or private equity-backed firm step in and get paid by Medicare to manage the care patients receive.
Amazon, the $1.25 trillion company founded and led by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, has announced that it is acquiring One Medical, a private equity-backed primary care provider that generates over half of its revenue from Medicare. While Amazon’s profits from its core consumer retail business are dwindling, in part because of heightened competition from brick-and-mortar retailers that were shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the corporation’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, continues to enjoy robust profits thanks in part to generous government contracts. Now Amazon could be attempting to build on that federal largesse by seeking to milk revenue from Medicare, the national health insurance program for seniors and people with disabilities.
Later this month, right before Medicare’s 57th birthday on July 30, corporate health care and the government players who facilitate their lucrative businesses, will gather for a summit on value-based care. They will speak of driving health equity, of reaching underserved communities, of coordination of care, and accountable care. They will insist that physicians share in risk just like insurance companies. They will advocate the transformation of health care to value-based care, supposedly founded on payment for quality rather than quantity, value instead of volume, and outcomes not fee-for-service. They will assert that this transformation brings equity, improves care, and saves money. They have no evidence to back up their assertions.
Capping five decades of battle by the labor movement for federal healthcare for elders, Medicare was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. Funded by payroll taxes under Social Security, the new program provided comprehensive, low-cost care for retirees and the disabled. Medicare was part of the largest government domestic expansion since the depression-era New Deal. Shaken by civil rights protests, labor strikes and student anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, politicians responded with some valuable reforms. Medicare joined the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, federal aid for education and housing, Head Start programs and food stamp allotments as victories of the Civil Rights era. Medicare proved wildly popular. Most of organized labor and virtually all organizations of seniors supported it. Adults no longer faced bankruptcy paying for medical care.
On June 13th the International Association of Machinists IAM 751 Retirement Club voted overwhelmingly to end the privatization of Medicare and to send their resolution to their congressional delegation, to President Biden, and to Secretary Xavier Becerra at Health and Human Services. Machinists’ District 751 represents 27,000 members who work at Boeing and some smaller shops across the state of Washington. It is one of the largest organizations within the IAM. The privatization scheme the 751 Retirement Club opposes is ACO REACH, formerly called direct contracting entities (DCE). It is a pilot program in which seniors who chose traditional Medicare are placed, without their consent, into plans that are run by insurance companies, private equity, and venture capitalists who can take as high as 40% in overhead and profit from the Medicare program.
Last week, the Biden administration quietly reaffirmed its decision to enact the highest Medicare premium hikes in history right before this year’s midterm elections. At the same time, President Joe Biden is endorsing a plan to funnel significantly more Medicare money to insurance companies and further privatize the government insurance program for older Americans and those with disabilities. In effect, the higher premium increases will subsidize the larger payments to — and profits for — private insurance corporations. This comes after Biden raked in roughly $47 million from health care industry executives during his 2020 campaign. The Biden administration announced on May 27 that due to “legal and operational hurdles,” Medicare recipients won’t see their premiums lowered this year, even though that rate was originally hiked last November in large part due to the projected costs of paying for a controversial Alzheimer’s drug that Medicare now says it generally will not cover. The Biden administration announced on May 27 that due to “legal and operational hurdles,” Medicare recipients won’t see their premiums lowered this year, even though that rate was originally hiked last November in large part due to the projected costs of paying for a controversial Alzheimer’s drug that Medicare now says it generally will not cover.
Physicians and progressive advocates on Tuesday urged the Department of Health and Human Services to reject an industry appeal to tweak and rebrand—not end altogether—a Medicare privatization scheme known as Direct Contracting, which the Trump administration launched in 2020. Members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which represents 24,000 doctors and other health professionals, has been working for months to bring lawmakers' attention to the DC program and pressure the Biden administration to terminate it while it's still in an experimental phase. As a result of PNHP's efforts, dozens of Democrats—including Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—have spoken out against the DC pilot, opposition that appears to have caught the notice of healthcare industry groups that stand to benefit from the program.
Another effort to change the healthcare system in a U.S. state is dead in the water. This time, last week, lawmakers in California declined to vote on a measure whose proponents say would lead to a single-payer system in the state. Monday’s nonvote in California provides yet another instance in which a state cannot move forward with a proposal for single payer. But while supporters may argue that there just needs to be more political will, in reality, it is not impossible to achieve a true single-payer healthcare system on a state level. On a larger scale, the recent results in California show the futility of the current reformist strategy to win universal healthcare in the U.S. State-backed efforts for healthcare reform like those in California — or the push to pass the New York Health Act — have been touted by many on the Left as a path to winning universal healthcare on a national level, but they are actually counterproductive.
Put aside Democrat versus Republican. Let’s just look at corporations versus people. Elizabeth (Liz) Fowler has a stellar corporate resume. For seven years, she worked at Johnson & Johnson, as vice president for global health policy. Before joining Johnson & Johnson, she was chief health counsel to Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, who banned single payer advocates from the deliberations that led to the insurance company dominated Affordable Care Act. In her off time, Fowler is a runner. She runs marathons and triathlons around the world. During work hours, she carries the torch for the health insurance industry and big pharmaceutical companies. And it doesn’t matter whether she is in the public or private sector.
Lee Camp looks at how the capitalist system sits at the heart of the worst problems facing society. In this history lesson, Camp takes you back to the feudal system, to the creation of corporations and currency, to the modern system that’s destroying the lives of the poor today. The ruling class don’t even try to hide the inhumanity that keeps the system running anymore, now that it has become almost impossible to ignore. This leaves it up to popular movements to end the capitalist system and create something new. Then, Camp reports on the police brutality victims who don’t gain as much attention as those murdered by cops, and Marilyn Manson’s #MeToo allegations. Afghanistan’s economy is suffering under US sanctions after the 20-year war on the Afghan people.
Calls are mounting for President Joe Biden to terminate an under-the-radar Trump-era pilot program that—if allowed to run its course—could result in the complete privatization of traditional Medicare by the end of the decade. A petition recently launched by Physicians for a National Program (PNHP) has garnered more than 10,000 signatures as doctors and other advocates work to raise public awareness of the Medicare Direct Contracting program, which the Trump administration rolled out during its final months in power.
A new program is placing Medicare recipients into private health insurance plans without their knowledge or consent in a final effort to fully privatize our national Medicare system. Known as "Direct Contract Entities (DCEs)," this program is putting more of our healthcare system into the hands of private equity to generate enormous profits at the expense of our health. Clearing the FOG speaks about this with Kay Tillow, a long time health care, civil rights and union activist. Tillow explains what these entities are, why they threaten the future of our entire healthcare system and how they block our ability to achieve a national, universal and publicly-financed healthcare system such as national improved Medicare for All. She describes the fight to stop DCEs and win single payer health care.
In the early 1970s, Senator Ted Kennedy and Congresswoman Martha Griffiths introduced Medicare for All legislation in the Congress. It could have passed but for the efforts of a doctor from Minnesota by the name of Paul Elwood. Elwood believed that unless the Republicans did something to control health care costs, Medicare for All single payer would soon become the law of the land. So in February 1970, Elwood traveled to Washington, D.C. and met with officials in Richard Nixon’s administration to present his proposal for what he called health maintenance organizations (HMOs). The seeds for a managed care theology that would upend the American health care over the next fifty years were planted.
Under the Build Back Better Act, Congress can expand and strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, improving the lives of millions of seniors while also throwing a lifeline to folks living in states where GOP politicians are strangling public benefits. But to win these popular reforms, we have to defeat the efforts of Big Pharma, their greedy lobbyists and the politicians who take their money. It wasn’t enough for Democratic Representatives Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Scott Peters of California, Kathleen Rice of New York and Stephanie Murphy of Florida to vote against a robust bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3).
2021 is also a very special year in the history of single-payer health insurance and public health in the U.S. because Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) introduced the modern Medicare for All Act of 2021 (H.R. 1976) in Congress. M4A 2021 is new legislation establishing a cutting edge single-payer national health program in the United States that addresses decades of health/mental health-related injustices that have been made even more painfully apparent by the Covid-19 pandemic.