Category Archives: Medical Insurance

Taking a Look Around in The Home of the Brave™

These days, things appear to be happening at an accelerated pace. It can be challenging to keep up as a writer. Meanwhile, some events are interesting but may not warrant a full article of their own. Therefore, I will occasionally compile a few stories into one piece… starting with these three right here:

If you’ve watched any television or YouTube videos over the past decade or so, you’ve likely seen ads for Chantix featuring Ray Liotta. Chantix is a Food & Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescription pill designed to help users quit smoking — but not without a shit load of side effects. Well, last week, the FDA announced a “Nationwide Recall to include All Lots of CHANTIX® (Varenicline) Tablets Due to N-Nitroso Varenicline Content.” N-nitroso-varenicline, it turns out, is a suspected carcinogen.

Chantix was created and sold by a company called Pfizer which apparently has a long, sordid history of violations. Pfizer also had to pay the largest criminal fine in history ($1.3 billion) in 2009. Call me crazy, but this Pfizer group doesn’t exactly sound like it has our best interests at heart. Pfizer? That name sounds awfully familiar, though… like, maybe I’ve heard it in the news for something else recently.

By now, you’ve all surely seen the notorious “Tax the Rich” dress worn by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) at the Met Gala. The rapid-fire takes have been diverse and endless but I still wanna add my untaxed two cents. By almost any metric, the Uber-rich (and especially corporations) in this country pay a disproportionately low share of taxes (if at all). But, here’s my question: Exactly what good would it do to reflexively tax the rich?

It’s not as if it will bring about the classic redistribution of wealth. Under the current system, taxing the rich would simply result in a massive increase in subsidies to massive corporations, an even more massive and bloated military budget, and more of the same medical-science-industrial complex massive bullshit that has turned the appearance of a novel coronavirus into a nightmare scenario for anyone except those in the Met Gala stratosphere.

I’ll close with something to be filed under “We’re all in this together.” Check out this WaPo headline: “The days of full Covid coverage are over. Insurers are restoring deductibles and co-pays, leaving patients with big bills.” 

We’re being told every day that Covid numbers are rising. The pandemic is far from over and things may get much worse, they breathlessly warn. This begs the question: If this pandemic were a quarter as bad as the powers-that-be claim it is, why are insurers no longer covering the treatment costs? Why were unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums (in most states) cut off? If this pandemic were a quarter as bad as the powers-that-be claim it is, how are hospitals able to fire unvaccinated nurses? Come to think of it, if this pandemic were a quarter as bad as the powers-that-be claim it is, why are rich people gallivanting without masks at the Met Gala and why is everyone trusting a criminal company like Pfizer to save the day? Hmm… maybe, just maybe, we’re not being told the truth. 

The post Taking a Look Around in The Home of the Brave™ first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The System Isn’t Broken, It’s Fixed

Both chronic stress and manipulative abuse can lead to an impairment of cognitive functioning. Whenever humans experience ongoing anxiety, their prefrontal cortex will generate increasingly higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps us deal with threats and danger. If stress — real or perceived — becomes chronic, we can get stuck in this state of high alert. The brain cannot differentiate between real and fake news. It initiates and sustains the body’s stress response for as long as you feel anxious, tense, worried, or scared.

  • The projected overall 2021 poverty rate is 13.7 percent of Americans. 
  • 78 percent of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Roughly 30 million Americans are without health insurance. 
  • Americans collectively hold about $81 billion in medical debt.
  • Approximately 325,000 Americans (age 12 or older) are sexually assaulted each year — about 1 every 93 seconds. As for those under 12, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of reported child sexual abuse. Keyword: reported.
  • The top three causes of death in the U.S. would be mostly preventable in a society that included economic stability, access to quality health care, protection of the environment, an emphasis on healthy eating habits, and even a modicum of humanity. Instead, each year, heart disease kills about 650,000, cancer kills 600,000, and the third leading cause of death is (wait for it) medical error — taking out at least 250,000 Americans per year. The powers-that-be test their corporate medicines and procedures on us while granting themselves immunity from liability.

According to the American Psychological Association:

  • 63 percent of Americans reported that the future of the nation is a significant source of stress 
  • 62 percent were stressed about money
  • 61 percent were stressed about work
  • 51 percent were stressed about violence and crime
  • 43 percent were stressed about health care

Fifty-six percent said that the mere act of staying informed by following the news causes them intense stress. Three out of four Americans reported experiencing at least one stress symptom in the last month — and this survey was taken BEFORE the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

Prices go up. Rents go up. The number of billionaires goes up. Everything goes up… except wages and quality of life. I could go on but you get the idea. Everyday life in the Home of the Brave™ — by definition — keeps the vast majority of its residents in a state of deep distress and high anxiety.

High anxiety = high cortisol. High cortisol negatively impacts our executive functioning, e.g.:

  • Inability to pay attention
  • Decrease in visual perception
  • Feeling agitated and unorganized
  • Memory loss
  • Loss of emotional regulation and rational thinking

This explains why so many of us jammed into supermarkets to fight each other for the right to hoard inordinate amounts of toilet paper when the dangerous and unnecessary pandemic lockdowns were implemented.

When stress is chronic and cortisol is raging, we make exponentially more mistakes. We struggle to complete tasks, we lose concentration, we forget basic information, and we repeat ourselves in conversation. Since life itself in this corrupt culture is a source of relentless anxiety, most of us live in an altered state of inefficiency and confusion. However, this reality is so normalized that it’s become invisible and we often think we’ve got it good. After all, look at all these neat gadgets we own and get to stare at all day, every day.

Think about it: We’re alive because our ancestors were the ones who used anxiety and hyper-vigilance to survive. The more casual or reckless early humans weren’t around long enough to pass on their genes. So, here we are — hard-wired with a hair-trigger fight-or-flight response — and we’re stuck in a world in which simple acts like breathing air or visiting a doctor are unhealthy or possibly lethal. Translation: We are the ideal subjects for a grand social experiment.

If you were a member of the elite class — or the proverbial 1% — wouldn’t you prefer that the masses were pliable, easily controlled, and happy to settle for crumbs? Why wouldn’t you rig circumstances in such a way as to keep billions of potential challengers off-balance, frightened, and divided? What better way to maintain power and control than to implement an insidious form of group manipulation? It’s what cult leaders do. It’s what domestic abusers do. It’s what dictators do. And what are those in power if not abusive and narcissistic sociopaths?

I know, the easiest and most alluring path for you right now is to dismiss this as a “conspiracy.” I get it. Life seems far more palatable if you choose denial. It feels so much simpler if you choose to believe those on top are not abusing you. You may even tell yourself that people never do things like create an oppressive, unfair system just to keep their fellow humans subdued and passive. If that’s your premise, let’s explore it for a few minutes.

Would the folks who run things in God’s Country™ ever coerce people through abusive behaviors? You might want to ask the detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay. As reported by the New York Times, the U.S. hired “two C.I.A. contract psychologists” to create a program that used “violence, isolation and sleep deprivation on more than 100 men in secret sites, some described as dungeons.” Tactics included waterboarding and cramming men into small confinement boxes. The idea here was to induce so much chronic stress, it would break their resistance.

Human Rights Watch has documented other devious and abusive red-white-and-blue techniques paid for by your hard-earned tax dollars; e.g., mock execution by asphyxiation, stress positions, hooding during questioning, deprivation of light and auditory stimuli, and use of detainees’ individual phobias (such as fear of dogs) to induce debilitating stress.

The Land of the Free™ incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. The Center for Constitutional Rights reports that such prisoners are “repeatedly abused by their guards, fellow prisoners, and an ineffective and apathetic system. They suffer beatings, rape, prolonged solitary confinement, meager food rations, and frequently-denied medical care.” All in the name of punishment and pacification.

Perhaps the best comparison for America’s brutal molding of its citizens is domestic abuse. The United Nations defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” Read that again: a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control.

Abusers, says the UN, use actions or threats of action to influence others. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone. Are you frightened by the lack of financial stability? Are you terrorized by the threat of sexual assault or injury by medical error? Does the possibility of eviction, homelessness, and poverty manipulate you into making choices you abhor, choices that violate your deepest values and individual freedoms?

If you declare “the system is broken,” just about everyone will agree with you for one reason or another. But what if it’s not broken? What if it’s running exactly as it’s designed to run? A minuscule percentage of humans make the rules and thus reap virtually all the material rewards. The rest of us suppress our desires, our individuality, and our dreams in the name of survival — in its most meager sense. We’re wounded and intimidated into submission, too programmed and fearful to even think about rebellion… let alone solidarity with all the other victims.

Pro tip: All it takes to flip the script is for each of you to change your mind. Demand more pleasure instead of less pain. It doesn’t have to be like this. In fact, it can’t be like this if we take off the blinders and see the ugliness of reality.

“To ask serious questions about the nature and behavior of one’s own society is often difficult and unpleasant,” writes Noam Chomsky. “Difficult because the answers are generally concealed, and unpleasant because the answers are often not only ugly but also painful. To understand the truth about these matters is to be led to action that may not be easy to undertake and that may even carry a significant personal cost.”

Truths like those discussed in this article are ugly and painful but that’s why the big lies are invented in the first place. On that note, I leave you with this from the English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many – they are few.

The Mask of Anarchy, 1819

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Small Acts Can Become A Power No Government Can Suppress

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) was passed in the House this past week and now heads to the Senate, where it will no doubt be changed before it becomes law some time in mid-March. The current unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

While we don’t know what the final bill will look like, at least now we can get an idea of what is in it. Overall, as expected, the provisions in the bill will help to provide some financial assistance to some people, but they won’t solve the crises we face. And the Biden administration is backtracking on promises made on the campaign trail.

As Alan Macleod writes, Biden has abandoned raising the minimum wage, ending student debt and the promised $2,000 checks. His focus is on forcing people back to work and school even as new, more infectious and more lethal variants of the virus causing COVID-19 threaten another surge in cases and deaths. There is only one promise Biden appears to be keeping, and that is one he made to wealthy donors at the start of his campaign when he said, “nothing would fundamentally change.”

Despite this, people are organizing across the country for their rights to economic security and health and an end to discrimination. These struggles are necessary as we cannot expect either of the capitalist parties to act in the people’s interest. But together, we can demand that one of the wealthiest nations on earth upholds its responsibility to provide the basic necessities for its people. This is consistent with a People(s)-Centered Human Rights approach.

What is and isn’t in the ARP?

The current version of the American Rescue Plan contains provisions that would provide money to people earning less than $75,000 per year. One is the one-time $1,400 check.  Another is raising the tax credit for families with children, which will benefit those who file tax returns but leave out the millions of poor people who don’t.

The ARP will also extend unemployment benefits until the end of August and increase the enhanced benefits to $400/week. Unlike the previous bills, this one includes workers who left their jobs because of unsafe conditions and those who had to leave work or reduce their hours to care for children. The benefits are retroactive for some workers who were denied benefits.

While this will temporarily improve the economic situation for many people, it is not a plan to address the poverty crisis in the United States nor is it sufficient to support people through the current recession and pandemic. People will still face barriers to receiving the aid. Instead of making the programs something that people have to apply for, the government could provide monthly checks to everyone with incomes under a certain amount automatically. Numerous examples show that putting money into people’s hands, such as through a guaranteed income or giving unrestricted lump sums, improves their well-being.

An increase in the federal minimum wage to $15/hour, a promise of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, is in the House version of the bill, but it will not be in the Senate version unless the White House or Democrats intervene, which they seem unwilling to do. The minimum wage increase is being blocked by the Senate Parliamentarian, but the Vice President could override the decision or the Democrats could take steps to work around the Parliamentarian, as has been done in the past on other issues. They are choosing not to take this stand.

The ARP also fails to extend the eviction moratorium, which will expire at the end of March. While it does contain funds for rental assistance, they are being given to the Treasury Department to disburse to the states, so it is not clear how these funds will help people directly. A recent study found that corporate landlords received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies and tax breaks last year but continued to evict thousands of people. When the eviction moratorium ends, those who cannot pay the back rent risk being evicted.

The health benefits in the ARP are not only inadequate but they are set to further enrich the medical-industrial complex, as I explain in “Biden’s Health Plan Shifts Even More Public Dollars into Private Hands.” The ARP is fulfilling a laundry list provided by private health insurers, hospitals and medical lobbying groups. It will subsidize the cost of insurance premiums but leave those who have health insurance still struggling to pay out-of-pocket costs and at risk of bankruptcy if they have a serious accident or illness.

And finally, another group that is being left out is those who have student debt. I spoke with Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice on Clearing the FOG this week. He said the current student loan burden is likely over $2 trillion and that the vast majority of debtors will never be able to repay . Collinge argues that it is imperative the Biden administration cancel student debt using an executive order, which he has the power to do, rather than leaving it to Congress. If the President does it, then the debt disappears (tax payers have already paid for the loans), but if Congress does it, which is unlikely to happen, they would have to offset the ‘cost’ through cuts to other programs or by raising taxes. Collinge also explains that cancelling student debt would be a significant economic stimulus.

All in all, the current ARP is another attempt by Congress to throw more money at a failed system that doesn’t change anything fundamentally. We must demand more.

The case for wealth redistribution

Lee Camp recently made the case for a massive change in the direction of wealth redistribution based on a new study that finds “the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality has grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020.” This amounts to over $1,000 per month per person in wealth that has been redistributed to the top or almost $14,000 per year.

It is time to reverse the direction of this wealth redistribution from one of consolidation at the top to one that creates greater wealth equality. This could be accomplished in a number of ways. In the middle of the last century, it was done through extremely high taxes on the wealthy and government investment in programs for housing and education. Camp advocates for taking all wealth over $10 million and redistributing it to the bottom 99.5% in a way that benefits the poorest the most.

Raising wages is another way to redistribute wealth. Professor Richard Wolff explains there are ways to raise wages without harming small businesses by providing federal support to them to offset the costs. Think of it as a reversal of the hundreds of billions in subsidies that have been given to large corporations, which they use to buy up and inflate the value of their stocks, to the small and medium businesses. It is smaller businesses that are most likely to keep wealth in their communities, unlike large corporations that extract wealth, and are the major drivers of the US economy. Small businesses alone comprise 44% of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If workers earned higher wages, it would also save the government money that is currently spent on social safety net programs such as Medicaid and food stamps for low-wage workers. These programs enable large corporations to profit off worker exploitation, especially Walmart, Amazon and McDonalds, according to the DC Report.

Robert Urie points out that another price society pays for the gaping wealth divide is state violence and incarceration. He writes, “At $24 per hour, the inflation and productivity adjusted minimum wage in the U.S. from 1968, workers were still being added to employer payrolls. The point: $24 – $7.25 = $16.75 per hour plus a rate of profit is one measure of economic expropriation from low wage workers in the U.S. Maintaining an unjust public order is critical to the functioning of this exploitative political economy. Most of the prison population in the U.S. comes from neighborhoods where the minimum wage affects livelihoods.” Imagine the many ways that greater economic security would positively benefit families and communities.

People are fighting back

In our current political environment, we cannot expect Congress and the White House to do what is necessary to protect the health and security of people without a struggle that forces them to do so. There are many ways people are fighting locally for their rights through resistance and creating alternative systems. Here are a few current examples.

On February 16, fast food workers in 15 cities went on strike to demand $15 an hour. Other low-wage workers joined them. Last Monday, in Chicago, Black owners of McDonalds franchises began a 90-day protest outside of the McDonalds headquarters because of discrimination against them. They say, “McDonald’s has denied the Black franchisees the same opportunities as white operators and continually steer them to economically depressed and dangerous areas with low volume sales.”

In Bessemer, Alabama, workers are conducting a vote to start the first union for Amazon employees. If they succeed, it will be an amazing feat considering that Alabama is a right-to-work state and Amazon is doing what it can to stop them. In Arizona, another right-to-work state, workers at two universities are leading an effort to unionize all higher education employees in the state. They are concerned that federal funding provided to keep universities open will not be used in a way that protects all workers. They cite recent practices that prioritize the financial well-being of the universities over worker health and safety.

Some workers are taking power in other ways. Bus drivers in Silicon Valley organized with the support of community members to stop fare collections and only allow boarding in the rear, moves designed to aid passengers during the recession and protect drivers during the pandemic. They were committed to doing this whether management agreed to it or not. Others are building worker-owned platform cooperatives to challenge platform corporations that exploit their labor such as Spotify and Uber.

Others are working to meet people’s basic needs through mutual aid. Food not Bombs has been feeding people throughout the pandemic in various cities. In Santa Cruz, CA, they are out every day to feed the houseless despite being hassled by the city and moved around. A rural area in Canada that includes 65,000 people pulled together it local resources to make sure everyone is fed through a food policy council of elected officials, organizations and stakeholders. They reallocated their budget from events and travel to food security. They opened their seed banks to support local gardening efforts and commandeered unused buildings as spaces for assembling food boxes that were delivered to those in need.

These examples illustrate the tremendous power people have to force changes and create support networks in their communities when they organize together. While we should continue to expose and pressure Congress and the White House to invest in programs that provide for people’s needs, that is a function of government after all, we also need to organize in our communities to build popular power and create alternative systems that will slowly build the society we need.

Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress, a power than can transform the world.

— Howard Zinn

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#ForceTheVote Pressure Growing from Inside

Force The Vote! We demand that every progressive in Congress refuse to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House until she publicly pledges to bring Medicare for all to the floor of the House for a vote in January: https://forcethevote.org/

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Healthcare Innovations: Going Too Far or Not Far Enough?

Image Source: Pexels

Technological innovations have reshaped the world drastically in only a matter of decades, giving us life-changing devices like smartphones that allow us to tap into worlds of information instantly. The healthcare sector, however, for all its developments, is not quite catching up to the rates of innovation seen in other industries. Introducing new practices and technologies is slower in healthcare than you might expect—but is this for better or for worse?

In the United States, healthcare costs are already 17.7% of total GDP, an expense that is growing all the time, eclipsing the money spent by comparable nations that provide broader healthcare access to their citizens. Lack of innovation is one element of this massive expenditure, as healthcare systems rely on complicated systems of funding, development, and implementation to change care procedures.

While much of this system is in place to protect patients from untested care solutions, the result often means a healthcare system held back from the developments that grow other sectors. To better understand the system, we’ll examine the state of healthcare innovation as well as where developments have gone too far or not far enough.

Healthcare and Innovation

First, it would be folly to say that healthcare hasn’t changed significantly in recent years. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic alone has forced shifts in consumer and provider use of digital care solutions that look to transform aspects of patient care.

Some of these digital trends in healthcare include:

  • Use of big data and analytics to track patient health and communicate status.
  • Artificial intelligence developments in diagnostics and care management.
  • Increase of mobile electronic health records (EHR) and telehealth options.
  • Emergence of virtual reality (VR) as a means of surgeon training and performance enhancement.

All of these technologies have the potential to change the way we receive and experience care. In theory, developments like these should undercut costs as well, giving consumers competitive options that save time and effort on the part of the care provider.

So why aren’t we seeing broader applications of these efficient techniques? And where are the associated savings?

The answers to these questions come down to the barriers in place to innovation in the healthcare industry, barriers that are widespread and often difficult to overcome. There are many components to these barriers; here are some of the primary factors causing problems:

  • Anti-competition practices.
  • Coalitions protecting the healthcare status quo.
  • Challenges in finding funding to innovate.
  • Marketing difficulties in reaching group purchasing organizations.

The state of the US healthcare system defies innovations at many turns, some a result of fervent adherents to past practices, others a symptom of insurance-provider interactions and competitive cannibalism. These factors make wide-spread innovation difficult, but it isn’t impossible. There have historically been times when innovations in the US healthcare system went too far.

Going Too Far

Many past innovations of the healthcare system, intended for good, overstepped their bounds and have wound up being their own obstacles to future innovations both in the United States and across the world. From the overreach of American talent poaching to the policies that tied health insurance to employers, policy and practice innovations have created burdens for helpful tech and consumer developments.

Some of the most substantial overreaches of the US healthcare system are:

  • Poaching the world’s doctors. In the effort to hoard talent and attempt to normalize a broken system, the US has maintained a long history of luring in doctors from less-developed countries that often have more dire needs. This keeps foreign nations in a state of crisis while delegitimizing their own healthcare systems.
  • Overpowering the American Medical Association. The AMA is an organization of care providers and corporations that hold massive amounts of power over US politicians. This organization, along with others like it, consistently remains among the highest-spending lobbyists in the country and has been instrumental in policies supporting the status-quo, presenting obstacles to additional innovations like Medicare for All.
  • Tying healthcare to employment. As a means of incentivizing new workers during a WWII wage cap, companies began offering health insurance as a perk. This practice was further reinforced by tax-free employer contributions and the following lobbying war (led by the AMA) to prevent coverage at a national level. The result is a system of employer-based health insurance that has been devastating in the recent pandemic, during which millions lost their jobs.

All these features of the US healthcare system were innovations in their time—innovations that have now overstepped or grown too large to support a continuously innovating and comprehensive healthcare market. If we can break through these barriers to new developments, then there is a bright future on the horizon for technological developments in health treatments.

Not Going Far Enough

Brilliant minds abound in the field of healthcare, creating new and wonderful care solutions all the time. These technological developments—if they can reach a wide-spread and economical place in our healthcare system—will change the lives of millions.

Take, for example, the work done by Dr. Anthony Atala and his team to repurpose a 3D inkjet printer to grow organs for human transplant. This incredible innovation has been used to structure new bladders, heart valves, tracheas, and even genitals using the patient’s own blood cells through an additive building process on a scaffold of biomaterial. The results are rejection-free, life-saving organ replacements.

However, the mainstreaming of this technology is on hold due to bureaucratic challenges of the FDA as well as from the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 that puts the future of this tech into question. With this tech and others like it suffering from unprecedented legal processes and a system designed to reinforce the status quo, it is uncertain when and if we can see more developments like this available to the broader public.

Conclusion

Healthcare innovations have unlimited potential. However, the model of the US healthcare system presents myriad obstacles towards the wide-spread implementation of practices and devices that can save patients money while revolutionizing the quality of care.

Moving forward, policymakers in the US should look more to the examples set by other countries in terms of constructing a healthcare system that accepts innovation and works for everyone. In the meantime, we can support the ethical and trial-based acceptance of revolutionary technologies that will ideally cut healthcare costs and improve access.

The post Healthcare Innovations: Going Too Far or Not Far Enough? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Imperative To Achieve National Improved Medicare For All

NOTE: The Kevin Zeese Emerging Activists Fund is accepting applicants for an unrestricted grant of $20,000 until December 13, 2020. Learn more at PopularResistance.org/kevin-zeese/. And join us for a webinar with Venezuelan social movements on November 18 to hear about their upcoming elections and how we can support their struggle against US intervention. Details at bit.ly/VZvotes.

Health care will be a major issue early in the new Biden/Harris administration. Unemployment is still high with over a million people applying for unemployment benefits last week and 42.6% of working age people without a job.

In the United States, losing employment often means losing health insurance. On top of the 30 million people who are already uninsured, it is estimated that nearly 15 million people lost their health insurance due to becoming unemployed as of June. The current number of people without health insurance is not known, but as Biden takes office, it could surpass the 44 million who were uninsured when Obama took office in 2008.

Biden’s healthcare plan looks like a replay of the health reform process of 2009-10 when the Democrats effectively divided the movement in support of national improved Medicare for all and pushed through the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA), which passed without Republican support.  Health insurance and pharmaceutical corporate profits have soared since then while people struggle to afford healthcare.

In a time of the COVID-19 pandemic when over 250,000 people have already died and the University of Washington predicts over 500,000 deaths by the end of February, we cannot allow a repeat of the failed ACA. It is unconscionable to create anything less than a universal single payer healthcare system.

2012, rally outside the Supreme Court. Popular Resistance.

The ACA Challenge in the Supreme Court

This week, oral arguments in a case against the ACA were heard by the US Supreme Court. This is the third Constitutional challenge to the law and the second time the individual mandate, which requires people to have health insurance or pay a penalty, has been questioned.

During the first challenge, I was part of a group of fifty physicians and lawyers who filed an amicus brief with the court arguing that national improved Medicare for all is the most Constitutionally-sound healthcare system. Read the open letter here: amicus-brief-open-letter

Traditional Medicare has been our national healthcare system for seniors and people with certain health conditions since 1965. It meets the definition of “taxation for the general welfare” in Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution. On the other hand, the ACA uses our public dollars to subsidize private health insurers with hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Those health insurers then pay their CEOs multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses and dividends to their stockholders. The Congressional Budget Office estimates those subsidies will be $920 billion in 2021.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, private health insurers are taking over our public insurances, Medicaid and Medicare. Most Medicaid enrollees are in plans managed by private insurers. Over a third of seniors are in private “Medicare Advantage” plans that rip them off when they have health problems. Private insurers are working aggressively to increase their Medicare takeover. Private insurers also provide health plans to public employees and the military. Modern Healthcare reports that by 2017, 50% or more of the revenue of the top health insurance corporations came from the government.

Many of us saw what the ACA actually was, a bailout for the private insurance industry that had raised premiums so high people couldn’t afford them. The ACA not only subsidized people purchasing health insurance, it required the government to sell the plans and forced people to buy them with the individual mandate.

Ten years after its passage, the ACA has left our healthcare system in a similar state to when it began. Healthcare costs are too high. People are delaying and avoiding necessary care. Hundreds of thousands of households still become bankrupt each year due to medical illness. And at a time when support for national improved Medicare for all is high, the incoming president is advocating for more of the same.

Understanding the Biden Health Plan

During the 2009-10 health reform process, the Obama/Biden administration used the idea of a “public option” to divide progressives away from the movement for national improved Medicare for all. Tens of millions of dollars went to unions and so-called progressive organizations whose task was to convince people that national improved Medicare for all was asking for too much but what was “on the table” was a public option that they argued was achievable and could lead to single payer healthcare.

None of what they said made sense from a health policy perspective but with enough groups saying it, people were convinced it was true. In reality, adding one more insurance to the mix of thousands of plans doesn’t change much. As exists with Medicare and Medicare advantage plans, the healthy population is courted for the private plans and when people become ill, they leave those private plans for the public plan. This puts the burden of paying for care on the underfunded public plan. When it struggles, this is used to reinforce the myth that private is better.

If a public option, the foundation of the Biden plan, were created, it would struggle to compete with the well-marketed private plans. Eventually, it would turn into a high-risk pool and fail. If anything, it would be a relief valve for the private insurers where they could offload expensive patients.

What was most striking during the last health reform process is that all along the widely-promoted “public option” was never intended to be in the final legislation. It was a ploy to keep progressives from demanding single payer healthcare. In December, 2009, when the Senate was being pressured by groups to include a public option in their legislation, as the House had done, the White House started pushing the Senate not to include it. Their plan, which they executed, was to have two different bills from the House and Senate so the final legislation would be crafted in a conference of a select group from the House and Senate in order to pick and choose what was in it. And, of course, the public option was not in the final bill.

Biden claims that he will take action to reduce the costs of pharmaceuticals. The most effective way to do this is through a national single payer healthcare system. When the government is the single purchase of goods, like medicines, it has the most leverage to reduce the prices. Without that, reducing prices in one part of the healthcare system, such as Medicare, which Biden proposes, will result in higher prices in another sector. The pharmaceutical corporations have a legal responsibility to protect their investors’ interests. They always find a way.

A single payer system also has the ability to nationalize parts or the whole pharmaceutical industry if needed to protect the public good. Imagine if production of lifesaving medications like insulin was public. Nobody would have to ration their doses or die because they couldn’t afford it. Imagine if a COVID-19 vaccine were publicly manufactured. The government could increase production and instead of selling to the highest bidder, it could prioritize giving the vaccine to those who need it the most. This is how other nations operate their healthcare systems.

A final point is that, as happened in 2009-10, an important issue will be used to win the support of Democratic Party voters and convince them to support it. Last time, they used pre-existing conditions and the cost of healthcare for women. This time, it is reproductive rights. People will be pushed to support an inadequate reform because they will be told that not supporting it means they will take away reproductive rights. This issue will also be used to differentiate the Democrats from the Republicans.

What we ought to be demanding is what we need: a national universal publicly-financed healthcare system such as national improved Medicare for all or a fully public system as exists in the United Kingdom that includes all necessary care, which means reproductive care. We must not allow the Democrats to weaken our demand that every person in the United States have access to the care they need without fear of financial ruin. The private health insurers must go. They are parasites sucking the blood out of our healthcare system and they will never be satisfied until they have it all.

How We Win Universal Healthcare

The Democrats are using the same tactics they used in the last go-round because they work. People cannot allow themselves to be fooled again. How to avoid that was the subject of last week’s newsletter. It is critical that people know what those tactics are, recognize them when they are being used and take action to counter them.

If we are able to hold firm in our demand that we will accept nothing less than healthcare for everyone, not promises of healthcare for everyone but an actual healthcare system that can deliver that, then we will win. At every turn, when the Democrats offer less than that, their offer must be forcefully rejected.

Over the years, the biggest impediment to not achieving a universal healthcare system is that people don’t believe we have the power to win it. They believe the excuses that are used such as it is asking for too much or there isn’t the “political will” to pass it. Who creates “political will”? The people do!

The majority of people in the United States support a universal healthcare system. The opportunity to win it is now because the recession means our uninsured numbers will soar and the current healthcare system cannot address the COVID-19 crisis. As the crisis worsens, our voices must be louder. Universal healthcare is imperative.

And when we win this struggle, it will have two major impacts that will lead to more victories. First, it will demonstrate that people have power to achieve transformational systemic change. And second, it will create a social solidarity – everyone rich or poor in the same system – which will demonstrate that universal systems are superior to the privatized and complicated mess we have now. When we are all in the same system, we all have an interest in making it the best it can be instead of poor systems for the poor and high-quality systems for the rich. We will go on to demand other universal rights such as housing, education, internet access, jobs with a living wage and more.

This time around, the “Yes we can” slogan so common under Obama must mean that, yes, the people can overcome the plutocrats and put people over profits.

The post The Imperative To Achieve National Improved Medicare For All first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Covid-19: A Series of Unlikely Events

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress…
I never saw no miracle of science,
That didn’t go from a blessing to a curse

— Sting, “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” (Recorded in 1992, Released in 1993)

I do this real moron thing, and it’s called thinking. 
And apparently I’m not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions.

— George Carlin,  On American Foreign Policy Bombing Brown People, YouTube  2:20

Everybody’s on the take
Tell me, are you on the take too?

— The Strokes, “Eternal Summer”, The New Abnormal, 2020

Everyone is sick of talking about Covid-19, but it needs to be talked about dialectically until there is understanding because the establishment isn’t letting this one go. This isn’t a left vs right thing, it is as it has always been, power blunting understanding and drawing division while the people go around in circles. Covid-19 is tough to write about when you’re not actively spreading fear about it; non-fear based discussion is deemed dangerous and controversial. Of course, the rationale from the masses who support the actions taken by power believe what is being done is pragmatic and responsible mostly resting on the premise that since authority says it, then it must be true, and many of those people are of the mind that if one engages in the heresy of dissent, it’s assumed you must be an ignorant hateful wanker and selfishly want to kill the weak and elderly when you don’t agree with the talking heads on the glowing idiot box.

To make matters worse the “left” has continued its slide into embracing neoliberal values and promotes a form of intransigent soft censorship, where dissent isn’t really banned outright, it’s just reactively shamed, labeled as dangerous, and pushed to the fringes where it can be safely quarantined. Lest something else other than status quo rhetoric infect naive minds which, according to the establishment, such talk will kill countless people and we know the establishment just cares so much their hearts bleed for the less than 1% labeled as pandemic deaths. Perhaps our rulers deeply empathize with what it’s like to be such a tiny fraction of the population.

They care so much that power is enacting every authoritarian measure they’ve always wanted to enact, and billionaires just happen by covidcidence to be consolidating even greater wealth, by total accident to be sure as they’d never intentionally profiteer in a time of crises when they already have so much. I’m equally sure the excess wealth flowing to the already wealthy will benevolently trickle down to the masses eventually because billionaires like Bezos and Gates have such enormous hearts don’t you know.

They have always been thinking of other people when they primitively accumulate ever greater wealth while others starve. They are after all brilliant philanthropists, so you know their hearts must be in the right place. And sure, they could just solve food scarcity and homelessness by themselves in the US, but what would that teach the people? These super geniuses are simply too wise to just outright allow people to freely live on the land of the earth that’s been cordoned off by the powers that be and outrageously priced for the common person. For these wise people know that greatness is forged in the crucible of suffering, so billionaires want the people to learn how to fight through difficulties and compete with their fellow humans for survival. Thanks, billionaires.

However, they are apparently very concerned about solving this covid-19 thing for the good of the people. They don’t seem too concerned over creating the conditions for poor health globally through their socioeconomic actions, but again, they are very worried about treating the symptoms manifested from their endless hoarding of resources.

Meanwhile the majority of people are gleefully happy to trade liberty for ostensible safety provided by the ownership class. A deal that’s never worked out very well for the people in the past, but now once again we’re told it’s different this time. The people are assured it’s all for our own protection, because governments, corporations, and the medical establishment just love us so much that they must act like a stern paternal force for our own good.

The institutions of scientific “progress”, the medical industrial complex, and centralized government structures that brought you endless war, monetary imperialism, Agent Orange, nuclear proliferation, the war on drugs, an opioid epidemic for kickbacks, the CIA, lobotomies, mass incarceration, radical environmental degradation and so on, well, they evidently saw the error of their ways when Covid-19 came along and are now a collective of near perfectly enlightened bodhisattvas looking out for your health and well being. Forgive me for not buying into the idea that the actions taken by power have been motivated by doing what’s for the good of the people, rather I believe the radical thought that some of the most narcissistic people ever to live on planet earth are doing what narcissists do and thinking primarily about their own interests and don’t care about who they hurt in the process of getting more for them and securing their held power.

Statistical Conjecture

The raw stats around the pandemic are promulgated 24 hours a day on nearly every major media distribution outlet and are also the primary basis upon which power justifies its actions. And there is no justification for their actions even if the pandemic was everything they say it is and worse because when power becomes more aggressive you don’t just hand them what little liberty you have left because they push your fear buttons.

Grains of truth are sprinkled into almost every lie and the common trick played by power is to use fragments of truth often lacking proper context or nuance to lead to convenient conclusions that benefit them. The public reacts to the statistical numbers around covid as if they’d never seen a rigged stat put out to drive the narratives’ of powers before. Like, for instance, are there still any true believers of unemployment stats? Trump, himself, spoke the partial truth about it before he was in office, stating that unemployment numbers Obama was boasting were conveniently ignoring the nuances of the labor participation rate. I’m paraphrasing, of course.  Nonetheless it was a relevant point he was making, but ultimately a convenient thing for him to do because when Trump got in office, and the numbers were artificially low, he then promoted the same stat as a positive despite the fact he had just contested it when it looked good for Obama.

You see, here’s what a liar does. They state whatever is convenient to their agenda. And just because Trump says shit related to Covid-19 not being legit, doesn’t mean it’s true or false.  It only means that it’s a convenient thing for him to say at the moment. But to the public who hates him, each time Trump offers dissent, however convenient it might be, it reinforces the opposite is true in their minds. So when he questions any part of the Covid-19 story it reinforces the idea that the prevailing narratives are accurate whether they are or not.

What I’ll argue here is that a similar type of misdirection, conveniences, and contrivances behind the unemployment stats are what is behind the stats of this stated pandemic. In the scope of this essay I cannot refute all the claims around the pandemic at once, so I’ll focus here primarily upon the validity of the morbidity numbers written down as Covid-19 since that does seem to be the primary driver of their argumentation.

Challenging the Accuracy of Death Certificate Stats

The way deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 are heavily massaged and it’s in plain view. The cause of death charade is exposed on the dangerous conspiracy theory website Wikipedia. If you do a quick little internet search for the term “cause of death” what will be in the top ten results on most search engines is the Wikipedia entry. And the first section after the summary under the heading of “Accuracy Concerns” states: A study published in Preventing Chronic Disease found that only one-third of New York City resident physicians reported believing that the present system of documentation was accurate. Half reported the inability to record “what they felt to be the correct cause of death”, citing reasons such as technical limitation and instruction to “put something else”.

When the physician is told to put something else by someone that never interacted with the patient, again forgive me, just doesn’t sound real scientific like, at least not if you’re going to base any research or public health policy on death certificate stats. By the way, this isn’t a Covid-19 related thing, this is how it’s always been done. When people talk about flu deaths, it’s often conjecture too. Overall there isn’t real science being done here in regards to determining cause of death, and it’s widely believed accurate data is necessary in any field of research. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind, and in this case some doctors themselves are openly admitting to putting heaps of garbage in. They are taking a guess, knowing they have technical limitations or doing what they’re told and rarely go back to correct that assessment ever even if evidence later says otherwise. The same Wikipedia article states: and fewer than three percent reported ever updating a death certificate when conflicting lab results or other new information became available.” 

Further, old age is not written down as a cause of death according to the same Wikipedia article: Old age is not a scientifically recognized cause of death…As an indirect or non-determinative factor, biological aging is the biggest contributor to deaths worldwide.”  

So they’re boldly admitting old age is the biggest contributor to deaths worldwide, yet they negate this concept almost in totality on death certificates. I guess because aging just “contributes” to death and is somehow never the cause of? Being that they refuse to admit old age can outright kill you wouldn’t this stance infer that medical science believes on some level in immortality? They make the claim that by putting down the truth, which is that humans aren’t immortal and getting old kills people,  “… does not benefit public health or medical research.” Ah, yes, I hate it when the truth doesn’t benefit medical research. Best never to let a death go to waste, got to maximize the potential of each death to support medical fraud. How efficient!

And just because someone dies with a positive Covid-19 test doesn’t mean it had a thing to do with their death. It only means the test for covid-19 came back positive. For we know that many who have covid-19 are asymptomatic, so therefore the viral load should be considered first to know if Covid had any affect at all on their death. It’s incredibly sloppy science to make such conjecture without drawing more causal lines first, especially considering how these death certificates are being used to draw conclusions about the lethality of disease and public policy. And because the profile of this virus is so similar to cold and flu it becomes difficult to discern whether cold and flu season overall is simply getting worse or if a novel virus is having some effect, which they don’t seem to have accurate enough data to prove either way.

Unless they are testing for viral load and eliminating other common viruses as a cause at the same time along with properly gauging the effects of comorbidities there is little chance you’re going to accurately be able to tell what the cause of death is in many cases, especially with people who are older and potentially have accrued a lifetime of chronic conditions. Cold and flu leading to pneumonia could be the third or fourth most prominent comorbidity, but at some point it was going to be something that got them if their immune system becomes too weak. Of course, this type of analysis is likely impractical to do on each death in question, which is why the stats alone shouldn’t be so heavily relied upon to form public policy on cold and flu type viruses which have proven to be uncontainable overall and further authoritarian policies to lock-down the world to stop them are more likely to make the cure worse than the disease on several levels.

In the public spectacle, though, a reframing happens in corporate media that instantly labels dissent as conspiracy (poisoning the well of dissent) and speaks with an unfounded arrogance of being 100% correct when, in fact, in many cases they just aren’t. To engage in some poisoning of the well myself, the pro-war, pro-idiocy, pro-establishment corporate media and the sold-out medical industrial complex who price gouges people to stay alive, well, these honest folk, they disagree completely with any notion the veracity of death certificates can be challenged. In one corporate media “fact“ check they speak to the cause of death and comorbidity argument as follows:

These data come from death certificates, and the death certificate is designed to only capture information on causes of death,” Anderson said, explaining that COVID-19 would then not be “an incidental or trivial factor”.

The underlying cause of death is the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person’s death,” Jeff Lancashire, acting associate director for communications at the National Center for Health Statistics, told PolitiFact.

As I previously stated, what is written down on the death certificate is far from a concrete science, and here you can see they are speaking to the idea that the death certificates are almost infallible, when, in fact, there are doctors who have issues over their accuracy. And undoubtedly in many cases what began the chain of events leading to death was having a weakened immune system due to other conditions, not Covid-19.

The lack of accuracy/honesty on these death certificates is astounding in the US and in some cases they don’t test for Covid-19 at all and write it down as such. According to an article in Politico a few months back they openly told the public they were adding people to the covid death toll in New York sans testing. As stated here: “The latest statistics include probable coronavirus deaths through Monday…Probable deaths were recorded as people who did not have a positive lab test for Covid-19, but did have Covid-19 or something similar listed as the cause of death on their death certificate.“  

Real scientific like. If they are going to claim there is a pandemic and cause massive strife along with economic panic while doing so then perhaps they shouldn’t rest their argument on the widespread conjecture written down on death certificates. If Covid-19 is more dangerous than flu as they say, we’ll never really know so long as conjecture is elevated to scientific fact.

In Summary

There is much here I didn’t get to address in the Covid-19 sphere of argumentation, but I can hear the counterarguments going already filling that space. For true believers enough evidence can never be presented; however, I’m thankful to anyone who listened with an open mind. I didn’t automatically reject the narratives of covid-19 coming from power. With an open mind I listened to their stories, and then I thought they were full of shit because I saw open contradictions and logical incongruities in their narratives.

I cannot state enough that bullshit is the standard level of communication and the impetus behind policy decisions coming from established centralized power structures since forever. That doesn’t mean they are wrong by default, or always wrong about everything. Again, there are grains of truth here and there. They are just mostly full of shit, and they must tell copious lies to continue to rule over you. Because if they told the truth, that they need to keep the people scared and desperate to keep them in line, well, the people wouldn’t like that so much. So they pull bullshit like this.

The post Covid-19: A Series of Unlikely Events first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Covid-19: past, present and future

The current pandemic continues to have a large negative impact on most aspects of our lives. Over 20.6 million have been infected and almost 750,000 have died worldwide (about 5.3 million infections and over 168,00 deaths in the US) due to this pandemic. Besides these horrific impacts, this pandemic has also made clearer the failure of the bipartisan neoliberal economic approach that puts profit before people and planet.

Pre-pandemic

Before the pandemic, the world was already nearing a climate catastrophe and ecological collapse. In addition, under its neoliberal approach, the US already had a shamefully large number of homeless, tens of millions underinsured or without health insurance, millions experiencing hunger, millions without jobs, millions more facing huge debts, and an appalling wealth and income inequality. Politicians, operating in a system of legalized bribery, continued to fund the military wildly beyond its needs. This wasteful spending clearly didn’t make us secure and took money from the far more needed and productive domestic spending. In addition, systemic racism, especially in the US ‘injustice’ system, greatly harmed minorities. This was hardly an ideal world.

During the pandemic

Due to the Trump administration’s scandalous lack of preparedness and its failure to promptly implement public health measures, many municipalities instituted total lockdowns in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. These lockdowns led to the closing of many businesses (especially small businesses) and tens of millions filed for unemployment. These job losses resulted in millions more: 1) losing their health insurance; 2) facing the loss of their housing; and 3) experiencing severe hunger. In addition, due to systemic racism, minorities were disproportionately more susceptible to the disease than whites.

So far, the Trump administration and Congress have enacted relief packages that primarily benefited the already obscenely wealthy while providing only minimal short-term aid to the rest of us. In contrast, several other nations demonstrated real concern about their people and their businesses by funding 70% or more of the business payrolls. As a result, they didn’t experience large job losses or bankruptcies.

My hopes

My hopes are that the politicians would finally live up to the ideas in: 1) the Second Bill of Rights (an economic bill of rights) that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed in 1944; and 2) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), including the rights of women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948.

Roosevelt said: In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; and,
  • The right to a good education.

Unfortunately, the US doesn’t recognize these rights and some others in the UDHR that are accepted by many other wealthy nations. As a result, tens of millions of our population unnecessarily suffer tremendous harm.

In addition, my hopes include a major overhaul in our imperialistic foreign policy. We must rejoin the family of nations and rely on diplomacy instead of military power and economic coercion. The global threats of nuclear war and the looming climate catastrophe require nations to work together.

Some vital changes

Unless the Trump administration and Congress quickly enact bills that:

1) fill shortfalls in the budgets of the Post Office and state and local governments;

2) provide aid to true small businesses;

3) provide long-term funding directly to the population;

4) declare a jubilee on debts owed to predatory lenders;

5) support a green new deal;

6) provide healthcare for all;

7) drastically reduce the military budget; and especially

8) fully protect the rights of minorities,

I fear the US is likely to fall into a long-lasting depression and risk societal collapse.

Update

President Trump and the Republican-led Senate dithered around for two months after the House proposed its major relief bill instead of getting a new relief bill enacted. This ineptitude and callous attitude towards the desperation and suffering of many Americans is incredible. Making matters maddeningly worse, the US is still ill prepared to deal with this crisis, a crisis that is likely to worsen upon the return of inadequately protected teachers and students to school.

Unfortunately, these updates reinforce my fears about the future.

COVID-19 Crisis Failure, People Must Save Themselves and the Economy

Positive COVID-19 Test (Shutterstock)

The US is at a moment of truth. This week, Congress has to face up to a pandemic that is out of control and an economy that is collapsing. The Republican’s and Democrat’s proposals show they will fail this test. The people will need to protect themselves and lead from below.

The pandemic is worsening with more than 60,000 new cases and approximately 1,000 new deaths daily. Deaths, now over 158,000, are spiking across the sunbelt and increasing across the Midwest. By Election Day, the US could have 250,000 deaths making COVID-19 the third largest killer after cancer and heart disease.

The economy shrank at a record 32.9% annual pace in the second quarter, the largest since records were first kept in 1947. Jobless claims increased for the second week in a row with 1.4 million new people seeking unemployment benefits and continuing claims have risen to 17.06 million. More than 35 million people have lost their jobs since March.

In the face of these depression-era numbers, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are planning enough spending to rebuild the economy. President Trump, who has botched the response to the pandemic, is unable to lead but seems willing to sign anything that passes Congress.

Boxes of food are distributed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, at a drive thru distribution in downtown Pittsburgh, 10 April, 2020 (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar.)

Republican HEALS Act Will Spread the Virus, Deepen Economic Collapse

The Republican Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act seeks to push people back to work and reopen schools even if it is not safe to do so. Their proposals to cut unemployment benefits are designed to make workers desperate so they will work in conditions that put their health at risk. A large portion of school funding is restricted to schools that physically reopen forcing unsafe schools. Here are some of the details of the bill:

Health care: The inadequacy of for-profit healthcare has been magnified by the pandemic. The loss of jobs resulted in millions of people losing their health insurance on top of almost 30 million people who were already uninsured. Republicans do not include a funding increase for Medicaid, which 70 million people rely on. The National Governor’s Association reports states are experiencing budget shortfalls ranging between 5 and 20 percent. The Republicans do not provide any funding to state and local governments to make up for this loss of income. Without new funding, states will have to cut Medicaid eligibility, reduce benefits, or reduce payments to providers at a time when the economy and virus mean more people need it.

Food: The Census reports 26 million people do not have adequate food. Food banks are reporting shortages and 14 million children are going hungry but the Republicans did not extend funding for food assistance programs. The Republicans did not extend either the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, or the Pandemic EBT program, a benefit for households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, which ended in June. In contrast, they did propose a 100 percent deduction on business meals through the end of 2020.

Housing: The eviction moratorium expired last week. It protected an estimated 12 million renters in federally-backed properties. The HEALS Act does nothing to prevent evictions from restarting. There are 110 million Americans who live in rental households. Twenty percent of them, 23 million people, are at risk of eviction by September 30 according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. With the cut in unemployment benefits, the Census Bureau estimates 24 million people will be unable to pay next month’s rent, including 45 percent of Black and Latinx households.

Worker safety: As workers are being forced back to work, the HEALS Act cuts their ability to sue at a time when worker-safety is at its greatest risk in a century.  Senator McConnell calls this a “red line” that must be in the final bill. His proposal would preempt the few state workplace safety laws that exist and supersede such federal worker safeguards as the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among others. The Republican proposal would erect almost insurmountable obstacles to lawsuits by workers who become infected at their workplaces and limit damages. To be immune, employers would merely have to show they were  “exploring options” to comply with federal law, or they found the risk of harm to health could not be “reduced or eliminated by reasonably modifying policies, practices, or procedures.” A worker whose lawyer issues a demand letter and settlement offer would find themselves potentially facing litigation by the employer against them. If employers sue workers, there is no limit to punitive damages. These provisions would be retroactive to December 1, 2019, and remain in effect at least until October 1, 2024.

Student debt: The HEALS Act doesn’t extend the interest-free payment pause on federal student loans or halt debt collection on government-held student debt, two forms of relief in the original CARES ACT. Without extending the relief Congress first granted to student loan borrowers through the CARES Act, 40 million people are likely to have to resume payments on September 30, 2020 at a time when there are Depression-like levels of unemployment.

Business support: The Act provides $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program, which has been rife with corruption as members of Congress and the administration as well as their friends, families, and donors got payouts. Big businesses got loans even though the program was intended for small businesses, making small business owners furious. Black and minority businesses were denied loans. Money is needed for main street businesses but PPP needs major changes rather than just pouring more money into the failed program.

The bill also includes $1.75 billion for the FBI building. This was added at the insistence of the Trump administration because the president’s hotel is across the street from the FBI. Without funding to refurbish the building, the FBI could move to Virginia or Maryland, leaving the current building to be torn down and likely replaced with a hotel that would compete with Trump’s hotel.

Military spending: Nearly $30 billion in the HEALS Act would be allocated in a brazen giveaway to the military. The bill includes billions for the Pentagon including $686 million for F-35 stealth fighters, $650 million for A-10 ground attack airplane wing replacements, $1.4 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, and $720 million for C-130J transport aircraft, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, and $283 million for Apache helicopters. This is reportedly being added to make up for money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall and comes after Congress recently passed a record military spending bill.

Paramedics taking a patient into an Emergency Room at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Democrats Fail To Use Their Power

The Democrats control the House of Representatives. Nothing can pass the Senate without Democratic Party support. The Senate Republicans are divided and Trump is desperate to sign a bill. Polls show Republicans could lose the Senate so they need to pass a good bill. The political alignment favors the Democratic Party but it still isn’t doing what is needed.

The Democrats passed the HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act in May, a $3 trillion proposal compared to the $1 trillion HEALS Act. Two months ago this may have been adequate but now that figure needs to be increased as more jobs have been lost, state and city governments have lost income, and the cost of treating the virus has increased with more cases.

A “red line” for the Democrats should be funding state and local government with at least $1 trillion to continue basic services. More than 20 million people work for state and local governments such as firefighters, teachers, police, sanitation workers, and transportation workers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates 5.3 million jobs will be lost without state and local funding. President Trump and the Republicans do not want another massive increase in job loss, so the Democrats are in a strong position to make this demand.

The decrease in unemployment benefits should be another unacceptable “red line” as this will further shrink the economy. The Economic Policy Institute finds the loss of the extra $600 of unemployment benefits, which people are currently spending on basic needs, will result in the loss of an additional 3.4 million jobs.

One area where the Democrats can build on some agreement is the $1,200 COVID-19 relief payment to individuals. These payments are too small. A good COVID-19 relief package would increase payments to $2,000 per person monthly for the duration of the pandemic and recession for households earning under $150,000 as suggested by Sen. Bernie Sanders. This would slow the economic collapse and ease suffering.

It is essential to extend the moratorium on evictions not just for federally-subsidized housing, but the federal government should also cover rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the crises. Otherwise, millions of families will lose their homes in an election year, which should be politically unpalatable for both parties.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26 (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

We Need a Plan

What is missing from both the Republican and Democratic bills is a strategy to control and stop the pandemic. The virus is 7 months old and still spreading rapidly. President Trump has failed to lead so Congress must do so. The bill should include a massive investment in making rapid testing available across the country. Every business and school should have rapid testing capability before they reopen. This should be combined with hiring 500,000 public health tracers so those who have been exposed to COVID-19 can be tracked to prevent further spread of the virus.

Everyone wants to restart the economy but this must be done safely. In addition to testing and tracing, workplaces and schools must be safe. School districts should decide whether to restart or continue web-based learning and should be supported by the federal government whatever they choose. Hundreds of thousands of tutors who can do one-on-one teaching to support web-based learning are needed. With high unemployment, especially among recent graduates and college students, there are people available to take on this task.

Congress should authorize OSHA to rapidly enact stringent standards for workplaces to reopen, along with funding for necessary safeguards. There should be increased funding for OSHA workplace inspections and investigations of inadequate safety. Employers who meet the standards for a safe workplace should have legal protection from frivolous lawsuits but employees should also have the right to sue if workplaces do not meet safety standards. This approach protects both workers and employers and will reduce the spread of the virus.

Neither party handled healthcare well even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has magnified the failure of for-profit healthcare. To stop the spread of the virus, Congress needs to break away from its privatized approach to healthcare. With the widespread job loss, 5.4 million workers lost their health insurance as did millions more family members. This is the largest decline in health insurance coverage in US history. The rapid response to this healthcare crisis should be the expansion of Medicare to everyone in the United States. Ideological opposition to publicly funded healthcare should not block this essential step. The long term failure of our healthcare system and widening health disparities demonstrate why we need a community-controlled, public, universal healthcare system.

Workers strike over safety (Yahoo Finance)

he People Must Rule, and Protect Ourselves

Congress and the President are unlikely to enact the laws needed to confront the pandemic and economic collapse. As a result, both will worsen. We will have to take action to protect ourselves and build popular power to win our demands.

We need to organize mutual aid to people meet people’s basic needs, such as for food and housing. Many cities have vacant buildings owned by the local and federal governments. As homelessness rises, these should be taken over to house people. We discuss the practical steps for taking over homes with Cheri Honkala this week on Clearing The FOG, (available as a podcast on Monday).

We build popular power by taking the streets as people have been doing for over two months now across the country, only buying essentials, refusing to pay rent or debt payments, blocking evictions and by building in our workplaces for a general strike.

Our actions must not be about which presidential candidate from the two parties of the millionaires to elect. Only one serious presidential campaign is right on COVID-19 and the economy, the Green candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. Our actions need to be about building a people’s movement that grows in power before and after the November elections. No matter who is elected, the people will need to resist, create new systems and rule from below.

The American Teaching Hospital: School for Psychopaths

Medicine has changed. We used to be a calling that catered to the public welfare, and our prime consideration was the patient. Now we are a business, and some of us practice as impersonal corporations, with the bottom line the profits, not the well-being of the patient.”

— From The Doctor, by Dr. Edward E. Rosenbaum, 1991

The most shocking thing about the neoliberal health care model is not that it bankrupts and murders hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, but that vast numbers of physicians continue to support it. The insatiable depravity of the anti-single-payer virus has metastasized throughout every organ of the American teaching hospital, an institution which has betrayed its sacrosanct purpose, and which increasingly inculcates residents with the pernicious idea that good health care is a privilege and not a right.

The teaching hospital has become a dangerous place, not only for patients, but also for trainees, who are being forged into physicians without having been inculcated with a respect for basic principles of medical ethics. In this way have American physicians largely been reduced to an army of automatons trained to make money for the medical industrial complex. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that many residents lose themselves in a pitiless sea of soulless careerism, as they are immersed for years in an environment where they are beholden to, and at the mercy of, rapacious interests that place profit-making over all other considerations.

The teaching hospital is to health care what the ballet academy is to ballet and the music conservatory is to the symphony orchestra. All who covet this career must pass through its gates, and the values it imparts to its pupils form the basis of the light — or the inexorable darkness — that will assuredly follow.

Knowing that patients are often confined to extremely narrow networks, it is standard practice for teaching hospitals to arm-twist patients with inferior insurance into being medical models during physician office visits. This underscores the sociopathy of the contemporary teaching hospital, and serves as a metaphor for how these institutions have become inhuman machines that harm patients and sully the souls of their trainees. Cornell Dermatology, a department that could win an award for teaching residents how to coerce patients with inferior insurance into being clinical teaching tools, takes great pride in their villainy, writing on their website:

In addition to basic and clinical dermatology training, we strive to instill ethical behavior, compassion, communication and the recognition that we are here to serve our patients.

Residents that are the most amenable to the dictates of unscrupulous attendings position themselves to become chief resident or to be awarded a prestigious fellowship. In the American teaching hospital, this is the only thing on the mind of most trainees.

It is incontrovertible that the multi-tier system, the spawn of privatized health care, is incompatible with the oath to do no harm. Cornell Oncology, which once assigned me to a fellow due to my unglamorous insurance, writes on their website that “We care for the whole person and put the needs of our patients at the center of everything that we do.” Despite a blatant predilection for medical Jim Crow, Weill Cornell claims in their literature to have “a legacy of putting patients first.” In actuality, American teaching hospitals put profit-making first, research second, the attending’s comfort (vis-à-vis their desire to have a medical scribe or chaperone present in the examination room) third, the teaching of the trainee fourth, and the patient last.

In “I am a physician and I am not your enemy,” by Megan Gray, MD, the author laments the fact that her patients are wary of doctors. “I am asking you to trust that every day I put your needs above my own,” she writes entreatingly. It is possible that Dr. Gray does, in fact, put the needs of her patients above her own. Regrettably, this is often not the case, as evidenced by the fact that American physicians wrote over two hundred million prescriptions for opioids each year from 2006 – 2016, millions of our countrymen have been made addicted to psychotropic drugs, while Vioxx took the lives of roughly the same number of Americans as died in the Vietnam War.

It is clear that the physician-patient bond, regarded as inviolable for millennia, cannot coexist within the mores of privatized health care. Yet many doctors would argue otherwise. In “Being a doctor is not what it used to be,” by Raviraj Patel, MD, the author writes that “in my humble opinion, the patient-physician relationship is sacred, and the entire system is designed to facilitate that relationship.” In “To combat COVID-19, we endanger our doctors in training,” Gali Hashmonay, MD, writes of our uniquely dysfunctional for-profit apparatus, that “This system attracts doctors in training who are eager to put a patient’s well-being in front of their own.” Indeed, accepting gifts from pharmaceutical companies, performing practice pelvic exams on anesthetized patients, not disclosing long-term chemotherapy side effects, getting patients addicted to drugs (formerly benzodiazepines and barbiturates), imposing unwanted observers on patients during their physician office visits, pushing unnecessary surgeries, and ignoring do not resuscitate orders are some of the many things that residents have to look forward to when training at our esteemed teaching hospitals. After the corporate lexicon of “humanism,” “patient-centered care,” and “compassion” are stripped away, blind obedience is the attribute most coveted by teaching hospitals when interviewing prospective residents.

By refusing to acknowledge that corporatization has been a catastrophe, anti-single-payer physicians have sacrificed their autonomy to the devilish whims of the private health insurance companies, which have usurped the medical decision-making process. They have also sold their souls to the pharmaceutical companies, which continue to corrupt medical knowledge and foment quackery; and to hospital executives, who treat doctors as if they were employees at an investment bank.

The successful Cuban response to the pandemic underscores the fact that money and technology are useless when profits are placed over human lives. Vietnam, also a poor country with limited resources, has likewise mustered a stronger defense against the virus than the Beacon of Liberty. Cuba’s health care system is so robust that they have continued to send teams of doctors abroad, even in the midst of the pandemic.

Successfully completing a residency is analogous to being awarded a black belt in karate. Without a sense of compassion and virtue, such an individual is destined to become a danger to themselves, and a danger to others. As profiteering and the multi-tier system have become normalized in the American teaching hospital, this can only result in the commodification of the patient in the mind of the debased trainee.

In “5 things that make U.S. health care great,” by Suneel Dhand, MD, the author posits, without satire, that “A homeless American entering the doors of a hospital with an acute medical issue — be it sepsis, a myocardial infarction, or a stroke — will get better care than a rich person almost anywhere else in the world.” Writing for KevinMD, Kent Holtorf, MD, concedes that “The U.S. far exceeds any nation in expenditures for insurance administration, where the essential means of cost control is denial of service and rationing of care via ever increasing complex treatment approval systems, resulting in spiraling costs.” He then concludes:

A free-market system is shown to be the only reasonable method of reform that addresses the true underlying problems of the U.S. health care system and effectively lowers health care costs, allowing for universal insurance coverage for most everyone so any reasonable person — doctor, patient, Republican or Democrat — could support.

Not to be outdone, Kevin Tolliver, MD, asks In “A framework to understand universal health care:”

At its core, universal health care forces healthy people to pay for others’ medical care. Is this fair? Why should an active, healthy-eating, non-smoker pay for health care for an obese, sedentary diabetic who chain smokes all day?

In “Corporate games have ruined the health care system,” Osmund Agbo, MD, acknowledges that “When an insurance executive is making a seven-figure bonus, it’s very clear his loyalty lies somewhere else outside the interest of regular Americans struggling to pay an infinitely rising monthly premium.”  He then informs us that “I am not a fan of socialist medicine. On the contrary, I am a firm believer in the free market enterprise system.”

Where does all of this irrationality and deranged thinking come from? Surely, the media has played a role. And yet we cannot discount the deleterious influence of the teaching hospital, which far more than medical school, profoundly shapes an impressionable trainee’s sense of right and wrong. Polluted and defiled by the pathogen of amorality, the fallen wallow in the plague wards of neoliberalism, banished from the world of compassion and rationality, and forever condemned to live out their days enveloped by a shroud of blindness.

Let us recall Pope’s haunting words in An Essay on Man: Epistle II:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As, to be hated, needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Only by collectively acknowledging that health care cannot be sold as cars, kitchen appliances, and soap are sold; that it is the doctor’s sacred duty to treat all patients equally, regardless of their ability to pay; and that medical ethics can only flourish in a nonprofit socialized system, can we take this desperately needed step in reclaiming our humanity. For too long have American teaching hospitals been bastions for every form of knavery, perfidy, and skulduggery. These institutions must cast off their shackles of corporate thralldom, and join the fight to restore dignity and honor to American health care.