Republicans and Democrats campaign
for private insurance profits:

Presidential politics and health care

from Detroit Workers' Voice #71, January 15, 2008
(CV #41, February 2008)


. The health care crisis continues to deepen. More and more people are losing their insurance, the number now over 47 million. Even those with insurance are not immune to the crisis: insurance companies routinely raise the price of premiums, co-pays and deductibles, so going to the doctor is a financial gamble for any working class family. This is a crisis of the free-market private insurance system. The system is broken and needs to be replaced. But what do the presidential candidates have to say about this crisis? Mainly their idea is to prop up the private insurance industry. None of the major candidates, whether Democratic or Republican, recognizes private insurance as a key source of the problem.

Republicans offer more free-market snake oil

. Republican candidates are following in the footsteps of George Bush's policy: crush the working masses and lower taxes for the rich. Bush lowered the tax rate for millionaires, but for the poor and the working class Bush couldn't care less. Bush twice vetoed a bill to expand S-CHIP, the plan that gives medical insurance to children of the working poor, before finally signing a cheap extension of the program. Bush's reason for the vetoes was opposition to any government-funded health insurance. Bush's overall plan for health care, announced a year ago, was to give tax rebates to some individuals who buy insurance policies. But the puny rebates the masses would get are no guarantee that they could find decent health insurance or afford to pay soaring insurance costs.

. Mike Huckabee agrees with Bush that the basis of health care must be opposition to universal coverage "mandated by federal edict. " For private insurance Huckabee prescribes making workers pay more for it. He says the problem with employer-paid insurance is that it gives workers health care "for free"; the solution is to make the workers themselves pay for premiums, not their employers. Like other Republicans, John McCain talks about giving health care consumers "more responsibility". That's Republican-speak for "make the workers pay more". McCain's campaign promotes him as a crusader against corporate lobbyists and special interests, but McCain has never objected to the health insurance lobby. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney backed forcing everyone to buy private health insurance, and threatened those not complying with criminal penalties. Romney promised the working people subsidies to help them afford insurance, but these were woefully inadequate. So the basic outcome was not to provide health coverage for all, but criminalize the uninsured. These days Romney just talks about tax deductions to pay for health insurance, while dropping the talk of mandates requiring people to get coverage. Romney financial advisors crow that if the masses are left to fend for themselves for insurance, they will be forced to choose cheap policies. They note that these policies will have high co-pays which will force people to forego doctor visits. Romney likes this scenario because he, like all the Republican candidates, is out to line the pockets of the health insurance billionaires, not provide health care.

Democrats promise universality
but rely on private insurers

. The Democratic presidential candidates have domestic programs with promises for the working class, especially on health care. All the Democrats say they will expand insurance coverage, with most of them pretending they will achieve universal coverage. Supposedly this will be achieved by extending the present system of private insurance. The Democrats have various plans to subsidize this. Some of these plans are complex, with overlapping bureaucracies, but much of it boils down to tax credits and deductions just like the Republicans. So aside from promises to slightly expand Medicare and Medicaid, the Democrats' prescriptions are pretty much the same as the Republicans. The difference is their rhetoric.

. The two current frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, differ mainly over the question of individual mandates. Obama's plan does not force people to buy health insurance, while Clinton's plan does. Clinton says the cost of buying insurance would be offset by tax credits. This part of her plan is just like the Republicans. It really won't cover the added expenses for most workers, while doing nothing for the poorest people. Many workers would probably be forced to settle for cheap insurance with lousy coverage, so they'll get coverage, but only in a minimal sense. Worse yet, the Clinton mandates mean criminalizing the uninsured. So despite Clinton's promise of universality, her plan isn't serious about achieving it. Clinton relies on private insurers to do the job, but with their constantly-rising premiums and Clinton's lack of a serious mechanism to pay for them, millions of poor and working class people are bound to be left behind once again.

. As a matter of fact, requiring individuals to buy private health insurance, as Clinton's plan does, has been a failure in state after state. Why? Insurance premiums skyrocket and working class people can't afford the higher prices. As a result, states with mandated coverage have actually seen big increases in the number of uninsured.

. Other than not criminalizing the uninsured, Obama's plan is similar to Clinton's. There's a lot of empty promises from Clinton, Obama, and Edwards too, to insure the uninsured through giving this or that incentive for working people to purchase private insurance. This will guarantee soaring profits for the health insurance industry, but little else.

Support national health insurance!

. Despite their promises of universality, none of the major candidates advocate a national health care system or even a single-payer system such as exists in Canada. The Canadian system is no panacea, but it's much better than the private insurance system. Canada's national health insurance system really is universal and, for most things, free. That's why, despite efforts of the Canadian capitalists to chip away at the system, the Canadian people don't want to go back to private health insurance. But the major presidential candidates prefer piddling reforms that preserve insurance company profits and maintain the stranglehold the private insurance companies have over cost and accessibility. This will prevent them from achieving universality.

. A single-payer plan would eliminate the waste and bureaucracy associated with doctors dealing with a multitude of insurers. It would also eliminate the profiteering of the private insurers and would do away with their administrative costs. One candidate, Dennis Kucinich, has come out for a single-payer plan. But Kucinich doesn't have a prayer of getting the Democratic nomination. And Kucinich is not for the mass struggle needed to impel serious reform. He's running just to try and keep up interest in the Democrats.

. So don't expect much health care reform under a Democratic president. The key to serious reform is a shakeup in the present political system locked up by the two big capitalist parties. <>

'Call Center' postal workers demand
union steward elections, now!


. Management at the postal "Call Center" next to Grand Shelby Station in Detroit has been trying to deny workers there the right to elect a union steward. The call center is staffed mainly by workers with work-related injuries. There are injured workers of all crafts there, but the huge majority are letter carriers. Several weeks ago, there was an attempt by the NALC to hold steward elections. Candidates signed a posted sheet in the break room to run for office. Then, all of a sudden, management said the elections couldn't be held. This was outrageous for management to tell the union whether it could hold elections. The NALC Branch 1 leadership decided not to carry through on the elections, preferring to postpone them until they could talk further with management.

. The "Call Center" has been up and running for ten months without a steward and workers there are sick of this. So a contingent of "Call Center" workers came to the Jan. 10 NALC meeting to demand their rights and condemn the stalling by management and the Branch 1 leaders. At the meeting, Branch 1 President Sandy Laemmel tried to dismiss a flyer circulated by Call Center workers critical of how the union leadership handled this matter, saying it was largely untrue. A number of Call Center workers objected to that remark. Later, Laemmel said she was telling management to allow the elections or the union would file unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board). A Call Center worker pointed out that NLRB complaints take years and that an election should go ahead immediately regardless of what management wanted.

. It's not clear what the union leadership will do next. But the workers at the Call Center are not willing to stand by and have their rights violated. They want elections now and want management to stay out of it. And they are starting to organize themselves to make this happen. Such independent activity by the rank and file is what's needed if postal workers are to defend themselves against management. <>

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Last modified: February 28, 2008.