The Starting Five, 2/3/2015


When you go to the WellPoint health insurance website, you are greeted with a slideshow of testimonials from WellPoint

employees. Each testimonial starts with a banner headline: "I love helping

people," says one. "I work with compassionate, caring colleagues,"

says another. "Our work really makes a difference," proclaims a


Makes you want to work for WellPoint.

What a great thing it would be to work in a business

where the halls are practically drenched with the milk of human kindness.

Especially when that business has what amounts to a license to print money.

Talk about a win-win!

That appears to be the deal if you're a health insurer

in the United States. Last week we learned that the cost of health insurance

premiums jumped nine percent in the past year. This was the largest increase in

six years, with annual premiums for families reaching $15,073, according to the

Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust.

Employers are picking up most of these costs. On

average, this amounts to $10,944 to cover workers and their families; employees

pay about $4,129.

Maybe you've been wondering why you haven't gotten a

raise in, oh, a decade or so. That raise is being eaten by the cost of your

health insurance. In case you've given up trying to figure out how much what

you're "contributing" for your health benefits has grown since 1999

(if you have health benefits), get a load of this: 168 percent.

Think about that.

Since 1999, the amount employees

pay for health benefits has gone up 168 percent. That's more than three times

the rate of earnings during that time, and more than four times the rate of


But wait, you say, how can this be? Didn't we get

health care reform passed last year?

Yes, legislation was passed. The trouble is that

legislation didn't deal with reforming the health care system so much as it

protected health insurers. It was not for nothing that health insurers

contributed $20 million to Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

And the fact is, President

Obama blew his chance to do anything real about health care reform when he took

the possibility of a single payer, Medicare for All option off the table before

negotiations even began. The result, as writer Kevin Zeese reported on Truthout

last March, at the health care legislation's one-year anniversary, is that

Americans lacking any health coverage still number over 50 million; over 45,000

deaths are occurring annually due to lack of health insurance; and 40 million

Americans, including 10 million children, are underinsured.

Zeese wrote that "a new norm" is taking

hold. "The trend in health insurance is rising premiums and shrinking

coverage for many Americans who get their coverage at work as well as on the

individual insurance market."

Zeese continued: "Underinsurance, requiring

Americans to pay more of the cost of health care, may become the norm because

of the 2010 law. The new law will hasten the current trend toward

underinsurance as plans where patients pay an average of 40 percent of their

health care bills qualify to fulfill the employers' obligations to provide

coverage rather than pay an assessment."

Remember when we were told that health insurance would

become "affordable?" That word, affordable,

was an escape clause for insurance companies, enabling them to offer inadequate

policies at a price the government would allow. As Zeese pointed out,

"waivers to the requirements of the 2010 law are being widely granted,

resulting in millions of Americans continuing to have inadequate health

coverage." The administration, reported Zeese, says the purpose of these

waivers is to avoid disruption of the insurance market.

No, we wouldn't want to disrupt an industry in this

country that has posted record profits three years in a row. During the first

three months of 2010 – at the same time health care, er health insurance

legislation was being passed, the five largest American health insurance

companies reported profits of $3.2 billion, an increase of 31 percent over the

same period in 2009, according to advocacy group Health Care for America Now.

The one bit of silver lining in this palpitating cloud

is that workers and, especially, employers may finally be waking up to the full

effects of health insurers' greed. If peoples' pay continues being sucked up by

higher premiums to pay for lower quality care, our consumer-based economy can

never, repeat never, fully recover.

This means that we all have to take a deep breath and

start over on health care legislation that really accomplishes structural


And that means demanding the government do what it's

supposed to do: represent all Americans and negotiate health care costs on

behalf of everyone in this country. A pool of 300 million people would

represent a hefty bargaining chip – and a pretty attractive client, if

you want to think of it that way.

The "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All

Act," H.R. 676, is a bill that has actually been introduced in Congress by

Rep. John Conyers. It could save our economy – but even better, it might

even save your life.


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