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The health care law, racism and fighting the right

Published Apr 2, 2010 4:08 PM

With 30 million unemployed or underemployed, the failure of the just-signed health care law to meet the needs and expectations of the population, plus its giveaway to the health care industry, is bound to add to the frustration and alienation of the workers.

President Barack Obama’s signature was hardly dry when the health insurance industry announced its intention to get out of the new legal requirement to cover children with pre-existing conditions.

The industry came up with a twisted interpretation of the law that clearly violates its intent, as understood by everyone who promoted it and everyone who heard about it.

According to the March 29 New York Times, “The authors of the law say they meant to ban all forms of discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, birth defects, orthopedic problems, leukemia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease. The goal, they say, was to provide those youngsters with access to insurance and to a full range of benefits once they are in a health plan.

“To insurance companies, the language of the law is not so clear.

“Insurers agree that if they provide insurance for a child, they must cover pre-existing conditions. But, they say, the law does not require them to write insurance for the child and it does not guarantee the ‘availability of coverage’ for all until 2014.”

The insurers claim that “if a company sells insurance, it will have to cover pre-existing conditions for children covered by the policy. But it does not have to sell to somebody with a pre-existing condition. And the insurer could increase premiums to cover the additional cost.”

Aetna tells it like it is

This is what comes of a law leaving the private profit-making corporate vultures in charge of health care. They immediately reneged on their promises and humiliated the Obama administration.

The Democratic Party leadership had done their bidding. It gave them hundreds of billions of dollars in concessions — particularly the onerous mandate forcing 16 million people to buy insurance starting in 2014. And then these parasites turned around and stabbed the Democrats in the back.

A similarly ominous warning was contained in a March 25 Business Week interview that Charlie Rose conducted with Ron Williams. Williams is CEO of Aetna, which insures 36 million people.

Rose asked Williams if insurance premiums will go up. “The answer is yes, and some of the things that will drive those premiums are significant additional taxes the industry will ultimately have to pay in the first year.” Clearly, the health care bill is not going to stop the companies from gouging profits.

Rose recited to Williams the line that President Obama has been repeating over and over again — that if you have a policy you like, it won’t change. Williams said that was not true. The industry might make you take a higher-priced policy, forcing workers to pay for unwanted benefits.

This kind of obstructionism, right out in the open during the first week of the new law, gives a taste of what is in store for the workers and the middle class. Dr. Claudia Chaufan of the California Physicians for a National Health Program wrote in the Sacramento Bee on March 26: “This ‘historic bill,’ instead of eliminating the root of our health care woes, further enriches and entrenches a profit-driven health insurance industry that makes money when it succeeds in not paying medical bills.”

What backers of health care law don’t say

The progressive benefits of the law come at the price of excluding undocumented workers, further curtailing women’s reproductive rights and leaving the profiteers in charge. Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, AFL-CIO, gave some examples in the Huffington Post of March 24:

• Insurance premiums will continue to climb, as a federal rate insurance authority was dropped from the bill.

• Insurers remain in control of what they offer and what will be a covered service.

• There are no meaningful restrictions on claims’ denials that insurers don’t want to pay, and the “internal review process” remains in the hands of the insurers.

• Companies can more than double charges to employees who fail “wellness” programs because they have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol readings or other medical conditions.

• Insurers can sell policies “across state lines,” exempting patient protections passed in other states. Insurers will likely set up in the least-regulated states.

• Insurers can charge three times more based on age, plus more for certain conditions, and continue to use marketing techniques to cherry-pick healthier, less costly enrollees.

• Insurers can continue to rescind policies and drop coverage for “fraud or intentional misrepresentation” — the main pretext insurance companies now use.

• Health benefits will be taxed for the first time, with a 40 percent tax on plans whose value exceeds $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for families, starting in 2018.

Media love to cover Tea Party

The failure of the law to meet the people’s needs and expectations, combined with mass unemployment and economic attacks from every direction, will further fuel economic and social tensions. This widens the political opening for the ultra-right.

The right wing is using the alienation created by the economic crisis to foment racism and fascist ideology. It is denouncing the health care bill from the right and using the jobs crisis demagogically against the Obama administration. And the fascist elements around the Tea Party have been given unlimited publicity by the capitalist press.

This publicity is provided as “news.” But the news coverage by the big business press is highly selective in favor of the right wing. They can play something up or they can bury it.

For example, there was a demonstration of more than 200,000 immigrants in Washington, D.C., on March 21 demanding justice for 12 million undocumented workers. It got a bare mention and was quickly dropped. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Washington on March 20 were almost completely censored. And more than a hundred demonstrations by the labor movement against the banks is hardly news at all.

The corporate media continue to publicize the Tea Party, sometimes in the guise of criticism, but it gives them publicity nonetheless. This in spite of the fact that a racist, homophobic Tea Party mob spit and hurled racist epithets at John Lewis and other Black legislators at the Capitol building. The mob then hurled homophobic insults at openly gay Congressperson Barney Frank.

The press eggs on the Tea Party fascists, knowing that at their convention in February Tom Tancredo made a racist speech to a standing ovation. He railed against immigrant workers and all oppressed people, denouncing them for electing a “socialist president.”

Time to fight the right

Sarah Palin, another star at that poorly attended convention, is now on a Tea-Party-sponsored tour, whipping up the right wing and pleasing the fascist elements with her map of offices of Democratic Party legislators, accompanied by the slogan “reload.”

The Tea Party and fascist elements who gather around it are hardly a consolidated movement with a fixed ideology and program. This movement is financed by right-wing billionaires behind the Scaife and Koch foundations. It was aided by the insurance companies and other corporate interests at various times in the struggle against the health care bill and environmental legislation.

To be sure, fascism is hardly on the horizon. The dominant threat to the working class is still the capitalist state, the police, the FBI, Homeland Security and ICE, the courts, etc. And the struggle for jobs and to push back the economic crisis must be directed at the capitalist government.

But there is growing political erosion in the morale of the workers, the oppressed and the political movement because the racist, sexist, anti-immigrant and homophobic conglomeration of rightists and fascists has gone unopposed. This is dangerous to solidarity and to the fighting spirit.

While carrying on the struggle against the economic crisis, it is necessary to intervene and block the seemingly unobstructed progress of the ultra-right, which thrives on getting the spotlight from the capitalist media. Without militant opposition, these right-wing riffraff are made to look 10 feet tall.

Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak at a Tea Party rally in Boston on April 14. The Bail Out the People Movement is mobilizing to bring forces together to oppose this rally. This is an important step. It is time to fight the right — with militant, class struggle methods.

Goldstein is author of the book “Low-Wage Capitalism,” a Marxist analysis of globalization and its effects on the U.S. working class. He has written numerous articles and speaks on the present economic crisis. For more information visit www.lowwagecapitalism.com.