James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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GOP Health Reform Tactic: Rich Vs. Poor

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

By digging in their heels and turning the health care battle into an all-out attack on Obama, the Republicans are engaging in a classic class war that pits the rich against the poor. In case you missed it, an NPR report illustrates the point:

[O]f the 100 congressional districts with the highest uninsured rates, 53 are represented either by Republican lawmakers—who are fighting the Obama administration’s attempt to overhaul the health care system—or by Blue Dog Democrats — conservative Democrats who have slowed down and diluted the overhaul proposals…

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 17 percent of Americans under age 65 now go without health insurance. It’s a basic truth of political analysis that low-income residents—that is, those most likely to be uninsured—are less likely than middle-class people to attend town meetings and less likely to vote. To state the obvious, the poor are also less likely to make campaign contributions. Meanwhile, health care corporations and professional organizations have actively engaged the Blue Dogs. So far this year, the Blue Dogs’ political action committee has received $301,500 from health care and health insurance PACs.


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GOP Health Care Ideas Run Gamut From Non-Existent To Nefarious

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 12:16 PM EDT

When you get right down to it, it’s hard to believe Republicans want to run against health care in next year’s midterm elections. But that does seem to be the road they’ve chosen, as Dana Milbank’s report in the Washington Post makes clear. You’ve got Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky complaining how the Baucus bill "tramples on American freedom and liberties," (before nodding off to sleep). There’s John Kyl sounding like a broken record: "This bill is a stunning assault on liberty." In fact, the Republican contribution to the "debate" in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday had little to do with health care reform at all.

But that’s not to say the GOP has nothing to contribute to the subject. The Republican Study Committee, an alliance of more than 100 self-identified fiscal conservatives headed by Tom Price, has issued a slew of health care proposals, surely intended to protect members on the stump in 2010.

How the Baucus Bill Bilks People Over 50

| Fri Sep. 18, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

The people who stand to get screwed most by Max Baucus's health reform plan are those who aren’t old enough to qualify for Medicare, but are still old enough to be discriminated against by insurance companies.

For several months, the Columbia Journalism Review has been publishing analyses of the Massachusetts health care system, which in many ways serves as a model for the current national health care reform—a canary in the coal mine for the rest of us. The state mandates that all residents have health insurance or face a tax penalty. And while it does provide some regulation of private insurers, it doesn’t outlaw “age rating”—setting different premium rates based on age. This doesn’t apply to most working people who are covered by group plans through their employers, at group rates. But for the self-employed and early retirees—whose numbers are growing since the recession began—the costs can be devastating. CJR cites reporting by Kay Lazar in the Boston Globe, which found:

State law allows insurers to charge older people up to twice as much as younger people for the same coverage. In other states, the disparities can be even greater. One result is that more older people choose less comprehensive plans. Data from the Commonwealth Choice program, which offers state-approved private insurance, show that as enrollees grow older, more choose cheaper and less comprehensive coverage.

The main solution that’s been proposed for this problem is to make it “easier for self-employed people and retirees who are 50 to 64 to be exempted from a stiff tax penalty if they can’t afford insurance.” So rather than force insurance companies to stop discriminating on the basis of age, the state may begin “allowing” 60-year-olds to live without health insurance. So much for the great Massachusetts universal coverage model.

 All of the major health reform plans that have been floated in Congress allow age-rating. And the Baucus plan endorses disparities even greater than those in Massachusetts. As the New York Times reports:

Banner Week for Big Insurance

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 2:15 PM EDT

This is turning out to be a very good week for the private health insurance companies (or as I like to think of them, the bloodsucking middle-men of the health care system).  Yesterday, AP/Forbes reported on the uptick in insurer stocks, which jumped from 3 to 6 percent in a single day:

Shares of health insurers jumped Wednesday after an key Democrat released a much anticipated Senate version of a health care reform bill that excluded a government-run insurance option.
 
The so-called public option had been a contentious issue with health insurers, with the industry viewing it as unfair competition. Instead, Sen. Max Baucus released a proposed bill that would require every American to obtain health insurance, which would be a financial boon for the health insurance industry.

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out why the Baucus bill is great for the insurance industry: If there’s no public alternative to compete with private insurance companies, guess where all those people will have to go to buy their government-mandated insurance? As for the touted co-ops and exchanges, all they are ultimately likely to offer is better access to private insurance. And people of limited means will get government subsidies, mostly in the form of tax breaks, to buy private insurance--which means a transfer of funds from the taxpayers to private insurers. We might as well be writing our checks directly to United Healthcare, Wellpoint, and Humana, instead of the the IRS.
 
As Mark Karlin pointed out on Buzzflash yesterday, taxpayer subsidies are the only way to solve the ”issue of how for-profit insurance can co-exist with the goal of reducing medical costs.” Karlin continues:

This isn’t a ‘free market’ solution; it’s socialized support of “profits”--basically a shakedown. It’s the only way--under the myth of Big Insurance providing enhanced “value,” which it doesn’t--that for-profit insurance companies can survive, because they are…unnecessary (essentially, a expensive redundancy) except for the explicit purpose of enriching a select few: the executives and shareholders.

Jimmy Carter On Obama and Racism

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 2:37 PM EDT

Yesterday former President Jimmy Carter noted that much of the opposition to Obama's health care plan was “based on racism” and that there was “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.” Carter was only saying what everyone knows. Any journalist who covered the Democratic presidential primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania could not possibly have missed the naked hatred of the man among some voters, based on the fact Obama is black. Similar sentiments were in the air in western Maryland during a recent town meeting on health care—Western Maryland has a history of being not just right-wing territory, but Klan territory.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. America has not crossed any divide. And the racist attacks on Obama won’t end with health care. They’ll just roll on into other issues on his agenda.

Read more by James Ridgeway on Unsilent Generation. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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