Last night’s installment of the July Democratic debates was a mess. With Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren standing at center stage, CNN’s questions seemed designed to invite attacks from the Center and the Right. A common theme was that the Democratic Progressives are far too radical for America and that “reasonable” and “pragmatic” people from the Heartland are America’s only hope. Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Hickenlooper, Ryan, and Bullock had thus been chosen for this media-staged matchup. To their credit, Warren and Sanders defended their positions admirably. Particularly on Medicare for All.
Early in the debate, CNN host Jake Tapper asked Bernie Sanders to respond to a talking point by fellow candidate John Delaney: “You support Medicare for All, which would eventually take private health insurance away from more than 150 million Americans in exchange for government-sponsored health care for everyone. Congressman Delaney just referred to it as bad policy, and previously he’s called the idea political suicide that will just get President Trump reelected. What do you say to Congressman Delaney?”
Delaney, an informed viewer would know, is a healthcare executive (and three-term Maryland Congressman) who made $230 million by first providing home health care services by using underpaid workers, and then founded a health care investment corporation to take a cut of your medical premiums. While in Congress, Delaney served on the Financial Services Committee. His top campaign donors were J.P. Morgan Chase, Alliance Partners, Capital One Financial, and several other insurance and investment companies. Delaney is the human personification of everything that is wrong with American healthcare — and, to some extent, the Democratic Party.
Objecting to the framing of the question, Bernie Sanders replied, “Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. And, by the way, the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight, on this program…” — before being cut off by Tapper.
And Sanders was exactly right. During the ad break, CNN broadcast a commercial for Otezla, which “partially clears skin at the cost of nausea, diarrhea and depression at a listed prices of $3,400 for a 30-day supply.”
The American Prospect‘s David Dayen wrote that, besides hearing from the pharmaceutical industry, debate viewers also heard from “the anti-single payer group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future (PAHCF), funded by hospitals and drug companies, and an Alzheimer’s disease patient advocacy group that takes major funding from drug companies.”
“The unfiltered 90 seconds of three of these commercials in succession comprised more screen time than anything in the debate about money in politics,” Dayen wrote. “The country cannot afford to have CNN creating the proscenium through which America gets informed.”
Unfortunately, half the Democrats on stage sounded exactly like Republicans when it comes to health care. Delaney, Ryan, Bullock, Hickenlooper, and to some extent also Klobuchar all said that Americans would fight tooth and nail to preserve their healthcare plans. All gravely warned that any talk of removing the private option would frighten voters into the hands of Republicans.
Certainly no one should ever underestimate the credulity of the American public, but it would help if the issue were not being improperly framed by corporate media like CNN (and its advertisers) and by Big Pharma’s and Big Healthcare’s friends in both parties.
“Don’t take my healthcare away!” is absolutely the wrong demand, and an abuse of the English language.
Like organized crime, insurance companies don’t provide healthcare. They take a cut of your payment to your doctor. These companies are in it for the money. For journalists and presidential candidates to associate “healthcare” with the insurance industry is professional and linguistic malfeasance. And little more than corporate propaganda.
These are companies that require customers to spend hours and hours trying to adjust rejected or screwed-up claims. Do consumers really want to preserve relationships with these companies? Maybe it’s just me, but the best relationship with the insurance companies would be none at all.
I’ve seen it myself in Germany and Canada. I simply pay my premiums (through taxes or other deductions) and I don’t get nickeled and dimed on copays, approved pharmaceuticals, or have to worry about scheduling treatment because I haven’t yet hit some arbitrary annual dollar amount. I simply go to the doctor or the hospital and everything’s been paid for. Without the possibility that some unusual condition or treatment will bankrupt me. That’s my definition of healthcare. And if I were a small businessman in America, I wouldn’t need to spend half my time negotiating deals with insurance companies.
“Healthcare” is provided by healthcare experts. Doctors, nurses, midwives, physician assistants. “Healthcare” has nothing to do with the corporate parasites who currently profit off human frailty and mortality. If there is a healthcare relationship I want to preserve, it is with my doctor, not an insurance company.
While Sanders was plainly frustrated with Democratic friends of Big Pharma and Big Finance — who refused to allow that a national healthcare plan is most certainly possible because every other Western nation in the world has already done it — Elizabeth Warren did a better job of explaining what the stakes are. Like Sanders, Warren was cut off by CNN while trying to recount the tragic story of Ady Barkan, who has ALS, and whose illness is bankrupting his family despite premium private medical insurance. Still, Warren made her point.
“We are not about trying to take away healthcare from anyone. That’s what the Republicans are trying to do,” said Warren, a co-sponsor of Sanders’s Medicare for All bill. “And we should stop using Republican talking points in order to talk with each other about how to best provide that healthcare.”