Symptom of a larger problem

By Jack Bernard


Secretary Azar of the Department of Health and Human Services has approved extending limited “short-term” insurance plans from 90 days to a year, with two additional renewals. These plans essentially gut the ACA (Obamacare) because they have limited benefits and don’t cover pre-existing conditions. Thus, when combined with Trump “association plans,” the ACA pool of insured is sicker ... and premiums for them go straight up. Azar is banking on folks not understanding insurance enough to realize the shell game being played, which is not surprising given his history.

Not long ago, Azar was approved as Secretary, straight down party lines once again with only six Democrats voting for him. He was the Eli Lilly CEO, and the one responsible for unconscionably raising the cost of insulin tremendously. Per Senator Wyden, Azar has a “documented history of raising drug prices.” He has also opposed Medicare being given the authority to negotiate drug prices.

According to the AP (11-13-17), the “Public Citizen advocacy group likened Azar’s nomination to a coup d’état by drug companies.” I hope they are wrong, but I fear they are correct, given the Trump administration’s record of putting crocs in the swamp.

Former Georgia Rep. Price, Trump’s first nominee for Secretary of DHHS, is a perfect example of partisanship and political shenanigans. Price was supported by virtually every right-wing interest group but proved incapable of moving any bipartisan legislation through Congress when he was there. In Congress, he opposed: family planning and women’s rights in general; any regulation of farming; NPR; taxpayer financing of elections; the Emergency Mortgage Relief Program; all forms of gun control; gay rights and the ACA (Obamacare). Plus, he wanted to gut Medicare and Medicaid via privatization and block grants. Simply put, there was no moderation of any kind in his positions.

From what wealthy businessman Azar said and did before his nomination, I was convinced then that he was not any different … and that is why he is clearly the wrong person to head DHHS, the Federal government’s most important social agency. But, this nomination/appointment was just a symptom of a much larger problem.

As a retired Senior Vice President with a publicly held firm, I know that private enterprise is generally more efficient than government. But, I also know that there are exceptions, the largest one being health care insurance. Based on any reasonable analysis of cost, access and quality, the European single payer systems that those on the right snidely denigrate as “socialized medicine” all out perform our ridiculously decentralized, uncoordinated model of insurance and care.

Both Trump and Obama have acknowledged many times that national health insurance, supported by 58% of the public (per Gallup), would be the best option in an ideal world. What they have not publicly stated is the obstacle to achieving Medicare for all: campaign donations and lobbying by big pharma and insurance companies. And, the unconscionable scare tactics they employ to say we cannot afford the program.

I have never seen our citizens as divided as they were by the 2016 election. Regardless, Trump is still our President and should, in an ideal world, boldly lead us in the universal insurance direction, helping most Americans. Other democracies have done so; their health care is both much cheaper and has better mortality and morbidity rates than ours (see OECD and Commonwealth reports).

If all of us work hard to purge the worst offenders, someday politicians in both parties will stop being bought off by special interests. And, someday we really will elect someone who really does speak for the majority of Americans, can unite us and have the courage to enact Medicare for all.

Jack Bernard was the first Director of Health Planning for Georgia and served two terms on the Jasper County Board of Health. He retired as a Senior Vice President with a national healthcare corporation. He is now a widely published, nationally known expert on healthcare reform.