2010 Cuban Student Academic Exchange tour schedule
Health reform boon
for insurance giants
Workers face deteriorating care, fines
BY BEN JOYCE
After what he described as nearly 100 years of talk and frustration, U.S. president Barack Obama signed into law March 23 the Affordable Health Care for America Act. The law, whose implementation will be years in coming, promises to be a boon for the insurance industry while perpetuating the deterioration in the quality and availability of medical care for working people.
In order to get the bill passed, Obama and Democratic Party leaders in Congress employed a combination of cajoling, threats, and special deals to win the votes of individual Democrats. In the final stages, politicians who supported the law pushed the bill through Congress without even trying to gain Republican support. No Republican legislators voted for the bill in either house of Congress. Several no votes were cast by congressional Democrats.
Attorneys general from 14 states have already filed legal challenges against the bill in federal court. Two separate suits challenge Congresss ability to impose a mandate that would force everyone to buy health insurance, or face a fine collectable by the Internal Revenue Service.
The 2,500-page bill contains most of the same provisions as the bill passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this year. Individuals who dont comply by 2014 will face an annual fine of $695. Subsidies to buy insurance will be available on a sliding scale for families and individuals whose income is up to four times the Federal Poverty Level, which is $22,050 for a family of four.
The law will set up insurance policy markets operated by states where individuals would be able to purchase coverage. The state-run exchanges would administer the subsidies to those who qualify. Workers without proper documents will be barred from purchasing insurance on the exchanges, erecting yet another barrier to prevent millions of immigrant workers from getting access to health care. Undocumented workers do not have access to Medicaid either.
Opponents of a womans right to choose abortion scored a victory in the legislation. The law prevents individuals from paying for abortion coverage as part of a health insurance policy subsidized by the government. Separate payments must be made for those who opt to have abortion coverage, if they can find a health plan that covers the medical procedure.
Bill to drive down social wage
Washingtons implementation of the health-care law will push forward the U.S. ruling classs larger goal of driving down the social wage. The government is determined to substantially cut back on many of the social programs won by working people over previous decades through hard-fought class battles, and make the working class shoulder the burden of the deepening capitalist economic crisis.
Along with passage of the health-care law, a raft of articles have appeared berating the cost of entitlements and claiming that Social Security is going broke. A March 25 New York Times article by Mary Williams Walsh claims the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives from payroll taxes, blaming the fact that the economic crisis forced many people to lose their jobs and apply for Social Security income sooner than they would have otherwise.
When the level of the trust fund gets to zero, you have to cut benefits, said former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan on March 24.
The health-care plan projects major cuts to Medicare, a program that provides some medical coverage to retired workers and others. The law includes $500 billion in Medicare cuts over the next decade. A body will be set up to regulate the Medicare budget and will be responsible for making these cuts. The new body will have the power to override Congress if it rejects proposed cuts to the program.
Cuts to Medicaid, a program that provides minimal health coverage for workers and their families who cannot afford insurance, are also in the works. Some $240 million has been cut from annual Medicaid payments to New York City public hospitals in the last three years.
According to the Wall Street Journal, New York governor David Paterson has proposed to cut more than $1 billion in the next fiscal year. As a result, some 3,900 hospital workers will lose their jobs from New York City public hospitals over the next two years.
The passing of Obamas health-care legislation was met with great enthusiasm by the markets. In a Washington Post article titled What Wall Street thinks about the health-care vote, David Ignatius reports how the stock market responded to the passing of the new law. The winners included many hospital and nursing home chains, he writes. Also up were some major drug-makers and drug distributors
. The health-care sector can anticipate a whole lot more government money headed its way, and the new legislation wont do much to cut costs, or health-industry revenues and profits.
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