The Great Healthcare Heist: How Obamacare Was Sabotaged From the Start

It was the winter of our discontent, 2009. A season of bank failures, massive layoffs, and $5-a-gallon gasoline.

Finally, a fractured country could agree on at least one thing: This had to change.

So President Barack Obama set out to deactivate the next bomb awaiting the U.S. economy, the one ticking inside our bloated, beleaguered health system.

Although Affordable Care Act enemy House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly claims the United States has "the best healthcare delivery system in the world," the World Health Organization puts us at number 36.
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
Although Affordable Care Act enemy House Speaker John Boehner repeatedly claims the United States has "the best healthcare delivery system in the world," the World Health Organization puts us at number 36.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus drafted an insurance industry insider, Liz Fowler, to lay the groundwork for what would become Obamacare.
Frank Balsinger/Creative Commons
Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus drafted an insurance industry insider, Liz Fowler, to lay the groundwork for what would become Obamacare.

Since the 1990s, insurance premiums had averaged double-digit annual increases. America was spending over $7,500 per person per year — 50 percent more than Norway, the next-largest contender. Health spending alone was chewing up one-sixth of the U.S. economy, double that of competitors like Japan, and putting American employers at a severe disadvantage.

Worse, we were paying Maserati premiums for something that looked a lot like a used Kia. Though pols like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) loved to bray that America had "the best healthcare delivery system in the world," it wasn't remotely so. The World Health Organization ranked us an embarrassing 36th, behind such notables as Costa Rica, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia. Other rankings routinely put the United States near the bottom of the industrialized world.

"We spend one and a half times more per person on healthcare than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it," Obama told Congress in 2009. "This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages."

Big Medicine had done its best to keep it that way. Since 1999, it had spent nearly $6 billion on lobbying — three times what the next-largest industry, insurance, had spent. An obedient Congress had allowed it to build a system in which millions couldn't afford coverage, huge swaths of the country were essentially served by monopolies, and prices continued to go up and up.

"In the decade up to 2009, 79 percent of all the growth in household income was absorbed by healthcare," says Dr. Brian Klepper, CEO of the National Business Coalition on Health. "Everything in Washington is rigged, but the thing most rigged is healthcare, because [it has] even more money than the banks. Both sides take money at a rapid clip from the industry in exchange for getting their own way. So everything is done in the special interest, and nothing is done in the common interest."

But that spring, with an enraged electorate and the economy in tatters, Obama was given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to break Big Med's stranglehold. He vowed to do it the old-fashioned way: by introducing competition, forcing Big Med to earn its keep.

Everyone would sit "around a big table," Obama had told a crowd in Virginia the year before. "We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators, insurance companies, drug companies. They'll get a seat at the table. They just won't be able to buy every chair."

Five years later, it's hard to argue with Obamacare's success. About 7 million people have signed up for insurance. The sick no longer can be barred from coverage, nor can the chronically ill be kicked to the curb.

Yet Republicans still rail that Obamacare is a socialist perversion. Democrats, meanwhile, often treat the plan as an illegitimate child they'd rather not acknowledge.

What both sides neglect to mention is their complicity in sabotaging the bill, selling out an unprecedented opportunity to the very guys who created the time bomb in the first place.


The president's ultimate goal was coverage for the country's 48 million uninsured. In places like Europe and Canada, the government pays basic healthcare costs for all citizens. This type of insurance often is called "single-payer," because one payer, the government, covers basic medical care.

Those wondering how it might function need look no further than Medicare, which runs all senior healthcare in this country. It's arguably the most popular government program in America, and one of the more cost-effective.

Start with the cost of administration. Medicare's ranges between 2 percent and 5 percent of its budget. For private insurance, the average is 12 percent. The Government Accountability Office once estimated that this simple savings alone would be "more than enough to offset the expense of universal coverage."

Moreover, a single provider would have the size to negotiate better prices from providers and pharmaceutical companies. According to a New England Journal of Medicine study, this would save another $400 billion — and provide a boon for American business, reducing labor costs by 10 percent to 12 percent.

A CBS poll found that 59 percent of the public favored a government health plan. Unfortunately, the body politic is more impressed with power than with the will of the people. One of the biggest players in Congress — the insurance industry — wasn't about to get squeezed out of its lucrative role as middle man.

Insurers treat single-payer like Israelis do the Palestinians: as a threat to their very existence. With a single-payer system, most health insurers would vanish overnight. So the industry set out to ensure that such a program never saw the light of day.

"Of course they don't want it," wrote Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, in a 2009 opinion piece. "A public option would squeeze their profits and force them to undertake major reforms. That's the whole point."

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51 comments
ConcernedCitizenAZ
ConcernedCitizenAZ topcommenter

Obama's mistake was keeping all of Bush's cronies. We will campaign and vote every obstructionist GOP incumbent out of office, along with their shills. 

pat029
pat029

Frist you have to remember this is a republican rag plus a yellow sheet and was able to dodge a bullet by paying off the right people in there law suit so the the best thing to do with this rag is line the trash can with it but you can't believe anything they say . Obamacare will turn out to be one the best things for this country just look around there no hospital closeing medical care is a money making business and the republicans are all for it screw the middle class the rich own the republicans just look at the gas prices  and wall street the republican protect them and screw the little guy that keep this country going  IF THIS WAS A REAL PAPER THEY WOULD EXPOSE THE OIL CO.s THAT ARE SCREWING THIS COUNRTY AND NOT CARRYING 

Jukes
Jukes

Thanks for the excellent article.  As long as our government is for sale, the rich are going to buy.  So it's the lobbying that needs to be addressed first and foremost, so we can build on Obamacare in the future, making it even better than it is.  

PS:  I'm super-disappointed in Max Baucus.  I expect that kind of voting from the fake-Maverick, but I thought Max was better than his current voting.

ipolitics123
ipolitics123

There's little doubt that Obamacare achieved some remarkable things. "


Yeah. The 9/11 hijackers achieved some "remarkable things" too.   Were they good for America?


No, in both cases.

HaddieNuff
HaddieNuff

Good article, and I surely have a hard time understanding how anyone could see it as an attempt to sell us on Obama's handling of the mess our healthcare system is, or on the ACA Itself.  Seems anytime the name "Obama" is brought up all reason leaves the scene.


"“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” Thomas Paine 

budsan
budsan

Hopefully their anti people platform will backfire on them. Look how our two US Senators are always voting anti people pro wars and tax cuts for the super wealthy. We have McCain that's more interested in starting WWIII with the bombings and killings that goes along with a despicable senator like John McCain. Now McCain is playing opportunist with his "so called" concern for the VA Hospital. What a joke McCain is always voting against any and all veteran benefits and programs. Last week McCain and his boy voted against raising the minimum wage for the working poor to a very low livable wage. McCain and his stooge Flake has always been against the Affordable Healthcare law besides. They're just anti people PERIOD. Of course they're both ready to spend billions on senseless foreign wars and killings. Then give the extreme super wealthy on huge tax cut. All of this they want paid for on the back of people that are in need and the middle class. What AZ needs to do is start by getting rid of awful people like McCain and his boy Flake, we need to boot them out of office,

Edward Vidrios
Edward Vidrios

If it is good enough to serve the public at large then why aren't govt officials participating in it. Yes I know they are covered by their own insurance. Why not give the general public the same coverage that is granted to congress?

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

'not participating' in what, exactly? Smart people invented the word 'Obamacare' to confuse simpletons. There is no 'Obamacare'. There is a piece of legislation, PPACA, and there are healthcare marketplaces. Under PPACA those who are not covered by other public or private insurances or excluded from responsibility to have an insurance, can (note, it is not 'must', can) buy their insurances. 'The people we elected' are covered by other insurances thus they are not eligible to buy their insurance through exchanges.

Edward Vidrios
Edward Vidrios

I think we can all agree that one Palm greases another. The system is corrupt at many turns wether it is government or private. Do we need some type of national healthcare. I think we do. I do not like the idea of it being run by the government. I don't like the idea of people being penalized for not participating. It has multiple problems. What fools agree to a contract without reading it. Elected fools that could care less about the public they are to represent. If it's so great why aren't the people we have elected to Washington DC participating. Welcome elitism and the pitting of the have and have nots.

arusha13
arusha13

Your slanted take on an important topic demonstrates a willingness to overlook or not bother with the facts. These are the inconvenient truths that ACA advocates avoid or fail to consider: In an OECD comparison of healthcare spending and healthcare outcomes in 34 developed countries, US healthcare outcomes were average at best. There was nothing average about US costs -- two and one-half times the average per capita cost and one and one-half times the per capita cost of the next most expensive country. As a percentage of GDP, the 18% US share is almost twice the average and  one and one-half times that of the next most expensive country. In short, we receive about $2 trillion in value for $3 trillion in spending.


The only tangible contained in the ACA is the creation of new income streams for the medical-industrial complex. Out with the choice of catastrophic coverage only; a form of insurance that was the best value proposition for some (younger, healthier, and with higher incomes than the norm), and let's not forget the mandated coverage for the young and healthy -- especially the featured jacked up rates that subsidize otherwise higher premiums for older participants, and which was sold as a financing mechanism to back subsidies for those with incomes of four times the poverty level or less. 


It would waste my time and yours to deny these facts unless you can disprove them. 30 thousand K Street lobbyists could care less about the party affiliation when visiting an office holder -- their carrot and stick is equally effective. Montague had a term for government control by power and cunning, which he called a Kratocracy. But for a historical parallel, the Roman Principate was a three century period following the demise of the Roman Republic where Emperors maintained the outward appearance of the Republic for public consumption,


Iin our case, the 1%; a partnership between Wall Street and the so-called Left doing business as a public-private cartel. Keep tooting your horns for the current administration -- on their watch the 1% has increased their share of national wealth from 38% to 43% largely by exchanging $5 trillion in private losses for $5 trillion in new public debt. The Democrats are of, by, and for the 1% since 1853 (same as the Republicans) when the two-party stranglehold began its uninterrupted rule.  

appetoni
appetoni

Mr Parker,


As some of the commenters have failed to acknowledge, you have skillfully pointed out the shortcomings of Obamacare and paced equal opportunity blame where blame is due - especially on the insurance companies and those who have been bought off by them. It is a sad situation that many people saw their insurance rates double. This was not the intention, and if control of the bill by insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies had not been allowed, everyone might be seeing a benefit. Unfortunately, as usual our President and congress gave in to hefty political contributions.  As it stands now, many are seeing higher rates, by insurance companies, who would use their increased costs as an excuse to raise rates on the consumer. Truth is they don't need to raise the rates. They just need to cut into their sickening profits a little. We know the top 1% are not going to stand for that. When and if people ever learn to recognize that big money and big corporations are playing them, and their political leaders like puppets, then we might actually make some real progress toward helping us commoners. I enjoyed your article. Keep them coming.

megalon98133
megalon98133

All of this is simply number play. 'US Healthcare costs are 50% more than Norway!", "It costs one and a half person more here!" 


You can't really address any problem, if you're simply playing ring around the rosies with numbers. For the Norway thing - So they pay $5625 instead of $7500? Oh! Well their population is 5 million. USA - 313 million. Gee. I wonder if being short 308 million people helps. 


Sorry folks, but there's are so many differences that its absolutely ridiculous to keep comparing US' Healthcare system with every single tiny widdle nation. If all of Europe was under one blanket Socialist Medical system, then we'd talk. But right now the comparison is pretty much limited to China as far as size - they still outnumber us 3x with 1.3 billion, and their health is even worse. They're notorious for massive pollution, low wages, sweatshops, etc. It seems that nations with less healthcare are the more productive nations, while all of those with 'great' healthcare have become lazy, entitlement nations that produce very little.


If you want to start listing comparisons and differences, then let's do it. But lofty vague utopia hopeful wishyness is disgusting.

rockdog48
rockdog48

This is a typical liberal news rag response, which mirrors the current administration's method of operation:  obfuscate, distort and outright lie when the truth is damaging to the agenda.

afourn4384
afourn4384

What a load of crap. Both parties, according to your article, find 'o'care completely lacking, and yet, you write as though everyone is benefiting from it. You obviously have employer-provided insurance, and don't have to budget the double-and-triple cost of insurance. 'o'care is as big a disgrace as 'o' himself is.

jasongneher
jasongneher

I don't know the in's and out's of big government or political journalism...all I know is that because of Obamacare suddenly the monthly premium for my wife and myself DOUBLED....It freakin' DOUBLED. How is that beneficial to my family?

Jason G. Neher
Jason G. Neher

I don't know the in's and out's of big government or political journalism...all I know is that because of Obamacare suddenly the monthly premium for my wife and myself DOUBLED....It freakin' DOUBLED. How is that beneficial to my family?

Brad Kachurka
Brad Kachurka

What are we going to give up to get this single payer which is really everyone paying through some national tax? Defense subsidies, earned income credits, highway spending? Even if we implement a 'single payer' system, whose going to administer? The government? They can't even make a website to enroll, let alone invoice and manage overspend.

Brad Kachurka
Brad Kachurka

Call it socialism if that's what you want but single payer system is misnomer Orwellian doublespeak.

Brad Kachurka
Brad Kachurka

Define single payer system? Even with heavy subsidies in the broken plan, people aren't paying their premiums unless they had serious health issues. If not many are choosing to go without insurance.

Mary Doe
Mary Doe

They did not vanish in other countries, but they became more controllable. Now profit is the king in Healthcare. To be precise, individual profit for insurances and providers, not the profit to the society as a whole from healthier population.

lennygarbo
lennygarbo

I'll be damned: real, informative journalism. Thanks, Chris Parker!

Electrica
Electrica

@pat029 AHAHAH! pAT929! EXCELLENT! And I thought this was a trashy left-wing rag for a minute. This is a fucked up right wing rag???? OMG! you just can't trust anything you read these days.

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@HaddieNuff  


"Seems anytime the name "Obama" is brought up all reason leaves the scene."


Kind of the same thing when it was Bush, except it was the loony left. 

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@budsan    Who's "we" bud?  You get ONE vote.  Have at it.  

megalon98133
megalon98133

@appetoni "This was not the intention" Really? So, which author or Senator or Congressman are you?

appetoni
appetoni

@megalon98133  Why don't you consider per capita????? I think you'll find the comparison quite fitting.

Argofckyrself
Argofckyrself

@afourn4384 Actually I pay for my own insurance as almost every freelancer does, and I can say from experience it has brought my rate down. As they say, your results may vary...

scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

@jasongneher Did you shop the ACA exchange for a better deal?  Does the insurance you are now paying double for provide better benefits because it is now ACA compliant?  Insurance not from the exchanges can and will charge you anything it feels like charging because there is no alternative; purchased on the exchange, you have options.

scottsdalebubbe
scottsdalebubbe

@jasongneher Did you shop on the exchanges to see if you could get a better deal?  Also, is the coverage you are paying double for better in terms of out of pocket expenses and providing no lifetime limitation on coverage?  If you were paying 1/2, you probably weren't getting as much coverage as ACA compliant  plans offer.

afourn4384
afourn4384

@lennygarbo You obviously don't have to pay for insurance, this article is as big a load as 'o'care.

Electrica
Electrica

Hey PhoenixNewTimesRepublicanRag....Have you gone to Amy's bakery? Being a Republican rag and all, be sure and carry your guns in there to have dinner.

appetoni
appetoni

@megalon98133 @appetoni  I am a commoner with increased insurance rates, but with the ability to see past the snake oil being sold to the public by the corporate bulldogs.

megalon98133
megalon98133

@scottsdalebubbe @megalon98133It's still not comparable. It's like you've got 5 houses. In Europe you've got 5 people, 1 per building. In the US, you've got 50 people, so it's ten per building. Which people are going to be better rested and have a better demeanor towards one another?

megalon98133
megalon98133

@appetoni @megalon98133Because it doesn't work that way. Humans aren't simply pegs. US's population's mentality and makeup and history is much much different. Counting people's heads as cattle roundup is simply making the same mistake as all politicians have been doing.

HaddieNuff
HaddieNuff

@fishingblues Pragmatism? No doubt. Your claim to logic is very misplaced, however. 


I don't have time or the inclination to dispense medication to dead people. Neither will I waste time trying to teach pigs to sing. .

fishingblues
fishingblues topcommenter

@HaddieNuff @fishingblues


 Is that what you infer?  


I was stating an observation.  As to "And you feel...", we'll leave "feeling" for the loony liberals.  I much prefer logic and pragmatism.  

Jukes
Jukes

@megalon98133  "He had no idea how to make it work"?  He copied it from Romneycare.  You know, the working program Romney denied when he was running for president.  It's not the plan I wanted, but it's better than what we had.  Last week I wrote my first check for my new policies, so I can personally attest to that.  I'm getting twice as much for half the money and to refute another GOP claim:  I HAVE THE SAME DOCTOR.  

appetoni
appetoni

@arusha13 @appetoni @megalon98133  So with any luck, the young and healthy will grow old and be subsidized by the future young and healthy. Someone has to pay. We all want something for nothing but you know what they say about wishing in one hand. 


Whether it is a miscalculation and will break the bank is something we can speculate on but only time will tell. My prediction is that insurance companies will back off on lashing out and prices will come down. The giants will be forced to succumb to the pressures of the free market and competition.


Granted the current HCA is just a bandaid fix, but hopefully with time people will learn to flex enough to allow for true healthcare reform and reject any attempts to water it down. Whether or not you approve of the current healthcare reform, it's hard to deny that some kind of reform is needed. It's either do something about it or we allow the insurance and pharmaceutical bullies to continue to have free access to our bank accounts, while many without means are forced into illness and death as a penalty for being poor.

arusha13
arusha13

@appetoni @megalon98133  No, it's a worsening situation for us as the result of the ACA -- as I mentioned above, the tangible benefit is that received by the medical-industrial complex by the creation of new income streams for them. Care isn't improved, costs will continue to rise, and the rosy scenario suggesting that jacking up rates for the young and healthy would cover the dual subsidies of buying down premiums for the elderly and for those making less than four times the poverty level was a miscalculation that could break the bank. 

appetoni
appetoni

@megalon98133 @appetoni  That's right, he didn't.  It isn't his job to know all of the intricacies of the healthcare system. He was willing to try to make things better,  and to let the experts  make it work, which in many ways it has. This is more than I can say for the status quo, do nothing, bickering, obstructionist congress. At least he was willing to TRY to make a difference (successful or not), and clearly, that is what the people wanted. That's why he was elected. Unfortunately, I believe he caved to the political contributions along with the rest of them.


megalon98133
megalon98133

@appetoni @megalon98133The 'intention' was to make lofty promises to buy votes. The 'intention' was simply created by Obama *during his initial 2008 campaign* - this is all documented - in order to win the election. He had no idea how to make it work when he made the promise. So I don't think you're looking past the snake oil, I think you're on the wrong aisle of the store alltogether.

appetoni
appetoni

@megalon98133 @appetoni  I have to agree with you on, "making the same mistake as all politicians have been doing". Sadly, it doesn't much matter who or what party is in office. The people lose no matter what. Money rules the world and those of us without it are the cattle, or sheep as I prefer to call it. In reality, with economies of scale our healthcare should be cheaper than Norway's.

Electrica
Electrica

@arusha13 @appetoni @megalon98133 arusha13 you are so full of shit. So ARUSHA13! You are saying that the government healthcare provided to congress sucks! We give Congress the most premium healthcare on the taxpayer dime! They don't complain! If you are not a government representative receiving excellent healthcare, yet complaining about government taxpayer funded health care....then shut the fuck up! 


 
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