Medicare-For-All, Coronavirus and the Folly of Unilateralism

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By Joe Bartuah Facebook1 Facebook    Twitter1@BartuahJoe

Due to the intricacies of public policy issues and the obvious susceptibility of some of those issues to be subjected to gross distortion, just for the interested purveyors of such distortion to score a political point, it’s imperative at times to proffer some factual narratives in an attempt to remove whatever ambiguity or equivocation that surrounds a given policy proposal. In the case of the universal healthcare policy now popularly known as Medicare-for-All (M4A), as initially proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, which has virtually been embraced and incorporated with some modifications or nuances by almost all Democratic presidential candidates, a relevant narrative that readily flashes through my mind involves the unfortunate predicament of Mr. Frederick Christ Trump, III and his wife, who were catering to their baby with a severe pre-existing condition at the time. In his best-selling book, The Making of Donald Trump, veteran investigative journalist David Cay Johnston narrates an incident involving the current President of the United States, Mr. Donald J. Trump and his nephew, Mr. Fred C. Trump, III. As recounted by Mr. Johnston, when Mr. Fred C. Trump, Sr., the patriarch of the Trumps died in his 93rd year on June 25, 1999, his four surviving children later conservatively estimated their late father’s assets/estate at a little over $300 million at the time. The elder Trump’s first son, Fred C. Trump, Jr. (born 1938) had predeceased him in 1981  in his prime age of 42 and his surviving son is Fred C. Trump, III.

The surviving Trump children decided to share their late dad’s assets, even though they were all grown-ups with a considerable wealth of their own. They reportedly decided to give their nephew, Fred C. Trump, III $400,000 out of his grandfather’s staggering assets, Not satisfied, Fred, III sought the help of a lawyer who then sued the estate of the late Trump patriarch; he apparently felt that as a direct representative of his late father—Fred C. Trump, Jr.—he deserved a better share of the assets from his two paternal uncles and two aunts. The bad news for Fred, III was that he and his wife had a baby who suffered from a rare disease and badly needed health insurance, because treatments for the disease ran in thousands. Johnston notes that the Trumps had health insurance from which Fred, III and his family—including the baby had been benefitting, but because he had sued his late grandfather’s estate for a better share of the pie, the future president abruptly removed the entire Fred C. Trump, III family from the Trump family health insurance. In other words, even though Fred, III was a scion of one of the wealthiest families in the United States, suddenly he and his family—most especially his sickly child—were left without health insurance. This means that he and his wife had to pay thousands of dollars out of their pockets, because their being on the Trump family health insurance was based solely on the whims of his super-rich uncle, Donald J. Trump who became president in 2017.

Just imagine if there had been Federal health insurance here in the United States as it is in neighboring Canada, or in Great Britain, Australia or Sweden, Fred, III’s baby’s life would not have been put on risk, just because one member of a family clan was mad with another member. The unfortunate Fred, III narrative is indicative of how in the absence of a government-guaranteed health insurance, everyone is at the unreliable mercy of private individuals or institutions. Does that drive home the point that every private health insurance, however, abundantly beneficial it might be, is inherently conditional and potentially temporary? It must be noted that since this country came into being almost 250 years ago, the most enduring and consequently reliable institution has been Government. Companies, including insurance companies have come and gone, but Government remains, whether in times of Great Depression or Great Recession.

During the February 22, 2020, Nevada caucus of the Democratic Party, the popular sentiment being expressed by some leaders of the Culinary Union was that Medicare-For-All would take away their union’s private health insurance. Because of the dispute involving the union leadership’s preference and the disconnect with majority of its rank-and-file members, there was no official endorsement of any candidate by the 60,000-strong Culinary Union. Instead, the Secretary-Treasurer of the union hastily convened a press conference during which she heaped praises on one of the candidates, who was not favored by a majority of the members, hence the deadlock in endorsement.

Even though the union said it was not endorsing, its leaders, however, resorted to using free media time to distort and discredit Bernie Sanders’ M4A. That sentiment had been couched in a poignant comment-and-question by one of the union leaders, Elodia Munoz as indicated herein: “We went on strike to protect our healthcare—healthcare I need for my family. We want to keep it. We don’t want to change it. Why would you change it?” The reality is that at such a political gathering, when someone with a vested interest eloquently poses such a loaded question, it is obviously bound to arouse applause from. But beyond the flashy satisfaction of an applause, the harsh a stark reality continues to stare. What that eloquent union leader neglected to articulate is that a typical culinary worker would continue to have that particular private health insurance as long as he, or she remains employed and pays his or her union due. But what happens if such a cherished union member loses his job, or becomes disable? Will that person continue to keep his or her private health insurance? If so, for how long? Will the union continue to pay his or her insurance premiums? It goes without saying that in discussing the nitty-gritty of crucial issues that directly affect people’s life, one has to go beyond the ostentatious spectacle of rhetorical flourishing.

The harsh reality is that private health insurance is strictly contingent on the continued viability of the holder. In other words, one can have a private health insurance today and incidentally lose it tomorrow. For example, in December of 2001, when then Houston-based energy giant, Enron collapsed, more than 29,000 of its employees who have hitherto, had fabulous private health insurance, were suddenly left without health insurance. The Enron scandal was so heartwrenching that one of its top executives committed suicide. Seven years, thousands of other hardworking employees such as Lehman Brothers and General Motors, among others, experienced such grim reality.

Usually, when the issue of M4A raised in political circles, people with varied vested interests are prone to assail it from all angles, pretending that such policy is impossible. They most often make such claims without rationalizing same. This is understandable though, because the healthcare industry—owners, shareholders and administrators of private hospital and clinic chains, the pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies and their professional lobbyists, etc—is a very powerful, influential institution. And so they have every right to fight back, because their profit margins stand to considerably in case a bold and virile leader succeeds in instituting M4A as the law of the land. After all, who would want to bite the hand feeds? Because of their mental anguish about the possibility of losing one of the primary sources of wealth, their sweet-talking lobbyists are busy out there, briskly crisscrossing the corridors of powers, coaxing power brokers and ever ready to grease their elbows, in terms of making fabulous contributions to their campaign accounts. Against the backdrop of such intense lobbying, it’s not surprising when some politicians claim that this country which more than fifty years ago, sent man to the moon, this country defense spending has consistently exceeded those of 11 other major countries combined; this country which has robustly led in all other aspects of human endeavor, cannot provide universal healthcare for its citizens because making healthcare affordable and accessible to everybody would be “expensive.” It must be noted that most of those politicians who make such feeble claims are not experts on the issue at bar, which translates into unreasonable relativism on their part. Since more than 99.9 percent of politicians who contend that providing universal healthcare is not possible have little or no expertise on the issue, it is instructive to pay attention to the input of healthcare experts.

In the particular case of M4A, some expert assessments have been seeping through the surface, despite relentless attempts by interested parties to suppress persuasive information about its affordability. To begin with, let’s do some reality checks with tow of the renowned knowledge factories in the country—Yale and Harvard Universities. I chose these two universities because they are among the prestigious universities that many of those politicians tend to be alumni of those same universities and some of them do whatever within their influence to send their children there; some of them are fond of bragging about those Ivy League schools and so in good faith, they must be inclined to accept impartial academic assessments from such schools, unless they have ulterior motives. Moreover, of the 45 men who had sat in the presidential chair, eight had been Harvard alumni while three have come from Yale. The mere fact there are more than 5,300 universities in the

Views expressed are the views of the Author

 

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