Hospitals Are Robbing Us Blind

Forget Obamacare. The real villains in the American health care system are greedy hospitals and the politicians who protect them.

Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals have huge power in their local markets.
Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals have huge power in their local markets.

By Reihan Salam

Five years ago this week, Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, and we’ve been debating it ever since. Like many Americans, I oppose Obamacare, and I think we ought to repeal it and replace it. Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the fight over Obamacare is a distraction from a much deeper problem, which is that America’s hospitals are robbing us blind.

I realize that this is an impolitic thing to say. What kind of lousy ingrate doesn’t love hospitals? Go to any big American city, including cities like Cleveland and Pittsburgh that have been devastated by deindustrialization and joblessness, and you’ll find a mammoth hospital complex in the center of town, buzzing with activity. Forget about big cities—there is a hospital in every congressional district in America, and local hospitals are often among the largest employers in the district. One of the reasons President Clinton’s 1993 health reform effort failed is that he never won over the hospital lobby. President Obama learned from the Clinton debacle; hospitals were among his most important allies. Republicans get in on the act too. Right now, for example, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing a Medicare “reform” that guarantees higher payments to doctors and hospitals today in exchange for the promise of spending reductions a decade or two from now. Good luck with that.

You can hardly blame them though. The health sector employs more than a tenth of all U.S. workers, most of whom are working- and middle-class people who serve as human shields for those who profit most from America’s obscenely high medical prices and an epidemic of overtreatment. If you aim for the crooks responsible for bleeding us dry, you risk hitting the nurses, technicians, and orderlies they employ. This is why politicians are so quick to bash insurers while catering to the powerful hospital systems, which dictate terms to insurers and have mastered the art of gaming Medicare and Medicaid to their advantage. Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies. We have to break them before they break us.

Read more at Salon.com

The GOP’s health crisis – Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post

Oh dear. The Republican Party’s worst nightmare is coming true. Obamacare is working.

The news that nearly 1.2 million people signed up last month for insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges is highly inconvenient for GOP candidates nationwide. It looks as if the party’s two-word strategy for the fall election — bash Obamacare — will need to be revised.

Wednesday’s status report on the health-insurance reforms was by far the best news for Democrats and the Obama administration since the program’s incompetent launch. January was the first month when new enrollments surpassed expectations, as the balky HealthCare.gov Web site began functioning more or less as intended.

Cumulatively, 3.3 million people had chosen insurance plans through the state and federal exchanges by the end of January. That is fewer than the administration had originally hoped but well above the predictions of critics who believed — or hoped — that the program would never succeed. The Congressional Budget Office projects that 6 million people will have chosen plans through Obamacare when the initial enrollment period ends March 31, down from a pre-launch estimate of 7 million. Not bad at all.

The numbers are even more encouraging when you look more closely. The proportion of young people — from 18 and 34 — who chose insurance plans through the exchanges increased slightly to 27 percent, compared with an average of 24 percent in previous months. This is important because premiums would have to rise if not enough young, healthy people enrolled.

Read more at The Washington Post

Eugene Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for Distinguished Commentary.

Inside the Company That Bungled Obamacare

Hard to believe, but Healthcare.gov might not be CGI’s biggest headache. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When 200 of CGI Federal’s top managers gathered at the luxurious Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in southwestern Pennsylvania on a brisk day in early November 2009, they found time for business — and high jinks.

During the two-day event, managers presented PowerPoint slides celebrating the phenomenal success of CGI Federal, a major technology contractor, in winning lucrative government contracts. Most attendees stayed in the resort’s Chateau Lafayette hotel, a replica of the Ritz-Carlton in Paris, and at a formal dinner under the elaborate chandelier in the ballroom, George D. Schindler, the president of CGI Federal, spoke of the company’s big profits that year and its bright future.

The fun came during a team-building exercise following a boozy lunch in conference rooms not far from the hotel’s Lady Luck casino. Managers were split off into small groups and asked to solve math-laden riddles. For each correct answer, they received a bicycle part. The goal was for the teams, around 20 or so, to assemble children’s pink and blue bicycles, then race their tasseled bikes up and down the carpeted corridors of the hotel.

“People were riding these bikes drunk through the hallways of the resort,” recalls one former manager who attended the event, while others were “duck-walking” the children’s bikes, which were too small for most adults to sit on. Amid “a lot of hooting and hollering,” the manager recalls, the hotel staff was laughing. “Some people were bombed out of their minds until 2 a.m. It was greed and opulence, and it was on the taxpayers’ dime.”

He was wrong about one thing: taxpayers didn’t pay directly for the event for CGI Federal, the American arm of Montreal-based CGI Group that is known these days as the main company behind the glitch-plagued Healthcare.gov website, the engine of President Barack Obama’s health care law. Through a lucrative government contract, CGI Federal is the principal contractor assigned the daunting job of building the federal online insurance marketplace — a large, complex website intended to help millions of ordinary Americans obtain health insurance that instead has become a byword for technological failure.

Read more at Newsweek

Obamacare and part-time jobs: The myth exploded (again)

Over the last month the number of workers in part-time jobs for economic reasons–slack demand, cutbacks in hours–has remained stable. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Tuesday’s tepid brew of jobs data, delayed more than two weeks by the government shutdown, wasn’t worth waiting for. It shows an increase in total nonfarm employment by 148,000 in September over August, which is consistent with economic growth crawling along in second gear.

The report’s most notable nugget is the change in part-time work. Over the last month the number of workers in part-time jobs for economic reasons–slack demand, cutbacks in hours–has remained stable. Over the last year, however, it has fallen by 681,000. Those part-timers also constitute a smaller share of all workers–5.5% in September compared to 6% a year earlier.

That puts the lie to the popular conservative meme that Obamacare has transformed America’s workforce into part-timers. The idea is that employers wishing to evade the law’s requirement that they offer health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours a week will cut their hours to 29 or less. The shorthand about this provided by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that one-stop shop for Obamacare disinformation, was “single parents who have been forced into part-time work.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Times