Archive | Corporate Statism

In Clover

New HCAN study:

The five largest U.S. health insurance companies sailed through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression to set new industry profit records in 2009, a feat accomplished by leaving behind 2.7 million americans who had been in private health plans. For customers who kept their benefits, the insurers raised rates and cost-sharing,and cut the share of premiums spent on medical care. Executives and shareholders of the five biggest for-profit health insurers, UnitedHealthGroup inc., WellPoint inc., Aetna Inc., Humana Inc., and Cigna Corp., enjoyed combined profit of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for Big Insurance.

The 2009 financial reports from the nation’s five largest insurance companies reveal that:

* The firms made $12.2 billion, an increase of $4.4 billion, or 56 percent, from 2008.
o Four out of the five companies saw earnings increases, with CIGNA’s profits jumping 346 percent.
* The companies provided private insurance coverage to 2.7 million fewer people than the year before.
o Four out of the five companies insured fewer people through private coverage. UnitedHealth alone insured 1.7 million fewer people through employer-based or individual coverage.
o All but one of the five companies increased the number of people they covered through public insurance programs (Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare). UnitedHealth added 680,000 people in public plans.
* The proportion of premium dollars spent on health care expenses went down for three of the five firms, with higher proportions going to administrative expenses and profits.

Endorsement Deal

Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario:

Being nice to the biggest banks will not save the midterm elections for the Democrats.  The banks’ campaign contributions will flow increasingly to the Republicans and against any Democrats (and there are precious few) who have fought for real reform.

The president’s only political chance is to take on the too big to fail banks directly and clearly.  He needs to explain where they came from (answer: the Reagan Revolution, gone wrong), how the problem became much worse during the last administration, and how – in credible detail – he will end their reign.

What we have now is not a free market.  It is rather one of the most complete (and awful) instances ever of savvy businessmen capturing a state and the minds of the people who run it.  Is this really what the president seeks to endorse?

The Big Lie of the Life of the Mind

Very interesting take on the class structure of graduate school, via AZSpot:

One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.

But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.’s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

Again and again, the people who wrote to me said things like “Nobody told me” and “Now what do I do?” “Everybody keeps saying my doctorate gives me all kinds of transferable skills, but I can’t get a second interview, even outside of academe.” “What’s wrong with me?”

The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)

Unable even to consider that something might be wrong with higher education, mom and dad begin to think there is something wrong with their daughter, and she begins to internalize that feeling.

Everyone has told her that “there are always places for good people in academe.” She begins to obsess about the possibility of some kind of fatal personal shortcoming. She goes through multiple mock interviews, and takes business classes, learning to present herself for nonacademic positions. But again and again, she is passed over in favor of undergraduates who are no different from people she has taught for years. Maybe, she wonders, there’s something about me that makes me unfit for any kind of job.

This goes on for years: sleepless nights, anxiety, escalating and increasingly paralyzing self-doubt, and a host of stress-induced ailments. She has even removed the Ph.D. from her résumé, with some pain, but she lives in dread that interviewers will ask what she has been doing for the last 12 years. (All her old friends are well established by now, some with families, some with what seem to be high-powered careers. She lives in a tiny apartment and struggles to pay off her student loans.) What’s left now but entry-level clerical work with her immediate supervisor just three years out of high school?

She was the best student her adviser had ever seen (or so he said); it seemed like a dream when she was admitted to a distinguished doctoral program; she worked so hard for so long; she won almost every prize; she published several essays; she became fully identified with the academic life; even distancing herself from her less educated family. For all of those reasons, she continues as an adjunct who qualifies for food stamps, increasingly isolating herself to avoid feelings of being judged. Her students have no idea that she is a prisoner of the graduate-school poverty trap. The consolations of teaching are fewer than she ever imagined.

Such people sometimes write to me about their thoughts of suicide, and I think nothing separates me from them but luck.

House To Investigate Anthem BC

From McJoan at DK:

The Obama administration has already sent a sternly-worded letter to Anthem Blue Cross over the company’s excessive rate increase for individual policy holders in California. How excessive? Up to 39 percent. But that’s not all. Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield also informed their customers that they are changing their practice of adjusting rates annually, and as of now are reserving the right to raise premiums basically whenever they feel like it.

You got that? They want to do exactly what the credit card companies were doing.

There’s little beyond sternly-worded letters that the administration can do, other than something like maybe advocating strongly for some kind of legislative remedy, say in the form of serious competition to private insurers in the form of a robust public option for health insurance. But there’s something Congress can do, and that’s put the insurers on the hot seat and investigate. From the Speaker’s blog, The Gavel:

As Secretary Sebelius pointed out, WellPoint [parent company to Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield] reported a staggering $2,740,000,000 in profits for the fourth quarter of 2009 alone – eight times more than the last quarter of 2008 – and more than $4,750,000,000 for all of 2009. In fact, the company reaped these record profits even as it lost more than 1.4 million members…..

Today, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak announced that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on February 24th regarding the premium rate increases.

The hearing, conveniently, will be held on February 24, the day before the bipartisan White House healthcare summit.

Gratifying

I wish more states would do this, since the feds haven’t done a damned thing to punish the banks:

New Mexico’s House of Representatives voted Monday to pass a bill that allows the state to move $2 billion – $5 billion of state funds to credit unions and small banks.

The municipal funds bill was approved 65-0, and is subject to a vote by New Mexico’s Senate. Governor Bill Richardson told the bill’s sponsor that he supports the legislation.

Credit Union Times spoke to one banker who believes that the bill got a boost from Huffington Post’s Move Your Money campaign:

The altered view of New Mexico lawmakers in favoring local control of state funds, officials said, follows national mention of the New Mexico effort in the “Move Your Money” campaign of New York pundit Arianna Huffington in her online Huffington Post columns.

Who’s Lying On Social Security?

Glenn Greenwald points out why the use of unnamed sources is so misleading to the public:

In order to assuage concerns among progressives that the Obama administration intends to follow in the Bush administration’s footsteps by trying to cut Social Security benefits, high-level Obama officials have been telling journalists such as The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein — on the condition of anonymity — that they have no intention of touching Social Security, producing reports which then faithfully communicate that message, such as this one from Klein, two weeks ago:

What people at the White House have told me on Social Security — and what I wrote in the post she’s referencing — is that there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future. It’s not a priority and it’s not a political winner. . . . The problem, they say, is health care, not Social Security, and that’s where the White House is focusing.

Based on those same anonymous conversations, Klein wrote other posts telling progressives who are worried about Obama’s intention to cut Social Security that they were worrying about something that doesn’t exist.

But in The New York Times today, David Brooks recounted what he described as “conversations with four senior members of the administration.” Those unnamed Obama officials all called Brooks in order to refute his column from last week which argued “that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous.” Brooks — like Klein — granted anonymity to and then proceeded to quote all four “senior members of the Obama administration” (a) without explaining why he did so, (b) without describing efforts, if any, to persuade them to use their names and (c) without providing any information about who they are or what their motives might be (all flagrant violations of the supposed NYT policy governing the use of anonymity). These paragraphs were the result of the anonymity Brooks gave to the Obama White House (emphasis in original):

Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.

He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending.

What Klein’s anonymous White House sources told him (“there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future“) is directly contrary to what Brooks’ anonymous White House sources, two weeks later, told him (Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security”). But there’s no way to resolve those contradictory White House claims because Klein and Brooks allowed these officials to hide behind anonymity when making these claims. That’s what anonymity does — it allows dubious or even false government claims to be spouted with impunity and without any accountability.

What Klein’s anonymous White House sources told him (“there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future”) is directly contrary to what Brooks’ anonymous White House sources, two weeks later, told him (Obama “is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security”). But there’s no way to resolve those contradictory White House claims because Klein and Brooks allowed these officials to hide behind anonymity when making these claims. That’s what anonymity does — it allows dubious or even false government claims to be spouted with impunity and without any accountability.

That’s why anonymity is such a valuable weapon for government officials and such a risky and questionable practice for journalists. If the claims from Klein and Brooks’ sources are true about the intentions of the White House, then why can’t they just attach their names to those claims and why aren’t they made to do so by the journalists before having their statements amplified to the public?

First let me note that, as a contract employee -which is what the Times’ columnists are, Brooks is mostly likely not bound by the anonymity rule, although he should be.

Second, I don’t know that these are as contradictory as Glenn thinks. This is where I’ll put on my former-press-secretary hat. You never want to lie to a reporter if you can help it, but you will mislead them. My guess is, the person they misled is Ezra Klein. First of all, “not in the foreseeable future”? Classic weasel words. “When I talked to you, Ezra, it really wasn’t a priority. But circumstances have changed since then.”

And while we all know who he is, in the Beltway world, Ezra’s not a big name and doesn’t have a huge megaphone – except in the blogosphere, so the thinking would be that he’s not as big a potential threat as Brooks. But if you activated the liberal base at this time with a possible threat to cut Social Security, that would be a real distraction at a time when they’re focused on other things. Trust me: They don’t want to deal with this right now (i.e. “for the foreseeable future.”) So yeah, score one for truth.

If the Obama administration was really serious about never touching Social Security, odds are they would have made that strategic leak to someone more prominent. Real leaks (that is, accurate ones), on things that matter, are always used to float trial ballons and either reward the reporter for previous favorable coverage – or get him in line to soften future coverage.

From my own experience as the person pushing those stories to reporters, I’d say Brooks was the one who got the accurate story on this because 1) it’s the Times and you don’t want to piss them off if you don’t have to 2) they wanted to soften him up to give Obama the benefit of the doubt on budget issues in general and 3) they wanted him to pass it along the secret message to other conservatives – “I didn’t put this in the story, but Axlerod told me, strictly on the QT, that…”. In other words, this has all the signs of a classic strategic leak.

And if there’s any doubt here, you have to give the edge to appointments – namely, that Obama has surrounded himself with many, many advisers who have actively supported either the privatization or partial privatization of Social Security. Are those the people you’d hire if you wanted to save Social Security?

So while it is indeed difficult to read between the lines when “sources” spout conflicting stories, in this case? Not so much. Because I think they were both told a version of the truth. No, Obama’s not planning to touch Social Security – at this time. And yes, Obama plans to cut Social Security spending – in something. Only time will tell what those cuts include.

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