Concern trolling Medicare for All: NYT begins by saying investors matter, patients and doctors don’t

As it becomes clear that the eventual Democratic nominee will run on Medicare For All, we can expect the policy to be attacked by the concentrated interests who benefit from our current, broken system. The NYT is right there to lend a hand, with a news (not opinion) piece carrying a scary title:

Medicare for All Would Abolish Private Insurance. ‘There’s No Precedent in American History.’

Such a change would shake the entire health care system, which makes up a fifth of the United States economy, as hospitals, doctors, nursing homes and pharmaceutical companies would have to adapt to a new set of rules. Most Americans would have a new insurer — the federal government — and many would find the health insurance stocks in their retirement portfolios much less valuable. […]

While the bills would give relief to insurance industry workers, they would provide no such compensation for investors. —…

The NYT is so unaware of its own biases, they unthinkingly state them upfront. The authors make no bones about the fact that their primary and sole concern is insurer stock prices and investors.

Nowhere do the authors talk about patients, quality of care, or providing health care for everyone. Such things are furthest from their minds. Their only concern is for investors and insurance companies. They quickly dismiss the bills’ provision for workers, after all, they’re only “workers”. Compensation for investors is their primary concern.

Since it’s the NYT, the authors can’t even keep their story straight. They start off by concern trolling about “doing away with an entire industry”, yet two paragraphs later they say the closest analog to the proposed system is Canada, where private health insurers continue to provide supplemental policies, something every M4A proponent has said will be possible. Apparently, we are to be suspicious of M4A because it goes beyond the Canadian system to cover dental-care and prescription drugs.

That would be a good place to discuss how lack of timely dental care leads to enormous health implications, or how exploitative prescription drug makers have become in our current system. Or perhaps say a few words about the impact that worrying about health care has on communities and families.

Nope, all that is immaterial, the only concern worth discussing is that of investors. Tellingly, the authors use the terms “Americans” and “retirement portfolios” when referring to investors. This is done without any qualification, to imply that all Americans have a stake in the stock price of insurers. What they neglect to mention is this. The wealthiest 10% of Americans control 84% of the stock market, as their NYT colleagues explained a few months ago.

A whopping 84 percent of all stocks owned by Americans belong to the wealthiest 10 percent of households. And that includes everyone’s stakes in pension plans, 401(k)’s and individual retirement accounts, as well as trust funds, mutual funds and college savings programs like 529 plans. —…

So all this concern is about the top 10%, and if we’re honest, it’s about the top 1%. Roughly half of Americans own absolutely no stock.

The 99% do require healthcare, but the NYT is too busy carefully analyzing the impact on investor portfolios to care about something as insignificant as the health or bodies or worries of the 99%. 

This hierarchy of concerns is why they provide competing claims about the cost of M4A, but fail to mention the millions of people who will have healthcare for the first time. The discussion is purely “cost”, never benefit.

The best bit is that after concern trolling for several paragraphs, the authors of this “news” article admit that insurers will survive anyways!

The effective takeover of the health insurance industry in the United States would mean a huge hit to the companies’ stocks, although the companies, which have additional lines of business, would most likely survive. […]

“Private plans have been able to evolve and test new models more quickly,” said Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at NORC, a research organization at the University of Chicago. “The political process slows things down.”—…

So hold on, what was all the panicky nonsense above for? Will this kill insurers or not? Make up your damn mind! And let me get this straight, private plans are good because companies are quick to adapt. But somehow they won’t be able to adapt their way into new markets? This is transparent nonsense.

Even worse is what the authors leave unsaid, why these insurers “evolve and test new models”. Thankfully, there was room for one Bernie quote, and he makes clear what’s going on here.

“There is a reason why the United States is the only major country on earth that allows private insurance companies to profit off of healthcare,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview. “The function of private health insurance is not to provide quality care to all, it is to make as much money as possible for the private insurance companies, working with the drug companies.” —…

That’s buried in the middle, while the last word goes to an insurance industry executive who closes with some more concern trolling about how difficult it will be to replace the “infrastructure” of private health insurers. Medicare and Medicaid already cover over 110 million people ,and M4A envisages a steady ramp up. Most of the health insurance “infrastructure” this executive is talking about was built to deny care and reimbursements, because that’s what their incentives are. 

All the ingenuity and talent held in the health insurance industry is presently committed to extracting profits out of patients and medical care providers. Universal, single-payer coverage will change that “infrastructure”. Rather than finding the best way to maximize premiums and minimize reimbursements to doctors, that talent might be redirected towards improving care.

NYT readers are demolishing the paper’s concern-trolling, sadly their responses will never get as much play as the article itself. Here’s one of the best:

There are plenty of precedents in our history of the a government providing a service that wipes out a private industry. Here is one:

In colonial Philadelphia, there was no fire department. Each fire insurance company had its own private fire department. When you bought insurance, you got a medallion to put on your house. If a fire truck from the Green Tree company came to a burning house that had a Penn Mutual medallion, they would let it burn to the ground. After this happened a few times, a municipal fire department was established, a socialized fire department.

Goodbye, private fire departments. I imagine that the people who lived in brick houses griped about paying for the people who lived in wooden ones. I bet you can think of other examples. —…

There is a staggering amount of hypocrisy required to write and publish articles like this one. Corey Robin does a great job explaining how this duplicity has lead to bad outcomes over and over again:

Pretty much everyone who’s concern trolling about “one-sixth” or “one-fifth” of the economy were unconcerned when we went to war in Iraq or when various trade deals were proposed. Then, the costs were hand-waved away. Of course, those costs were socialized. Workers and soldiers drawn from poorer households paid the price. The Bushes and Cheneys and Trumps of our world got fat on war and globalization.

We spend more than any other nation on health-care, and our outcomes are worse. The system we have simply does not work for most of us. It leads to lower life expectancy at higher costs, as illustrated below.

Universal, single-payer healthcare would have an enormous positive impact on the material and physical well-being of the vast majority of Americans. In stark contrast, a change in the stock prices of health insurers would not impact any except a small sliver of relatively wealthy Americans.

Given those facts, we should expect bad faith attacks on Medicare For All to accelerate. Whenever you hear these attacks, a rule of thumb is to think about what’s in the 99%’s best interest.

Do we want a system that works for all of us, or only for a few?

— @subirgrewal