Pelosi Sabotages Medicare For All While Corporate Media Pretend Not to Notice

Nancy Pelosi is actively working to discredit and sideline the most popular domestic political proposal of the century. The plutocrat-owned press is protecting Pelosi from extreme embarrassment by ignoring the issue.

by Glenn Ford Black Agenda Report Feb 15, 2019

When the top Democrat secretly plots to subvert a proposal supported by the vast majority of her party, it’s supposed to be news — unless the corporate media decide it isn’t.

Medicareforall

Thanks to Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid in 2016, his signature Medicare for All proposal is a litmus issue for Democrats in the unfolding 2020 campaign. With supermajority support among Democratic and independent voters – and even support by more than half of Republicans, the single payer scheme was endorsed by a majority of Democratic candidates in November’s House races.

Most of the declared Democratic presidential candidates claim to back Medicare for All, including even New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who has accepted more money from Big Pharma than any other member of his party . So compelling is the issue, a Politico-Harvard poll shows fully 84 percent of Democrats want the party to make Medicare for All “an extremely important priority.”

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It should be huge news the top Democrat in Congress, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, is actively working to discredit and sideline the most popular domestic political proposal of the century. But, apparently not. The Intercept’s  February 5 blockbuster, “Top Nancy Pelosi Aide Privately Tells Insurance Executives Not to Worry About Democrats Pushing ‘Medicare for All,’” was picked up by only one “mainstream” corporate media outlet: Newsweek .

In burying this bombshell, the plutocrat-owned press is protecting Pelosi from the extreme embarrassment of being caught conspiring with insurance companies to subvert Democratic voters’ highest priority issue, with the obvious aim of derailing Bernie Sanders’ anticipated second run for the presidency.

The Intercept got its hands on the slide presentation that Pelosi advisor Wendell Primus presented to Blue Cross Blue Shield executives on December 4. Primus assured the executives that Democratic leadership has “strong reservations” about Medicare for All and “would be allies to the insurance industry in the fight against single-payer health care.” The slide presentation outlined Pelosi’s three-prong attack on single payer:

1. Cost: “Monies are needed for other priorities.”

2. Opposition: “Stakeholders are against; Creates winners and losers.”

3. “Implementation challenges.”

Primus’ mission was to enlist the insurance industry as allies in Pelosi’s planned counter-campaign to reduce drug prices, which is also good for Big Insurance bottom lines. But that requires assuring the insurance fat-cats that Medicare for All will, in Hillary Clinton’s words, “never, ever come to pass.” Pelosi’s strategy is to orchestrate a defense of what’s left of Obamacare while softening up the drug industry over prices — in a possible alliance with Donald Trump, who signaled his willingness to partner with Democrats on the issue in his State of the Union address:

“It is unacceptable Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it. We will stop it fast. I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients.”

In light of the Primus presentation, it is clear that Pelosi had her “Grand Bargain” with Trump and the GOP in mind when she spoke of “a responsibility to seek common ground where we can,” shortly after the polls closed in November. “Openness and transparency, accountability [and] bipartisanship [are] a very important part of how we will go forward.”

Pelosi’s game plan to deal with single payer supporters in her own party is exactly the opposite: subversion and backdoor deals to undermine Medicare for All, in secret.

The corporate media is part of the conspiracy of silence on Pelosi’s undercover Medicare for All machinations, just as they collude in ignoring Bernie Sanders’ steady stream of speeches on this issue and a slew of wildly popular proposals that would end private exploitation of a whole range of services to the people. Although single payer healthcare would directly benefit most businesses that employ workers, by eliminating profit-driven insurance payments and driving down drug and hospital costs, passage of Medicare for All would open Pandora’s box, shattering the corporate consensus on endless austerity and the sanctity of the “market.” Nobody but the Lords of Capital believes in the “market,” which is nothing but the state-protected right to profiteer from essential human needs. To preserve the fiction that “there is no alternative” to capitalist markets (Margaret Thatcher), the corporate media erases the people’s public options through its control of the political narrative.

This is what Russiagate is really about – not fantasy plotters in Moscow – but rather silencing actual dissent to the corporate narrative at home. Unfortunately, Bernie Sanders and his brand of Democrat “socialists” can’t grasp the connection. They embrace the half of the corporate narrative that justifies endless war with Russia, China, Syria, and now Venezuela – while rejecting its twin: endless austerity. And then they wonder why the corporate narrative is just as hostile to single payer, free college tuition and a Green New Deal as it is to Putin, Assad and Maduro. Which leaves them at the mercy of their conniving corporate overseer, Nancy Pelosi.

TOP NANCY PELOSI AIDE PRIVATELY TELLS INSURANCE EXECUTIVES NOT TO WORRY ABOUT DEMOCRATS PUSHING “MEDICARE FOR ALL”

by Ryan Grim Intercept Feb 5, 2019

LESS THAN A month after Democrats — many of them running on “Medicare for All” — won back control of the House of Representatives in November, the top health policy aide to then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Blue Cross Blue Shield executives and assured them that party leadership had strong reservations about single-payer health care and was more focused on lowering drug prices, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

Pelosi adviser Wendell Primus detailed five objections to Medicare for All and said that Democrats would be allies to the insurance industry in the fight against single-payer health care. Primus pitched the insurers on supporting Democrats on efforts to shrink drug prices, specifically by backing a number of measures that the pharmaceutical lobby is opposing.

Primus, in a slide presentation obtained by The Intercept, criticized single payer on the basis of cost (“Monies are needed for other priorities”), opposition (“Stakeholders are against; Creates winners and losers”), and “implementation challenges.” We have recreated the slides for source protection purposes.

Wendell Primus BCBS Presentation15 pages

Slide: Recreated by The Intercept

Democrats, Primus said, are united around the concept of universal coverage, but see strengthening the Affordable Care Act as the means to that end. He made his presentation to the Blue Cross executives on December 4. “We don’t discuss private meetings, if there was such a meeting,” said a BCBS spokesperson. Primus said that he did not discuss any kind of deal with the insurers.

Henry Connelly, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said the assessment of single payer is not related to any dealmaking with the industry. “We’re not going to barter lower prescription drug costs for inaction in the rest of the health care industry. The presentation was a broad look at the health care environment and some of House Democrats’ legislative priorities over the next two years in a period of GOP control of the Senate and White House,” Connelly said.

The debate over Medicare for All is playing out on a number of different levels, with no clear consensus over how the government-run, single-payer health plan ought to take shape. Presidential candidates argue over whose plan is stronger and gets to full Medicare for All faster, with a debate raging over whether private insurance should be banned outright, or operate in addition to universal Medicare coverage.

In the House, even as the idea picked up momentum with voters and members of the Democratic caucus, Democratic leadership remains deeply skeptical. Pelosi’s consistent messaging, instead, is around protecting the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and lowering prescription drug prices.

“Speaker Pelosi ensured Medicare for All will have hearings in the House and tapped Congressman Brian Higgins to take the lead on Medicare buy-in legislation. For the first time, House committees will be seriously examining and tackling some of the questions and possible solutions raised by Medicare for All legislation,” said Connelly.

“The biggest obstacles facing Medicare for All right now are Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump,” he added.  “But in the near term, there is a window for Democrats to press Trump to help pass aggressive legislation to negotiate down the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs.”

Primus concluded his presentation with a bullet point to summarize Pelosi’s mission on health care: “Lower your health care costs and prescription drug prices.”

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Slide: Recreated by The Intercept

 

The “your” refers to insurers, who bear costs for medical expenses covered under their plans. That puts insurers and Pelosi, at least in one sense, in alignment, as both have an interest in lower costs. Indeed, insurers regularly negotiate to lower their health care costs, but in practice, their efforts have little effect on the general trend in costs.

Drug company patents give pharmaceutical giants outsized power to set prices, and hospital consolidation gives providers more power in these negotiations. Even where insurers are able to negotiate lower prices for their own customers, it does little to shrink the list price of drugs for the actual public.

At the briefing, Primus mentioned three avenues Pelosi, a California Democrat, sees toward lower drug prices, sources said. The first, the CREATES Act, is bipartisan legislation, strongly opposed by Big Pharma, would make it easier for generic drug companies to get access to a sufficient quantity of medications needed to produce generics.

The second measure addresses what’s known as “pay for delay,” in which a drug company pays a generic manufacturer to not produce a generic version of an expensive drug. Democratic leadership wants to ban that practice. The third revolves around the issue of “evergreening,” which is a pharmaceutical industry practice of extending patent protection for a particular drug through a variety of practices. Democrats want to restrict evergreening to encourage cheaper generics make it to the market faster.

Primus’ approach has a strong political logic to it, as taking on every health care stakeholder at once is arguably more difficult than singling out one industry and hammering away, even if the effort is out of step with where progressive energy is at the moment.

PRIMUS IS KNOWN in Congress as one of the staunchest foes of Big Pharma, while Pelosi’s posture toward Medicare for All is more complicated. Publicly, she has long said she supports it aspirationally. “I was carrying around single-payer signs probably before you were born, so I, you know, I understand that aspiration,” she said in 2017 during an interview with TV host Joy Reid.

“This is an idea, if we had a tabula rasa, if we were just starting clean, would be the most cost-effective way to go forward. We don’t have that,” she said. “Over 120 or 150 million people in our country have employer-based access to their health coverage and insurance.”

At the time, her objection to Medicare for All was it distracted from the fight to defend the ACA, which Republicans were trying to gut. “So right now, I’m going to be crude. Now we’re in my living room, so I can be crude. It isn’t helpful to tinkle all over the ACA right now,” Pelosi said. “Right now, we need to support the Affordable Care Act and defeat what the Republicans are doing.”

At other moments, she has said that single payer isn’t popular, arguing, also in 2017, that “the comfort level with a broader base of the American people is not there yet.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which operates under Pelosi, in 2017 presented House Democrats with survey data, claiming it shows single-payer is a political loser, thus Democrats should focus their message on lowering drug prices and protecting the ACA.

Yet a significant number of Democrats who flipped Republican districts blue in 2018 are publicly supportive of Medicare for All, suggesting it isn’t the albatross Pelosi and the DCCC pretend it to be. A poll in October found more than half of Republicans support the concept.

Pelosi’s agreement to hold House hearings on Medicare for All came after pressure from the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Yet the hearings will be held by the Budget Committee, which, unlike the powerful Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, would not have final jurisdiction over Medicare for All in the event of a genuine attempt to pass it.

Primus, like Pelosi, is well-known to be a deficit hawk, and both subscribe to the argument put forward by the late Pete Peterson that the debt and deficit are among the gravest threats facing the country. When Peterson, a billionaire who spent hundreds of millions of dollars to push Washington policymakers toward austerity, died in 2018, Pelosi delivered a floor speech that praised him and his vision effusively, speaking of the man as if he’d dedicated his life to eradicating child malnutrition or curing cancer, rather than as a Wall Street tycoon who spent millions pushing for major cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

“Pete was a clarion voice for fiscal responsibility, and a strong moral conscience in Washington,” Pelosi said in her House floor eulogy of Peterson, who, by 2012, already spent half a billion dollars targeting Social Security, Medicare, and other spending programs.

“Pete’s prophetic voice on the importance of fiscal sustainability brought together generations of policymakers, no matter their political background,” Pelosi said. “His legacy will endure in many ways, but especially through the work of the Peterson Foundation, which continues to focus on solutions to America’s fiscal and economic challenges.”

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Slide: Recreated by The Intercept

 

TWO OF PRIMUS’ five objections to single payer before the Blue Cross audience related to such alleged fiscal challenges. That argument, though, runs headlong into a surge of new interest among Democrats in Modern Monetary Theory, the idea that policymakers are still constrained by a mindset that was justifiable when the U.S. was on the gold standard, but is no longer defensible.

Now the U.S. issues a currency independent of its gold reserves, the obstacle to government spending is inflation, not the debt or deficit, proponents of MMT say. “This zero-sum mentality has no place in a post-Bretton Woods world,” said economist Stephanie Kelton in reaction to Primus’ argument that spending on Medicare for All would foreclose other priorities.

Post-Bretton refers to the global agreement the dollar will be the global economy’s reserve currency, ultimately decoupled from gold.

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“The U.S. dollar is no longer tethered to gold, which means the federal government is not constrained in its spending by the need to raise revenue. The federal government cannot run out of dollars. This should be painfully obvious, but the gold-standard mentality continues to grip many lawmakers,” Kelton said.

As long as inflation remains low, the government can continue to authorize additional spending. That’s not so much an argument as it is simply an observation of the post-gold-standard reality that austerity advocates like Peterson have spent billions to distort. “The government can afford any new program it chooses to fund. The limits are in the real economy — if producers can’t keep up with the additional demand, inflation will result,” said Kelton, a former adviser to the Senate Budget Committee when it was chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“The federal government — as the issuer of the U.S. dollar — can create all the money needed to guarantee health care for all of its people. It’s the rest of us — who merely use the dollar — who have to worry about costs and where to come up with the money to pay a huge medical bill when our private insurer refuses to cover the cost of care.”

This reality is recognized by former Federal Reserve Chairs Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, as well. “The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So, there is zero probability of default,” said Greenspan.

Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book “We’ve Got People: The End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.” Sign up here to get an email when it’s released.

 

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