Punishing the Health Insurance Cartel for Extortion and Fraud

The health insurance cartel tipped its hand this week, and, for that, they deserve to have it chopped off.

If there was any lingering doubt about the ethical bankruptcy of the cartel, we now have incontrovertible evidence in the form of a new report commissioned by the health insurance lobby. Among other things, the report threatens that if health care reform passes (presumably unchanged from the Finance Committee version of bill), the cartel will raise premiums by 111 percent.

What the cartel didn't mention, however, was the obvious: if health care reform doesn't pass, they'll raise premiums anyway -- and if history is any indication, premiums will rise by roughly the same amount. In fact, if nothing is done to regulate the cartel, the average family's annual payout to health insurance premiums will skyrocket from $13,000 to $24,000 by 2019.

They didn't mention that at all.

Good people.

They're not even shy about it anymore -- their naked extortion and fraud. It's that scene torn from an action-adventure movie in which the villain convinces a hostage to acquiesce to a demand, only to shoot the hostage anyway.

What makes the whole thing especially despicable is the fact that the independent research firm that was commissioned to perform the study revealed yesterday that AHIP (America's Health Insurance Plans -- the cartel's lobbyist wing) didn't provide them with all of the details of the Finance Committee bill. Consequently, PricewaterhouseCoopers only evaluated the impact of parts of the bill.

This admission only amplifies the otherwise patently false and misleading conclusions of the study. But, predictably, none of this prevented the Republican members of the Finance Committee from quoting the report during yesterday's pre-vote session, nor did it stop AHIP from referencing the report in their statement following the Finance vote.

So not unlike the coercive give us your money or die business model of the cartel itself, the health insurance lobby is using verifiably false information and outright threats against members of Congress, the White House and, not to mention, you and me, in order to stop health care reform from becoming law. They're playing with our lives here. And, as Keith Olbermann pointed out last week, they're exploiting our natural will to live, while also exploiting the darker political instincts of our elected representatives as a means to preserve their status as a largely unregulated cosa nostra (the real cosa nostra at least has RICO to keep them in line).

Oh, and by the way, it's worth repeating that the Finance bill is still mostly crap. So throw in the fact that they've made us have to temporarily defend the Baucus plan as another line item on the cartel's lengthy syllabus of trespasses.

So what should happen now?

My first instinct -- and this is why I wouldn't last very long in elected politics -- would be to nationalize the industry. Sorry! They want to threaten us? Then suck on this. Nationalize Aetna, WellPoint, CIGNA, UnitedHealth and the others, and be done with them once and for all. Americans could "keep the insurance they have" but the government would control all of it. And since the cartel doesn't "produce" anything, it can't be defined as socialism since the government isn't necessarily controlling the means of production.

But that's just me.

Short of that, let this be the inciting incident that coalesces congressional Democrats around a robust public insurance plan. No triggers, no more compromises. A public option that pays Medicare rates and is available to all Americans -- everyone.

President Olympia Snowe and Vice President Joe Lieberman might not like it, but the House of Representatives certainly will. By my count, we can lose Snowe, Lieberman and the others and still pass health care reform with 50-plus-Biden (following 60 votes to break the Republican filibuster). But we can't pass health care reform without a public option because the Progressive Caucus in the House won't allow it to pass. This being the reality of the floor votes, let's stop pulling punches and stick it to the crooks who are threatening everyone with extortion.

Next, Harry Reid should insert into the Senate bill a version of Senator Wyden's free choice amendment allowing everyone, regardless of current employment status or income, to buy into a plan from the exchange (which includes the public option). Open up the public option and the subsequent affordable premiums from the exchange to all Americans.

And finally, the Senate ought to strip the health insurance cartel of its shocking exemption from anti-trust laws. I'm not entirely sure how they managed to swing this exemption in the first place, but dammit, I would love to be refunded all of the additional cash I've paid out over the years to companies that weren't even required by law -- like every other industry save for baseball -- to compete for it. Fortunately, we learned today that Senators Schumer and Leahy worked with Harry Reid to make this happen. While we're here, I would also include a cap on premiums at around 10-20 percent of the rate of inflation, but again, that's just me. I'm a little pissed and fed up.

The next several weeks will very likely see new levels of stupid from both Congress and the establishment media. Much of this stupid will revolve around the public option and how exactly the cartel ought to be regulated. As we look forward to violently bashing our heads against our keyboards every time Politico posts another anonymous quote from an intern stationed in the White House basement's steam pipe trunk distribution venue, it'll be crucial to remind our elected representatives about how, in the past, America has risen up to confront enemies both foreign and domestic.

Remind them that we're Americans, and Americans don't easily suffer threats and thuggery, especially when it comes to matters of life and death. Here and now, we refuse to be pushed around and gouged and coerced and, in some cases, killed for the sake of insurance industry profit-margins and executive bonuses, and we expect the politicians who are tasked with serving us to hold accountable the corporate criminals responsible for it.