Chamber of Commerce hears a horror story

Health care reform was the topic at Tulalip Casino’s Canoes Restaurant. The Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting held on Friday, July 31, featured a talk by Donna Steward of the Washington Business Association. Steward captured and held her audience’s interest with a litany of dangers written into health care bills that, according to Steward, would harm small businesses.

Steward’s source was one of five versions of the proposed health care bill, all of which are still being revised. Another presenter might have cut-and-pasted an opposite and rosy-hued argument that listed nothing but benefits but that wasn’t Steward’s intent. After forty minutes of quoting damning provisos that truly do need revision, the session ended without a word about what good might come from national health care. That baby was left to be thrown out with the bath water. This writer came away feeling that, just as we should critically review every proposal that comes down from Washington, we should be equally picky about which scare-stories to fear.

Some examples of Steward’s facts and figures: After taking into account the people who can self-insure, non-citizens and the few who might refuse to participate, the bill would benefit only 5 percent of the population. That means only 5 percent are driving a reform movement that will affect the other 95 percent.

The bill would start a death-spiral that would spell the end of existing insurers, collapsing the health insurance market while leaving 20 million still uninsured.

While allocating billions for jungle gyms and bike trails, the bill would eliminate 1.6 million jobs, one million of them from small business.

Don’t get too excited. The numbers are questionable if not bogus. With 600 conservative and hundreds of liberal think-tanks churning out biased data for vested interests’ spokespersons, truthful numbers are rare. Granted, Steward voiced some real concerns but it was unfortunate that her numbers and claims fell wide of the target that is truth.

Most think of finance reform and health care reform as separate issues. In fact, they are symptoms of the same corporate-culture problem. The Big Issue grew from a half-century of edging away from a social ethic that held bankers and health-care management to roles of responsibility rather than personal advantage.

Time was when my dad’s business provided health insurance for a staff of twelve. It was 1960 and the insurance was Blue Cross. At that time Blue Cross was a non-profit that employed actuaries to figure how much would have to be shelled out to cover the ills and accidents for the average citizen. They ran the numbers and priced policies to cover claims, costs and wages but skimmed nothing that could be called profit.

During that era a banker’s work involved seeing that employees punched in on time, ensuring the accuracy of transactions, making loans to people who could pay them back, running their operations according to rules of accounting and doing whatever it took to protect the assets of depositors. That was it. Bank actuaries figured out how much needed to be charged or collected to keep the doors open. Not much room for creative management in those days.

My bank paid 3 percent to 4 percent interest on savings accounts and charged home-buyers 5 percent to 6 percent interest for mortgages. No funny business. No adjustable rates. Whichever bank issued a mortgage held onto it until paid off. Every depositor trusted bankers whose only business was banking. No stock market activity was allowed because working the market involved an element of gambling. Values of stocks were deemed too volatile to fit the measure of trust we put in banks. The system worked.

Members of Blue Cross saw doctors of their choosing. No legitimate claim was rejected. My Blue Cross policy was pure insurance. I paid the first $250 of maximum coverage of a half million. No rejected claims. When a fast-growing tumor caused me to fly home from Africa, the bush pilot who carried me to the coast scrawled a receipt on the back of an envelope. Blue Cross paid for the flight. No questions asked.

It might have been Willy Horton, the famous bank robber, who set change in motion. When a judge asked him why he robbed banks, Horton said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Harvard, Wharton and other big-name business schools took heed. It wasn’t long until Ivy League MBAs became the inside-men of the biggest ongoing heist in history. While the economy tanked last year, Fortune 500 execs upped their take by 38 percent.

The new crop of ambitious MBAs wrote themselves job-descriptions with more pizzazz than simply overseeing established operations. Their Brave New World of management looked upon corporate America as a vast field begging to be harvested for personal gain. They wrote new rules, the first of which was, Privatize profit, socialize loss.

Time was when old-school leaders of banks and health insurance kept low profiles. Granted, they lived in bigger houses than ours. They now and then appeared on the covers of Forbes, Money, People or Kiplinger, most as corporate elder-statesmen. More recently the magazines unashamedly celebrated the rise to glory of corporate princes. They served on each other’s boards of directors, voting executive pay up to 110 times that of production workers. CEOs in health, pharma, finance, cars and energy love it and want to keep it. It’s against their nature to deny my medical claims if they cut into their income.

The Big Issue is broader than finance or health care reform. Now that corporate leaders have Congress trained to privatize profit and socialize loss, they and Ms. Steward are reluctant to diminish their advantage.

Comments may be addressed to: rgraef@verizon.net.

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