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Figures don't lie

By Michael J. Smith on Friday March 19, 2010 09:35 PM

A nice lapidary exchange today between Doug Henwood and another participant -- let's call him Aquifer -- on lbo-talk:

Henwood : Forcing people to buy shitty insurance from private vendors is outrageous. Subsidizing that is also outrageous. Nice if you're an insco, though.

Aquifer: Then why do they oppose it now?

Henwood: They do? I thought they'd been pretty quiet. They wrote the draft of the Senate bill, which is pretty much what they're voting on now. Wall Street seems happy with events: over the last year, Aetna stock is up 40%; United Health, almost 60%; Wellpoint, almost 80%; and Cigna, 100%. All but Aetna are outperforming the S&P, which is up just 50%.

There's something to be said for reading the business section, though I'm too much of a flyweight to do it. Puts me right to sleep.

Comments (33)


the insurance companies "profiteering"
is a pathetic mouth wart on the body medical
this is a 2.2 trillion dollar operation here

insco as your hero calls em
have rip off profits
--including tower titan compensation
that i doubt crosses the 30 bills line --

we needed confuse the vast make work paper shuffle here with the golden eye at its center

"While businesses and individuals struggled to cope with ever-rising health insurance costs, health insurance companies lined their pockets with profits of $12.2 billion in 2009 - an increase of 56 percent from 2008."

12.2 billion ???
barely a good tip

notice i've tripled that sordid bashful number and laughed at it anyway
like a rebelaisian giant

net operating margins ???
juggled books produce a figure under 4 %

btw premiums have doubled in the last ten years
now that's serious
the drug industry rips us off
far more then the evil "loss minimizers "

dougie might compare profit performance
here between the drugees and the prior condition goblins
using net cash flow before debt payments
drug companies love to buy each other at sky high multiples

oh its futile
i guess numbers are just to boring to think
in if your a pinko humanist
and nothing could be worse
then commercial arithmetic

any fast come on artist
who daringly sets him /her self up
" as a pwog numbers guy/gal "
ala spats head sterling newbury
who is definitely not
a progressive among numbers guys
but merely a numbers guy...among progressives

Al Schumann:

Owen, I believe a lot of people like taking on the insurers because they're brazenly parasitic and a defense of the ghouls who run them is impossible. It's an easy target. They're clearly dispensable, even if their gouging pales alongside pharma and the vivisectionist hotels.


op you're ignoring the role of the insurance system in driving up all the other costs across the medical sector, in the same way that auto insurance drives up auto repair costs.

What's your solution again?


super Al
of course we here at smbiva are pledged to single payer
which of course will end this flock of parasites

the "solution" well of course single payer
with the pricing power that provides
yes bob the flock of insurers are poor price controlers
the exact model that spontaneously produces this result probably involves oligop power
"price leadership" segmented markets
and the probablem with feeding into this a mandated universal participation ??
well if the real supply response is highly inelastic then we get higher prices and maybe shortages --ie time rationed services ..waiting lines

i think however real demand won't rise
that fast so we'll just get the higher price increase rates at first and a crisis that forces real price controls
perhaps thru premium ceilings set by uncle
(the high road )
or ..reductions in plan coverage
(the low road )

at any rate the insco mediation has intrinsically no social welfare advantage

my point was to see clearly bob's point is the real point
not profiteering

to cure the price tumor best
we need a sectoral mark up market
it would be a grand way to convert by stages
the entire economy
to the lerner - vickrey -colander pricing model

see d colander a lerner MAP

--this model/mechanism
could work for a major sector
as well as a national economy --
getting ahold of a copy of this book is rough
i lost mine and recently re orderd it thru amazon --used copy-- it never arrived

shades of hoover ???

Al Schumann:

Owen, I find that deliciously mordant.

I like single payer in the abstract, but of course it rises and falls on the ability and willingness to set prices. For it to work humanely and effectively, we also need a lot more doctors. They themselves are rationed. I say we desperately need to beg Fidel and Raul for help. I think Hugo would be happy to send seed money for clinics in deprived areas. This is no time for gringo arrogance. Also, complete med school loan forgiveness and compensation for the opportunity costs our most recent cohorts of med school grads have endured.

Insurance drives up the costs of many things in the American society or "economy" as the capitalists like to call their dominant form of feudalist practice.

Much like how restaurants found themselves able to charge 2x as much when business lunches became tax-deductible, the pricing of any good or service gets wildly inflated when it's not immediate cash (or equivalent in barter) exchange taking place in a transaction. Medical care being insured is what let MDs and hospitals become the new "industrial sector" of America. Imagine what a MD could charge if nobody had health insurance and therefore the MD couldn't count on his $250 for 15 mins office visit fee being paid.

It's just society being run on the corporate model. If corporations can write things off as "business expenses" then those things can be priced higher. Drive up the prices and what's "paid" for those things so priced, and voila! "Growth" in the "economy" even though the things or services being exchanged, they're no different.

A guy doesn't have to be a scholar of Marx to know this shit. He only has to be skeptical and only has to have a chunk of his life spent serving big insurance companies to know it.

However, in order to translate the impressions and realities into what other business-heads and "economists" understand and/or respect, a guy like me needs a guy like op to put it into the proper econolingo. I get the gut level bit, but not the secret handshake part.

At this rate, there isn't going to be much left to cannibalize by 2012. After exercising their letters of marque, the various sectors of privateers empowered by Black Reagan will have rendered American society into something resembling Albania.


op - so why didn't you just write that in the first place?

I still don't get why you don't want to go directly after the insurers. Everyone hates them, they provide no useful services, they drive up all the costs, they lobby against healthcare reform... IMO they should be the very first target.

There's always going to be issues with rent-seekers in the medical sector, even in Canada (controls on med school enrollment, discrimination against foreign doctors, etc.). I dunno why you want to solve the most difficult, least important, lowest payoff issues first, yet leave the easiest to solve, most harmful aspect of the medical sector (insurance co.s) intact. Sorry it just makes no sense to me at all. You're making things more difficult than they need to be

Man, the Left are being dragged along in the dirt re: heath care. It's amazing even the Canadian-style public subsidy of private corps, so-called single payer, is barely regarded (let alone an NHS-type scheme). I think this lends credibility to a claim I've been making all along, the Left in this country is mostly comprised of frauds.


Only the silly Donks could spend a year and a half on a project that had overwheming public support and turn it into, yeah the bill sucks in a lot of ways but we GOTTA PASS IT!

Meanwhile, after they give insuranceco, pharma and anyone else with a lobbying group whatever they want, they flail about appeasing various centrists in Congress that pop up with incoherent objections or amendments that make it even worse.

Their phone lines are jammed with angry teabaggers ranting about socialism, abortion funding and everything else their creative little minds think up. "But it's just like Mitt Romney's plan" they whimper, to no avail.

And now they are staring at a GOP takeover in at least one chamber. While the dem offices are filled with starry eyed aides exchanging CBO white papers and Ezra Klein posts reassuring each other "the people will see how good the bill is once we pass it" in quiet hushed tones.


the problem is not the insco form its the universal mandate ..as with auto insurance
you can't have universal mandates without price controls
we'll get em
but the order that they oughta
arrive in for the broad social welfare is price controls first then premium subsidies
then universal mandate
since we are run by corporates
of course we got the reverse order
in fact the price controls will only kick in
when the pot is boiling over so to speak

the decent interval
for mad dash profiteering
and fee gouging
must come "foist"

i don't attack the inscos
because they are scape goats really
and like deposing nixon they will prove in defeat to revel just how little that victory meant


abortion sbolitionism
has true believers behind it somewhere
so it's hardly comparable to profiteer lobbying

the defenders of old growth forests
prolly strike lots of people as absurd too

and preserving tribal societies
and not eating meat
to deconstruct value kampf
one needs to leave the obviousness
of who's a kook
in the glove compartment


fears of obummer the socialist are indeed
foolhardy ignorance
even as metaphor they look silly

their guns
lord jesus
and the next endangered fetus
are bedrock fetish material
not based on ignorance
and not amenable to
arbitrary glennbeck ilk
media amped conjuration

to suggest obummer has scotched single payer
to placate whita nativist rubes is daffy

forget about the t baggers per se
just note their righteous wrath
i recall ROAR at the height of the boston anti busing crusade
restore our alienated rights

manipulated or not
had they no material basis
for their rage ??

fledermaus' post made me laugh. I don't think it's because it's funny so much as I'm just chronically jaded.

Watching Black Reagan and his party orderly dismantling American society, one has to ask if our only hope is chaos.


"the problem is not the insco form its the universal mandate ..as with auto insurance"

um I'm not sure I follow

Are you saying that the cause of high costs is the universal mandate?
that auto insurance is expensive because you are forced to buy it, not because it is run by insurance companies?

The thing is that there is currently no mandate for health insurance but the cost is through the roof.



the point is a simple one

if you force more money into the present system you will mostly get higher prices
not more units of health services
the price controls need to come first if your objective is a wider distribution of affordable
health services
that the form in place is a multi source private insurance model is not much more important here then if we had single payer ala medicare
but without cost control mechanisms
one only needs to look at the history of medicare to see the pattern clearly

for some reason would be radical reformers hear the word private profits and assume automatically we are now dealing with the gravest threat to welfare in any context
short run or long run
if you look at the evolution of euro ou see several tamed prtivate systems
of course king kong profit can break free of his chains at any point along the way ahead
in say switzerland or the dutch republic
but once a state control apparatus is imposed then the private system can at least in principle behave much like single payer
ie as a joint monopsony


"if you look at the evolution of euro ou see several tamed prtivate systems
of course king kong profit can break free of his chains at any point along the way "

Ok, so the US has to go the mandated no public option route because the medical industry is so incredibly powerful, yet somewhere down the road, after being made more powerful via mandates and subsidies, they are suddenly going to roll over? Why?

And what are these cost control mechanisms that you have in mind?



the insco can't dominate the rest of the "corporate community"
simple really

what can't go on won't go on
even noam chomsky saw a turn
back a few years ago
when several big corporate outfirs with large
blue collar job forces essentially cried
no mas
of course asa with nuclear cut backs the turning point is likely to well proceed the final supression of the tumor

why does your tone seem oddly edgey
i can't figure out why ???

Op, what domestic capitalist constituency is crying foul over medical insurance? One or two, and even those prefer moving production offshore to complaining about the irrationality of the med-scam industry.

I don't rule out your view that this may be an unintended wedge. But I don't have much confidence in that, either. So, Bob feels testy, I imagine, because of the severe risk that this is a disaster.

And it will also certainly kill any chance of reviving the anti-war movement or any domestic opposition until 2013. Given the state of the society, I'd wager it's another stabbing.

Meanwhile, here comes the gloating, over a Reaganite, industry-authored program...

What can't go on, won't go on?


I thought what can't go on must go on, according to the powers-that-be, and also what my eyes have seen.


Admin item:
It would appear that comments are blocked on the Confederate bond illustrated item of Brother Paine just above this item. Hence here:

The soc sec sys was setup primarily to provide an income for those 'unfortunate' enough to outlive their productive years and to provide income to their surviving wives (recall the 1 household-income era).
Who knew that those years would come to be so numerous for so many? The more recent medicare sys is somewhat 'to blame' for this cursèd longevity, which is gratuitous in that it is separated from the productivity that alone justifies continued individual existence.

The demographic bomb has been under observation for at least a half century. Where are the millions of efficiency apartments in which 1 or 2 soc sec benefit recipients could eke out their remaining years decently on their modest incomes? Where the convenient public transport sys to move them back and forth to the doctor's office, the groc, etc. Instead we have the results of the tax reform of '86 when the trend towards 'housing as investment' got its start. (Oh, yeah, everybody that counts was going to be rich by the time that the boomers retired and soc sec could be means tested and/or sufficiently taxed to focus the benefits of its burden onto the misfortunate.)


"why does your tone seem oddly edgey
i can't figure out why ???"

a) MD covers most of it above, better than I could. You've got a gigantic "skyhook" at the core of your entire healthcare policy argument, and it's not even a slick one. How tired is the "other companies can't support these healthcare costs" meme. I think the best before date on that beltway truism was sometime in the mid-90's. They just stop paying for it and/or offshore/part-time/contract their workforce. I just don't see the dialectical necessity there. The MNCs can just as easily dodge the healthcare costs as join the fight to bring them down.

b) I was annoyed at the comments in this thread:

c) I quit smoking last week.


" what domestic capitalist constituency is crying foul over medical insurance? "

now you're joking right ??md

ask any MNC corporate officer
"what's your biggest employee cost
pain in the rectum "

severe risk that this is a disaster

maybe when you lack a functional "village"
it takes a disaster

i'm not being human here but historical
as pompous as that makes me ..and i like pompous
it protects a lacerated ego quite nicely ...on good dusks and dawns at any rate

nice reply
smoke baby smoke
what's wrong with ya ..suddenly wanna live to be senile ??

the MNCs mutually supervise each other
with considerable difficulty inefficiency
and with frustrating
poke-a- tude

if one takes mancur olsen's model
--large groups will face relatively high costs when attempting to organize for collective action while small groups will face relatively low costs--
as a model of corporate special interests
mediating their general interests thru their "state"
looked at day by day year by year
the system is irrationally feeble
its pace forward grotesquely halting and mostly without forward movement

that being said it does work
...in keynes' the long run ie
after most of us are gone

this near geologic pace
operates well enough to maintain
the corporate system's system of
decentralized private profit poolings
in tact andmore or less "free range "
whilst not strangling themselves
--to death at any rate--
collective in a chaos of toxic externalities thru 24/7
each firm for itself anarchic frenzies

smiths invisible hand model
meets hayek's evolutionary spenserian model
thru the class state
and specifically
at the international level
ie at the inter state level
the level of national competitions
ie lenin's "concentrated economics "...pursued by all means ...even klausy's "other means "

in its shaggy shambling bloody way
it woiks by godess

gibbon notices the pax romanum
produced a gradual unwinding
of the roman geist
thru the western world-civilization
of conquered nations

the roman imperium was indeed a world
yes with edges but with in the end
no internal dynamic
it died of its ungoverned "group" externalities

the present us hegemony
retains enough "junior partner " wanna bes
with big ideas and would be future champions
now sullen resisters but potential deposers

if these states get too far ahead
even in controling a sector as strategic
as health costs(or education)
the reigning national hegemon must react
must repair itself at least "well enough"
or slide in time from the thrown
---maybe that's MD's bet here
uncle is going DOWN !!!
mine is more like
"uncle's get a few more rounds to fight and win yet ..first ---

while on top to stay on top
the hegemon can't out source
and off shore its core might
so it must do what it must do
to preserve the basis of that might

one might argue about just what constitutes that basis
i'd say cost of maintaining
its national masses is one bigeee !!!!

folks on the flabby left
these days
tend to see processes in short term "lines"
and those for uncle are again tilted downwards

--short term ??
well in the scheme of things Clio style
about 40 to 80 years makes one stage unit
( the kold war was one complete stage )--

in the context of historical units
short term might be decades long
post medicare (65) health sector developments for example are still mid stage ..like most second stage welfare state developments
at this point the gap is narrowing
greater sweden is not pulling further ahead of uncle anymore for example ..
the units dynamics change

end of unit ??
often WAR between great powers

i hope that allows md to see the time scale i'm using

we hu caps tend to use our time scale
the humanist time scale
the crack pot realist time scale
the union movement time scale
the party time scale
as THE time scale

it ain't
its not quite as misleading as the "peace in our time " ...time scale
but judging by my crass maxim
"what must end will end"
in this case by anything less then 40-60 year units is missing " my --and i submit clio's --
use of the term ..the present context

the corner has been turned friends
never fear
but its as far "round" the bend as Clio desires it to be -- She's always a nnifty speed shifter
and She's of diabolical intent 24/7 --


sardonic screed

excellent points all

i can't add anything

except this lovely stinger
the life span of the greatest generation seems to have been over estimated
back in the 70-80's
and payouts came in under expectation
in the 90's and 00's

so there's hope of burden relief
on the ever shrinking
toiling majority
thru additional unanticipated
sluggish progress in health sector outcomes hey maybe even stagnation

now of course
if our medical system could
stop trying to "really" help
old folks at all
and just turn
pure witch doctor on us ....


"so why didn't you just write that in the first place"
a little self criticism

i hate the raft of pink econ con bizwiz pundits we poor lefticles are saddlked with in the upper tier blog-sphere
any time a henwood or pollin or a harvey or a

well anytime any of em
gibbe away
i have to strike a pose of total contempt mockery and rejection

sorry bob et al

however i hasten to add as
partial exculpation:

i try not to add further confusions
to the minds of the pink multitude
by slop-think
the memes here are long premediated
and wind tunneled
unlike lots of big foot thunderations

okay so their rendered
with brass
and excessively encrusted with cheap decorative elements
but that follows
if your prose output is generally
of the window sash variety

my deeper vice
deeper then my envious trashing of the henwood dougs of the planet
is manic pseudo learned balderdash
covered by a thick smog
of heterography and neologism

rabelais is always my beau ideal

i love to swill him chug him gargle him
to me he's like cheap gin
to a 17th century dutchman

--check out just how simple his word assembly really is

none of the dexterous phrasing in Rabelais
of say an...addison
or smbiva's
very own michael jackson smith
- mon seigneur-
or the marvelous elliptics
of Rab's own remote disciple l sterne
or our own super AL for that matter
--whom i also envy
as quasimodo must envy
Captain Phoebus de Chateaupers --


I think the biggest "hope" is The Greatest Generation has been replaced by The Gluttonous Generation. After a lifetime of (subsidized) corn syrup-filled junk food and desk-bound "symbol manipulation" jobs...will my generation (I am 47) and the susbequent video game drone kids live anywhere as long? Even with subsidized medical care?


excellent bk

work both ends
quack up medicine
AND slow dose
the population with stealth gunk food
that clogs the life giving
body passages
and leads to an early grave

we need a new drug
that's highly addictive
and cheap
that barely effects you at all
thru say 40 years of regular "use"
but kills ya incredibly fast after that

you can outline the drill:

sudden onset no known useful therapy
gone in maybe 6 months time or so

that way we squeeze out the hu cap max
and they trunble off to an early brief retirement sudden collapse
and from there in a few days
straight to burial plot



I have bad news guys.

they got Chomsky too:


Michael Hureaux:

Chomsky is an ideological anarchist, and there are damned few from that tribe who don't ultimately fall into Lenin's apt description of them as "liberals with bombs". At the end of the day, they're still waiting for the padron to fix everything.


"There should be headlines explaining why, for decades, what's been called politically impossible is what most of the public has wanted," Chomsky said. "There should be headlines explaining what that means about the political system and the media."
noam C
sportin '
more like a water bomb eh ???


liberals with bombs
chomsky ??
too harsh and unfair
"take the bombs away "
and you have at best
a fierce little snapping pet
or socratic house fly


same lenin piece :

"It is a lesson of the class struggle;
it shows that in Russia at present (1911)
only revolutionary classes can serve as a prop for parties which are to any real extent revolutionary. ....the mass of the bourgeois intelligentsia, which until recently was democratic and even revolutionary-minded, has now turned its back on democracy and the revolution.) There is nothing accidental in this; it is the inevitable result of the development of class-consciousness on the part of the Russian bourgeoisie which has realised through experience how close is the moment when the “camp” of the monarchy and the camp of the revolution will confront each other and has realised through experience which side it will have to choose when that moment comes. "

read carefully

"revolutionary classes "
not class
ie in that context workers plus peasants

and note it's "the mass "
of the bourgeois intelligensia "
ie not "all" the BI s

(chomsky like kropotkin an exception perhaps)

later :

"Those who want to learn from the great lessons of the Russian revolution (1905)
must realise that only the development of the class-consciousness of the proletariat, only the organisation of this class and the exclusion of petty-bourgeois “fellow-travellers” from its party, .... can again lead, and surely will lead, to new victories of the people over the monarchy of the Romanovs. "


rev party from rev movement

apropos the pb class
vi sez here
(remember pb not bougeois as used above )

" the elimination of the vacillation, weakness, and lack of principle, characteristic of them(PBs)"

i --now --interpret that catch phrase
to mean unlike the big bourgeoise
mentioned in the first paragraph
who can develop a clear class conciousness
( circa june 1917 cadets
kold war amer-liberals
present day
stone cold humanist interveners etc )
the PBs can't attain clear class conciousness

alas they are always with "us"
or against" us "..with "us " again
and then again against "us "

the isolated phrase above
seems to me
way too often used as just a proxy for wavering
lack of conviction
weak spines
all things
and any thing
contemptible in any human under pressure
in a spot
making a life altering decision
to act or not act
like the phrase left in form right in essence
it ought not be interpreted the usual way
but as if they are dreaming
never awake
and thus protean ...
by turns libertarian with a little l
anarchist with a little a
nostalgic idealists
postivist nihilist sceptic
any kind of ist
an ist-ist of necessary
mind as tumor
a sump of pathologies
a nest of mutually deviating memes
skewing off in anyway imaginable

arrive at the radical PB intellectual
the raw material for a vanguard party
lenin is to this real life party material
what calvin is to post adamic
fallen man in general

they exist "by inclination "
in a state of total depravity

until born again
into the conciousness of the world historical class mission of "the proles"

back slides possible after born againing ??

no such thing as a transcendental break thru

"been to the mountain class view"
recall moses lapses a few times after his sinai moment

maybe we can be re born again too

not so sure of that

the arc of the GPCR demonstrates
we pb's even as raw youths
are all spontaneously pb's
our "blank sheet of paper"
has memes embedded in it

shine light of the correct color
on the blank sheet
and one set of memes show
another light of another color
another set shows etc etc ...

so for heaven sake give poor old noam and me a bit of slack

to us this looks meliorative at the least
and for me anyway
perhaps not a shaggy dog story in progress
but a plot pivot in a tale
with a climax up ahead

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