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Obama Plans to ‘Break Drug and Insurance Companies’ Stranglehold’
“It’s time to bring together businesses, the medical community and members of both parties around a comprehensive solution to this crisis, and it’s time to let the drug and insurance industries know that while they’ll get a seat at the table, they don’t get to buy every chair,” said Sen. Barack Obama while unveiling his health care plan at the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City.
Obama reiterated his campaign promise to enact universal health care by the end of his first term as president. During his speech, Obama provided the audience with an overview of his health care plan and, when it came to calling out the big drug and insurance companies for their role in exacerbating the health care premium boon, Obama pulled no punches: “In the richest nation on Earth, it is simply not right that the skyrocketing profits of the drug and insurance industries are paid for by the skyrocketing premiums that come from the pockets of the American people.”
Drawing on the experiences of Amy and Lane Chicos of Decorah, Obama helped highlight the current ills of the health care system and how it fails hardworking people who play by the rules but may face bankruptcy should a medical emergency arise. In the Chicos’ case, Lane was diagnosed with cancer when he was 21. In his 17-year battle against cancer, Lane lost a lung, a leg bone and part of a hip, but managed to overcome the cancer. Today, however, in the face of bankruptcy, Lane faces the new battle of somehow paying his family’s $1,000-per-month health insurance premium. Obama acknowledged the Chicos’ plight, reaffirming that they are not alone, “Over half of all personal bankruptcies are now caused by medical bills.”No Americans are immune to the skyrocketing costs of health insurance premiums. “Health care premiums have risen nearly 90 percent in the past six years. That’s four times faster than wages have gone. Eleven million insured Americans spent more than a quarter of their salary on health care last year,” said Obama.
Obama recognized he’s not the first person to call for health care reform: “Every year, candidates offer up detailed health care plans with great fanfare and promise, only to see them crushed under Washington politics and drug and insurance industry lobbying once the campaign is over. These industries have spent more than $1 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions over the last 10 years to block the kind of reform we need.”
Additionally, Obama cites administrative costs and antiquated record-keeping as other causes for the continuous spike in health care premiums: “One out of every four dollars we spend on health care is swallowed up by administrative costs.” Again, Obama holds the drug and insurance industries responsible for the brunt of these costs. “Since President Bush took office, the single fastest-growing component of health care spending has been the administration costs and profits for insurance companies. Coming in a close second is the amount we spend on prescription drugs. In 2006, five of the biggest drug and insurance companies were among the 50 most profitable businesses in the nation. One insurance company CEO received a $125 million salary that same year and has been given stock options worth over $1 billion.”
To combat what Obama called the biggest obstacle in reforming health care, part of his plan is dedicated to breaking the stranglehold that a few of the big drug and insurance companies have on the health care market. Under Obama’s plan:
We will make generic drugs more available to consumers, and we will tell the drug companies that their days of forcing affordable prescription drugs out of the market are over.
In the last 10 years, there have been over 400 health insurance mergers. Right here in Iowa, just three companies control more than three-quarters of the health insurance market. These changes were supposed to increase efficiency in the industry. But what’s really increased is the amount of money we’re paying them.
This is wrong, and when I’m president, we’re going to make drug and insurance companies compete for their customers just like every other business in America. We’ll investigate and prosecute the monopolization of the insurance industry.
Despite the resistance, the reformers moved forward, and President Johnson eventually signed the Medicare bill into law in 1965. Upon signing the bill with former President Truman by his side, President Johnson looked out at the crowd and said, “History shapes men, but it is a necessary faith of leadership that men can help shape history.”
Feeding upon Johnson’s message, Obama shifted the onus of health care reform upon the people, calling for action: “Never forget that we have it within our power to shape history in this country. It is not in our character to sit idly by as victims of fate or circumstance, for we are of people of action and innovation, forever pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”
Sen. Obama shakes hands with crowd members after speech