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Let’s talk about something really boring and horrible, but enormously important: health insurance!

About 10%-20% of my somewhat meager salary goes straight to the villainous CEO of Aetna who uses it to acquire more giant palaces, hunt orphans for sport, sail his fleet of super yachts, and, above all, to buy political and cultural influence (which is why American voters yammer to be fleeced by the vicious con-artists who run our private health care system).  This money is counted as “benefits” which come out of my salary before I ever see it, so the scam artists who designed this horrid medieval serf style system can pretend they are not responsible for wages stagnating for the last 3 decades (also it makes it hard to properly assess what health insurance costs unless you happen to be a forensic accountant).  Naturally I am afraid to leave my job and do something meaningful with my life, because, if I wasn’t working for a Fortune 500 company, I would have no health insurance and would live a life where one misstep would result in bankruptcy.

Naturally 10%-20% is never enough for the rapacious monsters who run this awful industry–so if anything bad ever actually happens, I have to pay my own money for coverage until I reach a certain cap (I think it is $1500) after which the insurance kicks in and they pay 85% of all remaining costs up to some multimillion dollar cap.  I don’t have $1500 so it is all irrelevant: I never go to doctors and I have no intention of ever going to one until I am carried there unresponsive by EMTs.  Hopefully I will die before I wake up to be bankrupted, after which point, they will undoubtedly send my heirs (my cats, I guess?) a six figure bill.

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I think that is supposed to be a heart, but it looks like Pacman after he touches a ghost

The executive in charge of Aetna (or CVS now?) is a full-on oligarch who is lavishly compensated for denying coverage to you and your family and to your friends and for shaping Aetna into a more efficient monopoly for destroying society (you don’t have to take my word—you can look it up, the last CEO made a half a Billion dollars for combining Aetna with CVS so they could fix the prices of drugs).  I am picking on Aetna because it is my insurance company (although I am sure that writing about them without review from a panel of hand-picked arbiters violates some clause of their infinite legalese notices).  Also, I think it is funny that their company is named after the Latin name for the noxious volcanic mountain which was the home of Echidna, the mother of monsters in Greek mythology.

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If Americans could properly understand what is going on, the real question is whether the masterminds who run health “insurance” in this country would wind up in prison after their ill-gotten gains were nationalized. Alas, just as my health insurance information is 900 pages of incomprehensible legalese which says I effectively have to pay for everything, the entire argument has been framed by these villains as about market choice versus poor people trying to take your benefits. Complexity is the friend of insurance CEOS, who trust that anyone cunning enough to unravel their enormous grift will be smart enough to join them in benefiting from the scam.

Which brings us to the election of 2020, an extinction-level political event which is already rocking the foundation of society.  If Trump and the Republicans win (in a critical census year), they will use their power to permanently alter the democracy so that they can never lose.  They will also further deregulate the health-care industry and let the rapacious insurance CEOs do whatever they want. They must be stopped.  The Democrats can indeed stop them and win everything, but, in order to do so, they will have to run on the popular aspects of their agenda (which are easily summarized in the following polling data from Rolling Stone).  The percentages represent the number of responders who thought the idea in question was something which should be implemented:

Basic Income (UBI) of $1,000 a month: 26%

Reparations for slavery: 27%

Decriminalizing illegal border crossings: 27%

Abolishing the death penalty: 36%

Medicare for All that ends private insurance: 41%

Eliminating the Electoral College: 42%

A tax on fossil fuels: 50%

$15/hour minimum wage: 56%

A sales ban for assault weapons like AR-15s: 57%

Raising taxes on incomes above $1 million: 62%

A Green New Deal: 63%

Legalize recreational cannabis: 63%

A pathway to citizenship for the undocumented: 64%

Medicare for All (that want it) — i.e. a public option to private insurance: 70%

This extremely useful but somewhat surprising list has some bad news for people who would like to see the USA copy its (healthier & happier) peer nations and adopt universal free medical coverage. The idea of moving to a free comprehensive system such as Canada or the UK enjoy, scares people because health insurance companies have taught us the true meaning of fear.

The health insurance industry is firmly behind “Medicare for those who want it.” They will use it as they have been trying to use “high risk pools.”  They will deny coverage to everyone with a costly health care problem and dump all such people on the state (which will, additionally, not be able to influence prices in a meaningful way). When Medicare goes bankrupt, they will then say “see! We told you” and fix the system so that everyone must pay an even higher premiums, deductibles, drug-prices economic rent.  It goes without saying that they will make the rules more onerous and impossible to comprehend.

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Here is a (somewhat loose) artist’s conception of how we look thinking about this stuff

I don’t know how we can move beyond this (although I am doing what I can by writing incandescent political articles which will probably get me in trouble instead of writing about Gothic art).  Pathetically, I am not even entirely sure how correct some of the things I am saying are.  The issue has been hopelessly mangled into a mess where professional health-care experts can’t figure out what is going on. How are the rest of us supposed to figure it out?

So Americans are voting for multi billion dollar companies and their crooked CEOS to pocket more of their money all so that we can have shorter more fearful lives that are filled to the brim with confounding paperwork and legal fights.  It is unconscionable! Maybe the Republicans are what we deserve.

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Remember this post?

There is of course a final option.  The CEO of Aetna could just buy a bunch of flounder art for his mansions, in which case I would have no choice but to drop my angry talk and simply praise him as a gifted business leader (although it should be obvious from this jeremiad that these people have stupendous money-making prowess).  I am waiting to sell out! Until the offers begin to pour in though, we will have to do what we can to make the system better (and to preserve the rapidly diminishing money spent on scientific research, which is what makes health care worthwhile to begin with).  Let me know what you think down below.  Maybe we can change some of those polling numbers before 2020 gets here!

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The political crisis which has beset 21st century America generates such a breathtaking number of headlines that it is easy to become numb to the poor choices, the controversies, the hyperbolic invective…and just to the national news in general.   I have mostly chosen not to focus on the wretched litany of mistakes, missteps, idiocy, and criminal misbehavior coming out of the Trump Administration, but today I am making an exception since the program being attacked bears on larger affairs than those of our beleaguered nation.  The Political Crisis of the early 21st Century is one thing, but today’s news potentially affects the Holocene/Anthropocene Mass Extinction of Life on Earth.

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The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was passed by bipartisan legislation and signed into law by Richard Nixon. It is the key U.S. law for protecting wildlife. The law can certainly not be repealed in the paralyzed super-partisan Washington of today, but the Trump administration is choosing to enforce the law in new ways which undermine the purpose of the Act.  Specifically there are two proposed changes:

The first is that agencies enforcing the ESA are given latitude to ignore projected future changes.  The exact verbiage is “The Services will describe the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis.”  This means that regulators are free to ignore the outcomes of their decisions provided those outcomes are not immediate.  If actions taken now will disrupt or ruin a habitat within a few years, well, that’s no longer the purview of the Act.  Talk to the relevant agency once the bad thing has happened, not before!

The second (and more disturbing) change is an omission.  Decisions about how to protect species were previously based solely on scientific consensus  “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination.”  That phrase has now been removed from the guidelines.  We will see what this means in the real world.  To me it certainly seems like if the choice comes down to protecting the habitat of an endangered frog or protecting the profits of a dirtbag real estate developer, unknown apparatchiks are free to chose the latter for unknown reasons.

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Coming Soon to your favorite ecosystem! Financing available!

Experts suspect that these changes are giveaways to real estate concerns and to mining & fossil fuel extraction industries.  It isn’t hard to see why they think that!  It is worth noting though that the Endangered Species Act is extremely popular and effective.  To quote an article on Vox

The act is generally uncontroversial among the public: About 83 percent of Americans (including a large majority of conservatives) support it, according to an Ohio State University poll. And it works: According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the act has prevented the “extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects.”

So call/write to your elected officials and raise a ruckus!  There is a lot going on right now, but any politician who isn’t completely owned by Exxon is likely to at least think about messing up legislation with an 83 percent approval rating.  Is the world going to lament the absence of some hideous prefab condos in the exurbs or are we going to miss the beautiful animals and plants that support the web of life which humankind is part of?

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