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Growing Uninsured Population Reflects Failure Of Political Leaders

Armen Hareyan's picture

The shocking increase in the number of uninsured Americans is an indictment of the scandalous inattention and failure of political leaders to honestly address this nation's Number One domestic priority: health care, Ohio Congressman and Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich said today.

"The fault lies at the doorstep of the White House, the floor of the U.S. Congress, and with the leadership of both political parties," Kucinich said. "In fact," he added, "the Democratic Party itself must bear a large part of the responsibility for this national crisis, and the Democratic candidates for President have a moral obligation to be honest and direct with the voters about how they plan to deal with this issue -- something they have failed to do so far." He singled out front-running Democratic candidates, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator Barack Obama, and former U.S. Senator John Edwards for "their failure to exhibit the kind of leadership on this issue that the American people deserve from someone seeking the Presidency."

Kucinich was reacting to yesterday's report by the by the U.S. Census Bureau showing that the number of uninsured Americans has skyrocketed from 44.8 million in 2005 to 47.0 million last year. Equally worrisome, the Census Bureau reported that the number of full-time workers without health insurance rose from 20.8 million 22.0 million in 2006, and the number of uninsured children jumped more than 600,000 to reach 8.6 million after five years of steady decline.

"This is a crisis, and it requires a dramatic and fundamental change in the way this nation finances health care and provides health care coverage," Kucinich said. "And it is a scandal that most of my Democratic colleagues seeking the nomination for the Presidency are putting forth half-measures, flawed strategies, and highly suspect schemes in the name of reform.

"I have challenged them on this," Kucinich added, "and I intend to continue challenging them until they demonstrate the courage and the integrity to tackle the for-profit health care industry in this country and embrace the only reform that will reverse this tragic trend: a national, not-for-profit, single payer health insurance plan that will cover all Americans, not just those who can afford health care coverage."

Kucinich took special aim at the three Democratic candidates currently leading in national polls -- Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. "As the candidates currently drawing the most media attention, they have the greatest opportunity to use that bully pulpit to advocate sweeping reforms. Instead, for a variety of reasons that beg much closer scrutiny, their plans protect and preserve the roles of private, for-profit companies; and, in some cases, open the door for even greater profits at the expense of taxpayers and everyday Americans."

Kucinich is the only candidate who has actually co-authored and co-sponsored legislation (H.R. 676) to establish a national, not-for-profit health insurance plan that would cover the medical needs of all Americans without premiums, deductibles, or co-payments.

In 2000, Kucinich took the plan to the Gore-Lieberman Democratic Platform Committee for inclusion in the party's platform, "and they told me that the insurance and pharmaceutical interests were too powerful to challenge." In 2004, he took the plan to the Kerry-Edwards Democratic Platform Committee, "and I got the same answer," Kucinich said.

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"Now, we have the leading Democratic candidates for President engaged in a fraudulent debate about which of their health care plans is the most 'universal' when, in fact, those plans keep the for-profits in control and poised to profit even more if they begin receiving federal subsidies and incentives to reduce premiums to make insurance more affordable to more people."

Questions should be raised, Kucinich said, about whether the candidates lack the courage and conviction to tackle the for-profit health care industry or their relationships with those interests "are too cozy and too lucrative."

To make his point, Kucinich cited figures from today's Boston Globe newspaper detailing campaign contributions to the leading Democratic candidates.

According to award-winning columnist Derrick Z. Jackson: "The hold of the healthcare industry on the top candidates is already apparent." According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the top recipient of campaign contributions so far from the pharmaceutical and health products industry is Republican Mitt Romney ($228,260). But the next two are Democrats Barack Obama ($161,124) and Hillary Clinton ($146,000). The top recipient of contributions from health professionals is Clinton ($990,611). Romney is second at $806,837, and Obama third at $748,637.

The Globe column also noted that the top recipient of cash from the insurance industry, which includes health insurers, is another Democrat, Connecticut's Christopher Dodd, at $605,950. Romney and Republican Rudolph Giuliani are second and third, with Clinton and Obama fourth and fifth. Even though Obama is in fifth place, he still has collected $269,750 from individuals with ties to insurance companies.

Also according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Edwards received almost $188,000 from individuals associated with Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund manager with huge investments in for-profit health care companies, notably the giant Humana, Inc. which specializes in Medicare programs. Edwards was a consultant to Fortress in 2005 and 2006 and earned a reported $480,000 in compensation.

Public filings show Humana's profits from its Medicare business soared 194.7%, to $288.8 million, from $98.0 million for the year-ago period. Second-quarter Medicare Advantage premiums of $2.8 billion were up 33 percent from $2.1 billion. And, premiums from Humana's stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plans totaled just over $1 billion for the quarter, a 31 percent increase from a year earlier. Membership in the company's stand-alone Medicare prescription drug plans totaled 3.44 million as of June 30.

"Any candidate who proposes securing a role for private, for-profit companies in the U.S. health care system is, in effect, ensuring billions of dollars in profits for those companies, money that should be going to providing health coverage for Americans," Kucinich said.

"With the ranks of the uninsured and under-insured Americans growing by millions each year, it's time for my esteemed colleagues to get serious, stop dancing around the issue, and do the right thing for the American people. The right thing is a national, not-for-profit health insurance system that will cover every American. Anything other than that, anything less than is a sham," Kucinich concluded.