Wall Street Bullish on Health Insurance Companies

One of the ironies of the health care debate is that the health care industry is fighting hard to block health care reform but they are still likely to come out very well financially. It is the insurance companies which are responsible for originating many of the false claims about health care reform which are echoed by the far right. The Congressional Budget Office has already demonstrated that they have little to fear from the public option. After hearing Obama’s speech last night (discussed here) Wall Street also feels that the insurance companies will not be harmed by health care reform. Health insurance stock prices are rising today:

Following the speech, analysts predicted any changes to the system would be moderate, with Obama backing many initiatives put forth earlier this week by a leading Senate committee. The possibility a threatening public health plan would be enacted also now seemed doubtful, analysts said.

“There wasn’t anything said that is drastically changing the outlook as to what might come out of Congress,” said Steve Shubitz, an analyst with Edward Jones.

Washington Monthly Details Problems at Ave Maria


Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan is well known for both his business ventures and his far right wing religious views in Michigan, but his attempts to start a religious-based law school didn’t go over well in the Ann Arbor area. He wound up finding an area in Florida which was more hospitable to his plans, as described in The Washington Monthly:

By early 2002, Monaghan had three promising schools—Ave Maria College, St. Mary’s, and Ave Maria School of Law—but they were scattered across Michigan. In the hopes of bringing them together on a single campus, he submitted plans to build a new Ave Maria University at Domino’s Farms. The proposal might have sailed through unnoticed if it weren’t for one detail: a 250-foot crucifix. That’s taller than the old General Motors building and almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The idea touched off a firestorm in Ann Arbor Township, a wealthy rural community with roughly 5,000 residents near the city of Ann Arbor. Many locals still nursed resentments over Monaghan’s previous architectural ventures; years earlier he had tried to build the “Leaning Tower of Pizza,” a thirty-five-story copper-and-bronze-clad tower with a slight eastward slant. A few also grumbled that the onetime pizza baron—who had already opened two convents, a pair of Catholic radio stations, and a Catholic newspaper in the area—was trying to turn the township into a theocracy.

In the end, the local planning commission denied his petition to build the university, and Monaghan was forced to look further afield. He eventually settled on a scraggly stretch of tomato fields bordering southwest Florida’s Corkscrew Swamp. The site was twenty miles inland of Naples, which has a high concentration of Catholics and conservatives, and Monaghan believed they would be friendlier to his vision. And, as luck would have it, Barron Collier Companies, a powerful local landowner, offered to donate some 750 acres on which to build the university. In return, Monaghan agreed to work with Barron Collier to build a planned community around the school, with the profit split down the middle.

What they envisioned was an old-fashioned company town with a theocratic twist. Monaghan and Barron Collier would own everything from the local utility company to the building supply that provided concrete for wells and foundations. But the most startling part of the whole arrangement was the plan for governing the community. In Florida, developers can petition to act as the local government for a number of years while a development is under construction. Monaghan and Barron Collier began pushing the Florida state legislature to pass a law that would allow them to control the local government in perpetuity—and, according to an investigation by the Naples Daily News, they eventually succeeded. While their powers were technically limited when it came to regulating behavior, they clearly intended to keep a tight grip on community life. The original letter of intent between Barron Collier and Monaghan said the town would “allow no public activities which are offensive to traditional Christian values or which might represent a scandal to Catholic and Christian sensibilities. Thus, no topless bars, abortion clinics, ‘adult’ bookstores or the like shall be permitted.”

It initially appeared that Ave Maria would be a success for the right wing but now is in serious trouble. Steve Benen summarizes:

Until a few years ago, the Ave Maria School of Law, a Catholic institution founded by billionaire pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, seemed poised to become a top-drawer institution. It was created with the help of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and other prominent conservatives, which gave it credibility in major political circles. Its graduates had an astonishing 100 percent bar passage rate, and many went on to high-powered jobs and prestigious clerkships.

Today it’s among the worst law schools in the country, if not the very worst, and appears to be on the verge of financial collapse.

The reasons for the decline have mostly to do with Monaghan’s hunger for power. He attempted to run the law school and his other education ventures like pizza franchises, opening and closing campuses with little regard for students and faculty, and systematically cracking down on those who questioned his decisions. One devout Catholic professor who voiced oppositions to Monaghan’s plans had his tenure revoked (and his career ruined) based largely on trumped up charges that he sexually abused a coworker.

Heckling the President

Congressman Joe Wilson has received a lot of attention for heckling Obama during his speech last night. Wilson shouted “you lie” and later apologized. PolitiFact found that it was Obama who was right on the facts.

Joe Wilson’s conduct was found to be distasteful by American audiences but such heckling is commonplace in the British Parliament. If Wilson wants to act as if we are in the U.K., it is a shame that we don’t have universal health care as they do there. (I’m referring strictly to the concept of universal care–not to the specifics of the British plan.)

While such heckling doesn’t work in a prepared speech such as the one given last night, I wouldn’t mind if we also could have the President meet more informally with Congress and hold discussions comparable to those held in the British Parliament. It would be interesting to see Obama directly take on the misinformation being spread by the Republicans. I’m sure that Obama could easily handle their talking points, and demonstrate to viewers how empty the attacks from the right really are.

I previously responded to Obama’s speech here and responded to Sarah Palin’s op-ed, which repeats many of the right wing talking points, here.

Update: First Read believes this will harm the Republicans:

Well, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson didn’t help the GOP’s cause one bit. Indeed, the most effective part of Obama’s speech last night might not have been what he said — but rather what Wilson yelled: “You lie.” It could be an incredibly important moment for the president and the congressional Dem leadership because it does a couple of things: 1) paint a picture of the Republicans as ornery and hard to work with, and 2) remind conservative Democrats that they may not want to line up with folks like Joe Wilson when casting votes. Let’s be honest: Wilson did more to undermine the GOP’s efforts to come across as reasonable opposition as anything any conservative cable host has done in the past few months. Remember how conservatives were able to turn Cindy Sheehan into someone very difficult for the anti-war Democrats in Congress to support during the Bush years? Well, Wilson could end up providing that kind of symbolism. In short, he gave voice — literally — to the president’s attempts to paint some of his opponents as shrill…

Wilson apologized last night in a statement (“I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility”) and in a call to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. But the damage was done and it may take a long time to repair. It was a sad day in Washington that polarization has gotten so bad that a member of Congress thinks it’s appropriate to shout down the president. So what should Wilson’s punishment be? After all, it was a verbal sucker punch, and we just saw one football player get suspended for the year for a sucker punch. By the way, the DCCC tells First Read that in the eight hours since Wilson’s outburst, his Democratic opponent in 2010, former Marine Rob Miller, has received nearly 3,000 individual grassroots contributions, raising about $100,000.

Obama Speech Strengthens Prospects For Health Care Reform

Barack Obama’s speech before Congress (full text here) keeps health care reform alive , reversing the gains made by Republicans with their campaign of distortion which dominated the news in August. While Obama kept the door open to working with Republicans, he directly confronted them:

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it. I will not stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Obama  addressed several of the lies being spread by the right wing about health care reform. He also responded to the idea held by some on the left that health care reform is not worth supporting without a public option:

It’s worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I’ve proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn’t be exaggerated – by the left, the right, or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and should not be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage affordable for those without it. The public option is only a means to that end – and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.

Besides those aspects of health care reform which has frequently been discussed on the left, Obama also expressed support for malpractice reform. While conservatives greatly exaggerate the effect of malpractice on health care costs, this does remain an area where we can achieve some meaningful cost savings without compromising medical care.

Obama noted that those supporting health care reform include some who were opposed to it in the past:

Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors’ groups and even drug companies – many of whom opposed reform in the past.

Demonstrating the support for health care reform among doctors, the American Medical Association sent out an email expressing their support (copy here).

A CNN/Opinion Research poll found, “Two out of three Americans who watched President Barack Obama’s health care reform speech Wednesday night favor his health care plans — a 14-point gain among speech-watchers.”

It comes as no surprise that liberals are praising the speech. While the conservative movement will undoubtedly repeat their usual lies about health care reform, at least one more sensible conservative has expressed support. Andrew Sullivan concluded his live blogging by writing:

A masterful speech, somehow a blend of governance and also campaigning. He has Clinton’s mastery of policy detail with Bush’s under-rated ability to give a great speech. But above all, it is a reprise of the core reason for his candidacy and presidency: to get past the abstractions of ideology and the easy scorn of the cable circus and the cynicism that has thereby infected this country’s ability to tackle pressing problems. This was why he was elected, and we should not be swayed by the old Washington and the old ideologies and the old politics. He stands at the center urging a small shift to more government because the times demand it.

And he makes sense. And this was not a cautious speech; it was a reasoned but courageous speech. He has put his presidency on the line for this. And that is a hard thing to do.

Earlier Sullivan wrote, “It is a defense of limited but strong government. It is not anti-conservative” and “This is a liberalism most centrists can live with.”

With these comments Sullivan demonstrates the difference between rational conservatism and the anti-intellectualism dominating the conservative movement. The conservative movement takes a knee-jerk opposition to any government action which does not involve killing, torture, or imposing Christian fundamentalism. There are some functions which the market cannot handle without some government action or oversight, and this is a centrist program, not any form of socialized medicine or a government take over of health care.

AMA Response To Barack Obama’s Health Care Reform Speech

AMA reaction to President Obama’s address on health system reform

Physicians agree that medical liability reform is needed

From AMA President J. James Rohack, MD:

“It is clear that the status quo is unacceptable. The AMA will continue to work for reform that makes the system work better for patients and physicians. We must seize this opportunity this year to achieve meaningful health reform for America’s patients and physicians.

“The President outlined three essential goals that are vital to reform efforts in this country, including: ensuring the current system remains secure and stable for those who already have insurance coverage and are happy with it; making insurance coverage affordable and accessible to those who need it; and reducing unnecessary costs and waste in the current system.

“The AMA believes these core goals are ones that the majority of the American people can and do support, and we urge Congress to find common ground in achieving them.

“President Obama recognized what physicians have long known—that medical liability reform is needed to bring down the cost of health care, and he is directing the Department of Health and Human Services to take action now. Recognizing the critical need for medical liability reform is an important step toward reducing unnecessary costs. Everyday physicians across the country are forced to consider the broken medical liability system when making decisions, resulting in defensive medicine that adds to unnecessary health costs. We cannot ignore this problem if health system reform is going to address the growing cost of care.

“Just yesterday, the AMA sent a letter (PDF) to President Obama and Congress urging them to reach agreement on health reform that includes seven critical elements. Health coverage for all Americans, insurance market reforms that expand choice and eliminate denials for pre-existing conditions, assurance that medical decisions will remain between the patient and physician, medical liability reforms to reduce the cost of defensive medicine, and repeal of the broken Medicare physicians payment formula that threatens seniors’ access to care are among them.

“We have a historic opportunity to implement needed reforms to address shortcomings in the current system, while keeping in tact all that is working well. We will stay constructively engaged in the legislative process to ensure the final bill improves the health system for patients and the dedicated physicians who care for them.”