Paying the corporate tax on health care

By Rob Wasserstrom | Dec 18, 2019

Two weeks ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that more working-age people in Maine are dying than in most other states. Since 2010, midlife mortality here has risen by a record-breaking 21 percent; as many as 500 people have died prematurely. Drug overdoses, alcoholism, suicides – “diseases of despair” – have taken a heavy toll, made worse by limited access to health care. According to researcher Dr. Steven Woolf, health trends in northern New England are going “completely in the wrong direction.” The situation is especially bad in places experiencing “severe economic distress,” like Midcoast Maine.

Every population group is feeling the impact, “but the worst-hit areas are mostly white and rural,” Woolf writes. Among men, “drug overdoses explained almost all of the life expectancy decline”; among women, obesity and smoking compound the problem.

The root causes aren’t hard to find: government policies that have left working families behind. Since the 1980s, many families in Maine have faced catastrophic job losses, wage stagnation, reduced social mobility and explosive income inequality. And as Woolf points out, people who are “most vulnerable to the new economy (e.g., adults with limited education, women) have experienced the largest increases in death rates.” One sobering fact: for every 1 percent increase in unemployment, drug-related deaths rose by 3.6 percent.

Meanwhile, other industrial countries have avoided the mortality crisis. They provide universal access to health care, higher wages and comprehensive social services. Our political and economic elites have chosen a different path: leaving 28 million people without health insurance, slashing social services, weakening labor unions, redistributing income upward and, now, cutting food stamps. If these trends continue, Woolf predicts, it will take the U.S. “more than a century to reach the average life expectancy that other high-income countries had achieved by 2016.”

This is serious business. During the Cold War, U.S. intelligence agencies anticipated the Soviet Union’s collapse by tracking the decline in life expectancy among workers. (A health economist friend of mine did the analysis.) Rising death rates are the undeniable indicator of long-term economic and political failure. As Soviet leaders found out, it’s almost impossible for politicians to hide or lie about them forever.

Which doesn’t stop ours from trying. Take Medicare for All. Two-thirds of American voters say that health care is the central issue in our upcoming election. A majority of us – 57 percent – support single payer insurance plans that cover everybody and “eliminate all private health insurance companies.”

Yet Democratic Poobahs remain determined to resist. Their complex and subtle reasoning runs the gamut from A to B. Two favorite arguments: Universal coverage in the U.S. would make our taxes would go up. And what about that critical bloc of swing voters who love their current health plans? If we offer them something better, they’ll re-elect Donald Trump.

Real life tells a different story. Americans spend about twice as much on health care as other high-income countries. Those countries provide comprehensive insurance plans that cover 99 to 100 percent of their populations – unlike the U.S., where one in ten people remain uninsured. Health outcomes there are far better: according to the American Medical Association, we now have the lowest life expectancy among industrialized nations, the highest infant mortality rate and the greatest number of obese adults.

So we spend more and get less. But what about those private “Cadillac health plans” that voters love? More than half of all Americans rely on their employers for health insurance. But employers, too, are getting gouged. Every year, they pay more for policies with higher deductibles, larger co-pays and fewer benefits. Over the past decade, the price tag has almost doubled.

Workers pay a growing share of these costs, even as real wages shrink. In Maine, for example, employer-based family coverage averages around $19,500 per year. Employees now shell out $7,900 in premiums and deductibles, 12 percent of their total income. That’s a 65 percent increase over ten years, while life expectancy and other key health indicators here sank like a stone. No wonder that national labor unions have launched a “Labor for Single Payer” campaign.

So who are these critical voters clamoring to keep their ritzy private plans? They probably don’t live in Midcoast Maine. Would our taxes go up if we eliminated private health insurance? A bit. But we’re already paying 12 percent of our incomes to vulture corporations and receiving nothing in return. The refund we’ll get by not paying them should be more than enough to cover Medicare for All.

This column is a project of the Midcoast Branch of the Southern Maine Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America. The opinions express herein are solely those of the authors. Comments are welcome at

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Dec 21, 2019 13:22

Patricia, food for thought. I agree with your sentiments. I think everyone should think way ahead as aging comes quickly and health insurance is essential. fortunately, I have good coverage and fortunately I have a good daughter who looks after me.

Posted by: Patricia Keyes | Dec 19, 2019 07:56

There are 3 things everyone wants in healthcare:  Quality of Care, Availability of Care, and Low Cost.  You can only have 2 out of 3. You can have high quality specialized care available when you need it, but it will cost more; or you can have very available resources and low cost, for a more "drive-thru window" level of care; or you can have small high quality care-givers who can't see a lot of patients, because they, alone on their own, are willing to give probono/low cost care, and will only have limited time and resources as a consequence. This is reality. There is no escape.

When the govt gets in between doctors and customers, they mess it all up. They make doctors keep defensive paperwork requiring the labors of as many as 6 extra employees, which drives up the cost of a simple doctor's visit. And you have to pay the paychecks of those govt employees to boot! It's a double/triple whipping! And they hold the power, YOUR POWER, POWER THEY TOOK FROM YOU, very often without any elected official's input or oversight, to say "no" when you ask for specialized care!

If you are going to motivate people to work hard to create better healthcare, you must allow them to charge what they need to cover their costs for education and research. Obamacare destroyed any reward for hard work by paying all doctors the same. A bad doctor who got C-'s in college is now paid the same as one who has excelled in a specialty field of care. Many doctors have simply left the profession, reducing the availability of medical care, at a time when politicians, who know virtually nothing about actual business management, sold many of us a bill of goods about "healthcare for all". Availability has decreased, while need has increased exponentially.

Health insurance after WWII, was a way for companies to compensate employees without pushing their employees into a higher tax bracket, forced on us by the IRS.  An agency that claims it collects money based on "VOLUNTARY compliance", an oximoron. This unConstitutional agency was instituted at the same time as central banking, another UNCONSTITUTIONAL addition that has served only to inflate and devalue our currency, has created the total impoverishment of the working middle class. America is failing because it has lost it's foundation. Our system was based on merit and proven capability. If you are capable of doing a thing, you should be paid to do it. We are suffering because we have violated our founding principles and need to return to them! Govt needs to get out of the way!

Healthcare today, purchased by employers, is a business expense. It is NOT TAXED. Only corporate profits AFTER EXPENSES, are taxed. And the rates were lower for businesses because they could sign up a group all at once. One way to lower the cost of healthcare is to allow individuals to purchase their policies or load their health savings accounts with BEFORE-TAX DOLLARS. If individuals were allowed to fund their own healthcare in this way, they would be more upwardly mobile, able to take jobs where ever they wanted in forward their careers instead of being enslaved to particular corporate jobs in order to keep their insurance coverage.

Communism doesn't work. European countries don't have better healthcare. They just don't keep the statistics that show it. Just like in Venezuela, where children no longer die of starvation in hospitals [snort]. Don't believe lies. You cannot have everything for free. You have to get up every day, put your big boy pants on and make good choices in your life. You have to make wise decisions with your money, and you have to defend yourself. And if you're healthy, you can certainly find some folks to help quietly on the side who need it. This is what made America a wonderful place until Woodrow Wilson destroyed us.

I understand that many people who may read this are aging now, and perhaps have no children or extended family to help them thru a major illness. I understand your fear, and I share it. I can't afford insurance, and I'm getting old, too. There is hope for you in the caring arms of charity organizations. It's what good people like to do for fun to see folks like us get better. Don't cut their hands off by falling for failed communist models of "healthcare". If you tax them at crazy rates, they won't have any money left to do charity care!  And only govt official and employees will get any financial benefit!

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