A former Obama administration official is teaming up with healthcare executives to preserve the industry’s grip on the American healthcare system.
This week, retired healthcare executive and former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Andy Slavitt used his platform as a columnist for USA Today to promote his slick new venture — United States of Care (USofC). On its surface, USofC seems like a good-intentioned, bipartisan approach to resolving the crisis of unaffordable healthcare in the United States. Slavitt writes:
We believe all Americans should have access to a regular source of care for themselves and their families; no one should face financial devastation due to illness or injury, and we need to achieve these goals through policies that are fiscally responsible and have the political support to last.
The important part to focus on is that Slavitt wrote Americans “should have access to a regular source of care,” not that Americans should have a right to healthcare itself. A Bloomberg report about the group noted that USofC is “trying to prepare for an eventual opening for bipartisan policy making, while heading off increasingly volatile swings in health policy when political fortunes shift in Washington,” pointing out that “Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential election are signing on to Senator Bernie Sanders’ ‘Medicare for All’ bill, which has more than a dozen co-sponsors in the Senate.”
This point was not lost on journalists Ben Norton, Katie Halper, and Adam Johnson. Halper cited Harvard Medical School instructor Adam Gaffney’s observation that USofC considers single-payer healthcare a “volatile shift.” Norton and Johnson argued the healthcare debate isn’t a policy question, but a moral one: Instead of pursuing “solutions,” it’s a lot simpler to force lawmakers to decide whether or not healthcare should be a right, instead of a privilege for those with means.
United States of Care: founded to derail #singlePayer, which it considers a “volatile swing,” as this fawning @bpolitics puts it. @USofCare. Thanks @awgaffney for pointing this out. pic.twitter.com/DDxiRD7TEd
— Katie Halper (@kthalps) February 6, 2018
I have a much better model to propose than this neoliberal, corporate gobbledygook:
"Every resident of the country will have Medicare."
There you go, problem solved. It's that simplehttps://t.co/2oFKi9gXlY
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) February 7, 2018
politics–and healthcare in particular–is not a series of technical problems in need of "solutions", it's fundamentally a moral question. Our society wakes up everyday & decides to let 1000s die or go bankrupt due to lack of healthcare. We could stop it tomorrow. We choose not to.
— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) February 7, 2018
USofC’s hesitation to simply marshal more resources and support toward Sen. Sanders’ Medicare for All bill may be due to the longstanding ties Slavitt and the group’s board have to the for-profit healthcare industry. Before joining the Obama administration, Slavitt was an investment banker with Goldman Sachs and CEO of a healthcare company that was eventually bought out by UnitedHealth Group — the largest for-profit managed healthcare company in the United States ranking #6 on the Fortune 500. He joined General Atlantic — the sixth-largest private equity firm in the world — as an advisor in October of 2017.
However problematic Slavitt’s background may be for the universal healthcare movement, USofC’s Board of Directors is even more problematic. Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D), who sits on the board, is a longtime friend of the for-profit healthcare industry, having received more than $1.1 million in combined career contributions from health insurers, health professionals, hospitals, and the pharmaceutical industry.
Another prominent member of the USofC board is former U.S. Senator Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), who was once Majority Leader before his ouster in the 2006 midterm elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sen. Frist received more than $2 million in combined career contributions from the for-profit healthcare industry, including hospitals, health professionals, health insurers, and Big Pharma. USofC board member Jim Douglas — a former Republican Governor of Vermont — is also a friend of the industry, receiving more than $82,000 from insurers, drugmakers, hospitals, and health professionals.
Aside from its board, the group’s advisors also betray UsofC’s allegiances to preserving the for-profit model for delivering healthcare. The USofC’s Founder’s Council includes healthcare and hospital CEOs, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) — who has received more than $1.8 million throughout his senate career from the healthcare industry — and billionaire investor Mark Cuban.
In a July 2017 Twitter rant he has since deleted, Cuban outwardly declared “Single Payer [healthcare] is not the solution.” While Cuban admitted the U.S. model of private health insurers serving as a middleman between patients and healthcare wasn’t the answer, he stopped short of endorsing single-payer, which is the government paying for all essential healthcare costs with tax dollars. Cuban also noticeably did not endorse Sen. Sanders’ Medicare for All legislation.
With the 2018 midterm elections approaching, Americans have a right to know whether those running to keep their office or those who seek to replace view health as a commodity or a fundamental right. The jury is still out on whether or not USofC is ready to come out for one side or the other.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Grit Post’s requests for comment to USofC founder Andy Slavitt have not been returned as of this writing. This article will be updated in the event Slavitt responds.)
Carl Gibson is co-publisher of Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.