As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate Americans’ health, the deadly virus has also busted a gaping hole right through the 2020 Democratic Primary argument championed by Joe Biden (and Pete Buttigieg) about maintaining Americans’ ability to “choose” between their private, employer-based insurance and a government public option.
Months into the pandemic, the choice has been made for nearly 27 million Americans who’ve lost their employer-based insurance as a result of layoffs and furloughs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. When added with the estimated 27.5 million uninsured Americans pre-coronavirus, there’s currently nearly 55 million Americans without health insurance. This devastating number doesn’t take into account the tens of millions of underinsured Americans who can’t afford to pay the costs associated with the healthcare policies they are covered by.
And with that number almost certain to rise with more layoffs on the horizon, presumptive Democratic nominee Biden maintains his steadfast opposition to Medicare For All.
“There’s a thing called COBRA,” Biden answered an MSNBC viewer last week in response to whether he’s changed his view on Medicare For All as tens of millions lose their employer-based insurance.
"There's a thing called COBRA"
How about enrolling them into Medicare which has about 2-4% overhead cost versus private insurance which can have up to 20% overhead cost? pic.twitter.com/MIy9F9VBSk
— CaseStudyQB (@CaseStudyQB) May 15, 2020
Biden went on to echo Speaker Pelosi’s proposal for newly uninsured Americans to receive expanded Cobra benefits; an expensive private healthcare proposal that is “economic nonsense” when Medicare For All is the obvious, less expensive solution, California Congressman Ro Khanna tweeted.
The decision to extend Cobra benefits instead of providing the unemployed with Medicare or even ACA subsidies is economic nonsense. Cobra won’t cover those who work for businesses that go under. Cobra is 25% more expensive than Gold plans on the ACA and much more than Medicare.
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) May 12, 2020
As The American Prospect pointed out, the Cobra expansion proposed by Biden and Pelosi wouldn’t cover newly unemployed Americans who weren’t receiving health insurance through their employers. It also wouldn’t cover people’s deductibles, leaving the newly unemployed via the COVID-19 pandemic left with the choice between paying rent, or mortgage, or groceries…or high private healthcare deductibles.
Biden’s intransigence against proposing broader publicly-funded healthcare amid a deadly pandemic stripping tens of millions of their healthcare is a stark contrast to his views on healthcare over a decade ago. As Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski discovered, Biden expressed support for a Medicare For All type system in 2007.
“I think everyone should essentially be able to be from age 1 on essentially have the same kind of coverage you have in Medicare; it should be just universal across the board and we can afford to do it,” Biden said when he was running for president in 2007.
Why the change in tune? Follow the money, says former Cigna PR executive turned private healthcare whistleblower Wendell Potter.
“Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer know the health care special interests can plow millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates they favor or think they can influence,” Potter told Status Coup. “Because we have no real constraints on that spending, the special interests, as always, are contributing to candidates in both parties, and Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer and others who raise money for themselves and other Dems want to keep as much of it flowing to Dems as possible.”
Potter also stressed that Biden and other Democrats have been persuaded by the “propaganda campaign” of their top donors.
“Persuading politicians to believe that has been an ongoing propaganda campaign that started when I was still leading PR for Cigna,” he told Status Coup. “One of the reasons I quit was because I knew requiring patients to pay thousands of dollars out of their own pockets would be good for insurance companies and their shareholders but financially devastating for millions of Americans.”
A review of Biden’s top donors with major financial skin in the healthcare industry, and directly working in the healthcare industry, sheds light on his lack of movement toward bold universal healthcare proposals amid the pandemic.
Hedge fund titan Jim Simons, who heads Renaissance Technologies, poured in $3 million in March to pro-Biden Super Pac Unite the Country as the political and media establishment rallied around Biden against Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primary. Simmons also donated the maximum amount of $2,800 to Biden’s campaign committee while his company—through a combination of its corporate pac, individual employees and spouses— has donated nearly $2.3 million to Biden’s presidential efforts. Euclidian Capital, which manages and invests all of Simon’s money, donated $3 million through its corporate pac, individual employees and spouses. In 2016, Simons spent $11 million in support of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign.
Simons’ big-money support for Biden comes as his hedge fund recently increased its investments in three big healthcare stocks like big pharma giant Merck & Co. Needless to say, Simons and Wall Street-ers like him are not flooding Biden with cash in order for government to weaken—or eliminate—the private healthcare industry.
Beyond his healthcare ties, Biden’s campaign has accepted Simon’s support despite him being implicated in the 2017 Paradise Papers for sheltering nearly $8 billion in a private wealth fund in Bermuda—which does not tax profits or income. According to the Guardian, Simons evaded taxes dating back to the 1970s through the “Lord Jim Trust”—and over the last decade went to great lengths to conceal the details of his offshore money pit.
Simons is no stranger to Obama-Biden world; he donated $5 million to pro-Obama Priorities USA Super Pac in the leadup to Obama’s 2012 reelection. In 2014, Simons and wife Marilyn donated $340,000 to the Obama Foundation and were one of several top donors to attend a private dinner in 2015 with President Obama, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. A year later, Simons donated another $330,000 to the Obama Foundation.
Another healthcare heavyweight supporting Biden’s campaign and Super PACs is Joe Kiani, the chairman and CEO of medical technology company Masimo.
Kiani has donated over $1 million to Biden’s campaign and Super PAC, according to Revolving Door Project. In 2012, Kiani gave $35,800 to the Obama Victory Fund around the same time he and other industry leaders lobbied White House officials for the repeal of the 2.3 percent medical device sales tax that was part of Obamacare. Kiani’s lobbying paid off in early 2016, when the medical device tax was suspended by President Obama; a year after Obama suspended the medical device sales tax, Kiana donated between $500,000 and $750,000 to the Obama Foundation.
President Trump signed a permanent repeal of the medical device tax into law in 2019.
In addition to his donating over $1 million to Biden, Kiani is also one of his major bundlers. Since the Biden campaign has only released names of bundlers who’ve fundraised over $25,000 for the campaign, it’s not clear how much Kiani has raised for Biden’s campaign. But judging by history, Kiani is likely raising significant cash for Biden; he bundled $784,362 for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and at least $500,000 for Obama in 2012.
Kiani’s medical technology company has spread the love to Biden. In addition to Kiani’s donations and bundling, board chairman Craig Reynolds donated $27,800 to Biden’s campaign and Super PAC, according to Revolving Door Project. Other Masimo employees have donated a combined $88,600, according to FEC campaign finance data.
The Coronavirus pandemic has been great for Masimo’s stock price; according to Orange County Business Journal, Masimo’s stock has risen nearly 40% and recently reached an all-time high as its devices have been in heavy use at hospitals overrun by Coronavirus patients. The company is currently valued at around $11 billion.
On Biden’s campaign website, he lists no stated position on reinstating the medical device sales tax under his healthcare section.
Kiani’s support for Biden is no surprise to Potter.
“Campaign contributions also flow to Democrats as well as Republicans from drug and medical device manufacturers and big hospital systems, all of which wrote big chunks of the ACA,” Potter told Status Coup. “Those companies’ profits show that those contributions and lobbying expenses have had a high return on investment. The only reforms the health care industry supports are those that would increase the flow of taxpayer dollars into those companies.”
Blackstone, Wall Street’s private equity Goliath, has significant investments in the private healthcare industry, owning everything from healthcare staffing to billing companies. Blackstone is supporting Biden; executives John McCormick, who handles the hedge fund unit, and Verdun Perry, global head of strategic partners donated, donated $52,800 each to Biden’s campaign and Super PAC. Other Blackstone employees donated a combined $118,383 to Biden’s campaign, according to FEC data.
According to CNBC, Blackstone’s support for Biden comes as Blackstone Executive Vice Chairman Hamilton “Tony” James’ name has been tossed out as a potential Biden campaign adviser—or even a position in a potential Biden administration.
James is no stranger to Obama-Clinton world; in 2016, he held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton in his Manhattan home headlined by Warren Buffett. As The Intercept reported, he also poured in six-figure donation to the Democrat Party’s premier think thank Center for American Progress (and now sits on CAP’s Board of Trustees). James supported President Obama too, hosting a fundraiser at his home in 2012 which raised $2 million for Obama’s reelection effort. James’ support was rewarded with an offer to become Obama’s Commerce Secretary—which James reportedly turned down.
As a private equity behemoth, Blackstone would fiercely oppose any type of Medicare For All legislation; in fact, CEO and Chairman Stephen Schwarzman suggested his desired scenario is a world where Bernie Sanders didn’t exist. Blackstone acquired medical staffing company Team Health in 2016 for $6.1 billion; a year later, TeamHealth sent thousands of surprise medical bills to patients in order to obtain higher payments from insurers.
In 2019, Congress announced an investigation into Blackstone and two other firms for their roles in surprise medical billing scandals; in response, Blackstone and another firm waged an $28 million advertising campaign against potential legislation that would threaten its healthcare companies. Earlier this year, President Trump signaled a legislation push to rein in surprise medical billing like that of Blackstone, but with the COVID-19 pandemic occupying the entire federal government’s attention, legislation has gone nowhere.
From Wall Street to your dental cavity, Biden is scouring for cash. C. Mitchell Goldman, the CEO of dental support organization [DSO] Mid-Atlantic Dental Partners, donated $25,000 to Biden’s campaign and Super PAC., according to Revolving Door Project. DSO’s are dental delivery organizations that handle office administration and finances for dentists—a service that would largely go away under a Medicare For All system where dental insurance, like medical insurance, is free at the point of service.
According to his Linkedin page, Goldman was “actively involved in advising several United States Senators on key aspects” of Obamacare in the leadup to its passage. Goldman also is a nationally ranked nationally ranked health care transactional and reimbursement attorney—a practice that would also largely go away if a Medicare For All system ever went into place eliminating the complex private insurance reimbursement in favor of the government handling it.
Wall Street’s top most powerful law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, has been dubbed by the New York Times as “a go-to firm for Wall Street, representing corporations like Pfizer and DuPont in acquisitions and becoming the first law firm in history to broker $1 trillion in mergers in a year.” Needless to say, Skadden’s crown jewel big pharma client, Pfizer, stands at the head of the line hoisting pitchforks at the notion of Medicare For All.
John Bentivoglio, a partner with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, donated $12,800 to Biden’s campaign and Super PAC, according to Revolving Door Project. Bentivoglio has represented controversial pharmaceutical manufacturer Allergen, who pled guilty and was fined $600 million by the Department of Justice in 2010 for illegally promoting Botox as effective for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration. Years later, Allergen sparked controversy when it tried to shield its dry-eye drug patent by transferring it over to a Native American tribe. Other Skadden employees donated $33,672 to Biden’s campaign, according to FEC campaign finance data.
Biden has previously brushed elbows with partners at Skadden; in 2012, he was the headliner of a lavish fundraiser at the Hamptons home of Matthew Mallow, a former partner with Skadden. Tickets ranged from $500 to $10,000. And in January of this year, Biden held a fundraiser in Manhattan co-hosted by Skadden counsel Mark Kaplan and former Skadden lawyer Joe Asher, RealSludge reported.
By all signals, the propaganda fed to Biden from his top donors—and of course, their cash—will continue to dictate Biden’s proposals on healthcare, Potter concluded.
Biden knows the “entrenched special interests will be more motivated to spend enormous sums of money against any Democrat who embraces MFA,” Potter said. “Biden and other Dems frankly have been more influenced by industry talking points than we would like to believe.”