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Will Obama Embrace Global Health Care Taxes?

September 22, 2008

A prominent supporter of Barack Obama, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, and Gail Wilensky, a health care adviser to John McCain, were members of a high-level United Nations panel that recently issued a report endorsing higher domestic taxes and even global taxes to finance a dramatic expansion of government-run health care coverage.   

The report of the World Health Organization's Commission on Social Determinants of Health  called for "special health taxes and global tax options" to deal with gaps and problems in health care coverage around the globe. The WHO report cited "a strong argument in favor of the development of a system of global taxation" and said that an international tax on airline tickets for the purpose of fighting HIV/AIDS, which is already being implemented by some countries, was a good start.

The report, entitled, "Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health," also urged "effective taxation of transnational corporations" and the possibility of an International Tax Organization to collect revenue.

In comments posted on the commission's website, neither Satcher nor Wilensky disputed any of the report's calls for international tax increases.

Wilensky, however, is now backing away from the report. "I endorsed the overall goals of the Commission and most (but not all) of the highest level recommendations," she told AIM. "I do not and did not endorse many of the specific proposals but did not feel it was necessary to write a specific dissent although I could have done so. I do not favor any specific global taxes."

Wilensky, who served as Administrator of the federal Health Care Financing Administration and also advised the Bush Administration on health care issues, added, "Each of us were on the WHO Commission as individuals who have held or were holding policy positions within our respective governments but not as representatives of our governments or a particular political candidate."

Satcher has not yet responded to requests for additional comments on the WHO commission report.

But Philip Stevens of the free market-oriented International Policy Network said, "The comrades in the old USSR would have loved this manifesto."

One member of the commission, Yan Guo, Vice-Director of the Communist Chinese  Academy of Health Policy, said of the commission report, "Let's join our hands in this grand course!"

In terms of national policies, the commission "advocates financing the health-care system through general taxation and/or mandatory universal insurance" and declares "The evidence is compellingly in favor of a publicly funded health-care system."

But Americans should not be taxed to pay for their own health care, let alonge be taxed to pay for health care for the rest of the world.

On the global level, the report said that a "tax on foreign currency transactions," which could affect the value of Americans' mutual funds and pension plans, could not only "reduce financial instability" but become "one among many potential sources of revenue for financing health systems in low- and middle-income countries..." It said such a tax, even at a "very low rate" of .02 percent, would generate between $17-35 billion a year.

The Commission on Social Determinants of Health, which was launched in March 2005, is widely viewed as a U.N. effort to influence the debate over health care in the U.S. The involvement of David Satcher, a major supporter of the Democratic Party, and Wilensky a Republican donor, gave the report the appearance of bipartisanship in terms of its impact on the U.S. political system. 

One major recommendation, covered by the media when its final report was issued on August 28, was that all nations should offer universal health care coverage paid for with "stronger progressive taxation." 

Commission chairman Michael Marmot, head of the epidemiology and public health department at University College London, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying that "Virtually all advanced countries have universal health care systems but we don't think that should be limited to high-income countries." The story did not mention that the report urged global taxes to accomplish this goal.

"Tackle the Inequitable Distribution of Power, Money and Resources" is one of the major socialist recommendations of the commission. To achieve this requires "collective action" and the involvement of "global institutions," it proclaimed.

The U.S. Government is the single largest donor to the WHO, having contributed $101 million in fiscal year 2008. The Bush Administration has requested an increase to $106 million in fiscal year 2009. 

The WHO has long promoted centralized government-sponsored and financed health care, writes Twila Brase, in an article on the website of the Foundation for Economic Education. WHO has also been engaged in "furthering redistribution of American dollars around the globe," she says.

Brase, a public health nurse and president of the Citizens' Council on Health Care, maintains that the result of such schemes is more government control of health care and the eventual rationing of services and treatments to selected groups and individuals. 

Wilensky's decision not to file a dissent to the WHO report has meant that the controversial recommendations of the commission have been portrayed in the U.S. and foreign media as justification for more government involvement at all levels in health care.

"If you won't file a dissent," Brase told AIM, "that means you agree with the report."

Now a senior fellow at Project Hope, an international health education foundation, Wilensky supported former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's presidential campaign but is now identified as "adviser" to the McCain campaign on health care issues and "a contributor to the McCain Healthcare Plan."

The McCain plan purports to offer "guaranteed access" to all Americans through an arrangement with the states. It also proposes tax credits of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to choose their own health plan. But his plan has been strongly criticized for undermining employer-based coverage by eliminating a tax break that employees receive if their employer provides their health care.

In regard to so-called "health disparities" among people of different races and nationalities, which were a major focus of the WHO commission and its report, the Obama campaign website has already picked up this theme. "Obama and Biden will tackle the root causes of health disparities by addressing differences in access to health coverage and promoting prevention and public health, both of which play a major role in addressing disparities," it says.

Brase says the term "health disparities" is being used to promote health care as a civil right that requires more government intervention.

In this context, it is significant that, on June 7, 2007, Obama joined liberal Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy in introducing a "Bill to Eliminate Health Care Disparities," which would authorize nearly $500 million to "improve health care for racial and ethnic minorities." Justifying the legislation, the Obama Senate office said that, "Racial and ethnic minorities make up approximately one third of the U.S. population but disproportionately comprise 52 percent of the uninsured and suffer from illness and death at a greater rate than Caucasians."

The House version of the Obama bill is sponsored by Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Interestingly, WHO commission member Satcher has been director of the federally-funded Center for Excellence on Health Disparities since 2002. It is funded by the National Center for Minority and Health Disparities, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While he is not identified as being officially involved in the Obama campaign, he has contributed thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party and its candidates, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.   The records show $2,300 to Obama, $1,500 to Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., and $2,000 to the Democratic National Committee.

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Copyright ©2008 Cliff Kincaid

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