John Edwards' Money and His Health Plan

By David Swanson

John Edwards has reported $29.5 million in personal assets to the FEC, of which his aides have told the Wall Street Journal $16.1 million is invested in Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund that invests in Humana, the health insurance company that comes in for sharp criticism in Michael Moore’s blockbuster movie “Sicko.”

Edwards does not just invest in Fortress. It also invests in him, to the tune of $1.7 million in pay and investment income, including $479,512 in salary for a year of “part-time consulting” that began in October 2005. And then there are the campaign contributions. According to the Associated Press:

“Fortress was the single biggest employer of Edwards donors during the first three months of the year. Donors who listed ‘Fortress’ as their employer contributed $67,450 to Edwards’ campaign and supporters who identified their employer as ‘Fortress Investment Group’ gave $55,200 to the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.

“While he resigned as an adviser to Fortress once he decided to run for president,” reports the New York Times, Edwards “still has between $11 million and $24 million of his personal wealth invested in Fortress. This represents the bulk of his financial assets. In addition, employees of Fortress are also leading contributors to Mr. Edwards campaign.”

Why did Edwards choose to do whatever it is he did for the half-million dollar salary? He told the Associated Press that he “worked for a hedge fund between presidential campaigns to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty.”

Why did Fortress choose to employ John Edwards? Were his skills as a student that valuable?

The Nation magazine provides a little background on Humana:

“Before 2003 Humana, a regional company peddling health insurance, including HMOs, was hardly a household name. One of its policies had been a big money loser, and the company was struggling to dig its way out of a financial hole. Vice president Steve Brueckner called the MMA [Medicare Modernization Act] ‘an unprecedented opportunity to establish relationships,’ and his company made the most of it. Humana gained 4 million new policyholders and reported to stockholders in April that it had amassed ‘record breaking revenues.’ What’s more, Humana has become a national brand poised to sell policies in the non-Medicare market, where people will increasingly be forced to buy their own health coverage, especially if an ‘individual mandate’ becomes a solution for the country’s healthcare woes.”

John Edwards’ health plan would “require all American residents to get insurance” from private companies.

In “Sicko,” Dr. Linda Peeno appears testifying before Congress that, when working for Humana, she made a decision to deny a Humana member treatment for a heart transplant, a decision that cost the patient his life but saved the company $500,000. Peeno says she was not punished, but rather rewarded, for such conduct. The money she saved the company was approximately the same amount paid to Edwards as salary.

Moore reported on Humana’s policies at length in this video, which predates “Sicko”. Watching it is one way to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty.

At Thursday’s NAACP-hosted Democratic presidential candidates debate, Congressman Dennis Kucinich challenged Edwards on the issue of health care. Kucinich supports a not-for-profit single-payer system of health coverage. The benefits of such a system, which is used by most wealthy nations in the world, are highlighted in “Sicko.”

The Associated Press reported an interesting exchange immediately following the debate:

“After the forum, Fox News microphones picked up Clinton and Edwards discussing their desire to limit future joint appearances to exclude some rivals lower in the crowded field. ‘We should try to have a more serious and a smaller group,’ Edwards said. Clinton agreed. ‘We’ve got to cut the number. … They’re not serious,’ she said, then thanked Obama and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich as they walked by. Turning back to Edwards, she added that she thought their campaigns had already tried to limit the debates and ‘we’ve gotta get back to it.'”

Watch this video of the exchange between Edwards and Clinton. Watching this may be yet another way to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty.

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