Deregulation of “mid-sized” banks in 2018 and 2019, along with failures of banking oversight by the Federal Reserve, led to the collapse of three banks in the last ten days. The Chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, bears significant responsibility for the conditions that allowed these bank failures to occur.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

The collapse of three banks in the last weeks has been widely reported. What hasn’t been nearly as widely reported are the factors that led to these failures. Greed and mismanagement by the banks’ executives caused their collapses, of course. However, this wouldn’t have happened without deregulation and failures of oversight by bank regulators (primarily the Federal Reserve). Deregulation in banking and other industries over the last 40 years has not lived up to its promises of greater efficiencies and better products and prices for consumers. Moreover, in many cases, it has harmed employees, customers, and taxpayers. (See this previous post for more details on the failures of deregulation.)

This banking system crisis is a somewhat surprising repeat (on a smaller scale) of the banking crisis in 2008, although it was predictable in some experts’ eyes. Again, as in 2008, fifteen short years ago, the banks and wealthy depositors are being bailed out by the federal government.

After the 2008 debacle, the Dodd-Frank Act was passed in 2010 to enhance bank regulation and (hopefully) prevent a recurrence. However, Dodd-Frank wasn’t as strong as many experts would have liked and efforts to weaken it further began immediately. These efforts were led by the banks and Wall St. financial corporations, with support from most Republicans and some Democrats – and some of the federal banking regulators. The efforts included a focus on weakening and delaying the implementation of the regulations required by Dodd-Frank.

In 2018, the Trump administration and the Republicans in control of Congress (with some Democratic support), passed a law significantly reducing banking regulation, primarily for “mid-sized” banks (i.e., ones with assets between $50 billion and $250 billion). The three banks that collapsed recently are in this group.

The Chair of the Federal Reserve (the Fed), Jerome Powell, lobbied for the 2018 deregulation law, despite the fact that the Fed is the primary regulator of these banks. He is a former investment banker and was nominated to the post by President Trump. Many supporters of strong banking regulation were dismayed when President Biden renominated him in 2021.

The collapse of these three banks is due in part to the failure of the Fed’s oversight (what’s referred to in the business as “supervision”). Banking experts, investors, rating agencies, and even some in the media had identified risks at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) that the Fed seems to have missed or ignored. SVB was the first of the three banks to collapse and is the 2nd biggest bank failure in U.S. history. (There would have been other bigger ones in 2008 if the government hadn’t stepped in to rescue them.) SVB had grown rapidly, had deposits largely from one industry and from companies that were inter-related, had significant individual deposits over the insurance limit of $250,000, and had invested lots of its cash in long-term investments that heightened risk if interest rates went up or depositors wanted money back on short notice. All of these factors are flags that should have drawn the attention of the Fed long before SVB’s collapse. Senator Warren (D-MA) and other banking watchdogs have called the collapse of these three banks a glaring failure of oversight by the Fed.

The federal government released a statement on Sunday, March 12, to reassure the public about safety and security of the country’s banking system and their bank deposits. Fed Chair Powell delayed the release of the statement with his insistence that the statement not mention the failures of the Fed in overseeing SVB and other banks. [1]

On March 15, Senator Warren sent a scathing 10-page letter to Fed Chair Powell detailing his and the Fed’s role in aiding and abetting the collapse of these banks. She wrote to Powell that these banks collapsed “under faulty supervision and in a weakened regulatory environment that you helped create.” She noted that Powell had “led and vigorously supported efforts to weaken the regulations” for these banks. In 2018, Powell, as Fed Chair, supported the passage of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (EGRRCP), which rolled back some provisions of the Dodd-Frank law, dramatically weakening regulation of banks, particularly those with $50 billion to $250 billion in assets. At that time, a Wall Street Journal editorial warned that the bill would make the financial system more vulnerable and a Bloomberg editorial warned that the bill chipped away at the bedrock of financial resilience. Powell supported it anyway.

Furthermore, in 2019, Powell took additional deregulatory steps that weakened or eliminated guardrails that would have applied to SVB. As he was doing so, a federal Reserve Board member warned that safeguards at the core of the system were being weakened. A Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Board member objected to Powell’s deregulatory steps, warning at the time that they significantly underestimated the risks of banks SVB’s size, noting that banks of this size experienced significant stress in the 2008 debacle and would have collapsed without government bailouts.

Just three days before the SVB collapse, when asked by Senate Republicans if he would continue to weaken banking regulation, Powell replied, “Yes, I can easily commit to that.” Ironically, Powell’s strong and persistent push to raise interest rates causes the value of long-term bonds to fall. SVB and other banks holding long-term bonds therefore would see the value of their investments fall which would threaten their ability to sell them to deliver cash to depositors. This was a key factor in the collapse of SVB and, although Powell’s actions at the Fed precipitated it, he and the Fed apparently did not anticipate their negative effects on banks.

Senator Warren’s letter concludes by noting that Powell contributed to the bank failures in three ways:

  • Powell actively supported legislation that weakened the Dodd-Frank law,
  • Powell implemented regulations that further weakened bank regulation, and
  • Powell failed to ensure that the oversight of the Fed was effective in preventing the banks’ collapses.

Warren’s letter states that Powell should recuse himself from the internal review the Fed has announced into the oversight and regulation of SVB, given his direct involvement in and responsibility for the chain of events that led to the bank’s collapse.

As-of March 17, a week after SVB’s collapse, it and other banks that have collapsed or are at-risk have borrowed a total of $165 billion from the Fed to bail them out. The U.S. Treasury and the FDIC have committed to protect all depositors at the failed banks, bailing out the start-up companies and their venture capital funders, particularly the ones that had over $250,000 on deposit at a bank that collapsed.

My next post will provide a few more details about the collapse of these three banks and will discuss efforts to prevent this from happening again.

[1]      Johnson, J., 3/17/23, “‘An abomination’: Powell cut mention of regulatory failures from bank bailout statement,” Common Dreams (



The takeaways from this post are:

  • President Biden has proposed Medicare changes as part of his proposed budget that would keep it funded for 25 years, however, Republicans in Congress are not likely to pass them.
  • Partial privatization of Medicare through the Medicare Advantage and ACO REACH programs undermines quality and increases costs.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

There are three pieces of good news on the Medicare front. First, President Biden’s budget for the next fiscal year (starting 10/1/23) includes increased funding and decreased costs for Medicare that would mean it is fully funded for the next 25 years. The increased funding comes from raising the Medicare tax on people with incomes over $400,000, based on both earned and unearned income (such as capital gains). The decreased costs come from significantly expanding Medicare’s ability to negotiate what it pays pharmaceutical companies for drugs. [1] The bad news is that Republicans in the House are not likely to pass this. The other bad news is that Biden didn’t propose strengthening Medicare by adding coverage for vision, hearing, and/or dental services.

Second, there’s some good news on reining in the privatization of Medicare. The Biden administration is increasing the auditing of the private Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. (As you may well know, Medicare pays a private insurer for seniors’ care when they enroll in a MA plan. Private insurers were allowed to offer these plans because they promised to deliver better care for less money. The result has been the reverse: worse care for more money.) Because of documented and systematic overbilling of Medicare by many of these private MA insurers, Medicare projects that these audits will save $470 million per year. (See this previous post for more details on overbilling by MA insurers.) [2] Nearly every large insurer offering a MA plan has been sued by the Justice Department for overbilling Medicare. [3]

Third, the Biden administration is proposing tougher rules governing Medicare Advantage plans to counter widespread inappropriate denial of coverage for seniors’ health care and deceptive marketing. The new rules would require quick action on authorizations (or denials) of coverage for health care services and require an authorization to cover the full course of treatment, rather than requiring reauthorization for each step or individual treatment.

An inspector general’s investigation found that one out of every seven denials of payment by a Medicare Advantage insurer was inappropriate. It estimated that tens of thousands of MA enrollees have been inappropriately denied medically necessary care. Health care providers report increasingly frequent denials of payment by MA insurers for care routinely covered by traditional, government-run Medicare. In 2022, the number of appeals patients filed contesting Medicare Advantage denials was almost 150,000, up 58% from 2020. On many occasions denials are overturned when appealed; for example, most denials of coverage of skilled nursing care are eventually overturned. However, the denial and appeal process can take over two years. It is not unusual for patients to use their life savings to pay for denied coverage before recovering thousands of dollars months or years later. It is also not unusual for patients to die before their appeals are decided. [4]

Insurers’ marketing of Medicare Advantage plans often confuses consumers (intentionally?) about the fact that MA plans are private, for-profit plans as opposed to traditional government-run Medicare. The new rules would ban the private insurers from using the Medicare logo and name in ads, while requiring them to identify the insurance company operating the MA plan. The rules would also hold the insurers responsible for the actions of third parties doing marketing for them, such as aggressive, unsolicited phone calls. This third-party marketing is often done on a commission basis, so there is great pressure to sell the MA plan.

Medicare Advantage plans are very profitable for the private insurers. They charge Medicare more per enrollee than traditional, government run Medicare costs, despite the fact that their advertising attracts healthier-than-average seniors. They use prior authorization and in-network provider requirements to limit and deny payments for care. Their in-network provider and geographic area limitations mean that enrollees may find that when they’re traveling or on vacation they have no health insurance coverage. [5] Furthermore, in numerous cases, MA networks do not include the best quality care options, such as the best cancer centers and specialists. It is estimated that roughly 10,000 lives per year would be saved if Medicare terminated the 5% of MA plans with the worst rankings. [6]

The bad news on the Medicare privatization front is that a new and more insidious privatization scheme is continuing, albeit with a new name as-of Jan. 1, 2023. The Direct Contracting program initiated by the Trump administration has been renamed ACO REACH by the Biden administration. It allows private companies to manage the care of seniors enrolled in traditional government-run Medicare. Medicare enrollees may be put into these plans without their knowledge or consent based on where they live. The sliver of good news is that new criteria for companies’ participation have eliminated some companies with histories of fraud and abuse with Medicare. However, over a dozen members of Congress have sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS, the agency running Medicare) asking for investigations into nine companies allowed to participate in ACO REACH that have documented cases of defrauding Medicare or other government health programs. [7]

The Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) has sent a series of letters to CMS highlighting problems with ACO REACH and calling for its termination. Its latest letter identifies four insurers in ACO REACH that have a history of involvement in health care fraud or other malfeasance (Centene, Sutter Health, Clover Health, and Bright Health). It took only a small investigation by PNHP to identify them. [8]

Overall, the seven largest for-profit health insurers in the U.S. are making a fortune in profits from Medicare and other government health programs, notably Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act which both provide subsidized health insurance for low-income people. For three of the seven, Centene, Humana, and Molina, roughly 90% of their health insurance revenues come from government programs. For all seven (the previous three plus Cigna, CVS/Aetna, Elevance, and UnitedHealth), their 2022 government-program revenues were $577 billion, up from $116 billion in 2012. These seven companies have more than 70% of the Medicare Advantage market, with MA plans generally being their most profitable products. Therefore, they aggressively market their MA plans and have grown them substantially so that now 31 million seniors, almost half of the Medicare-eligible population, have signed up for them. Because the private MA plans’ billings for care are more expensive per enrollee than traditional Medicare, Medicare would realize substantial savings if the MA program was eliminated. [9]

In conclusion, any privatization of Medicare, such as through the Medicare Advantage and ACO REACH programs, (as well as privatization of other government health programs) does NOT save money. It adds costs for private middlemen and their profits, advertising, and administrative costs. Moreover, there are additional costs for government oversight: creating rules and regulations to govern the private entities, monitoring their performance, enforcing the almost certain violations of the rules and regulations, and investigating and stopping efforts to game the system to increase profits. The efficiency and quality of Medicare would be best served by ending privatization, i.e., by eliminating the ACO REACH and MA programs.

I urge you to contact President Biden and your U.S. Representative and Senators and to ask them to stop the privatization of Medicare. Specifically, ask them to eliminate the new ACO REACH program and to rein in Medicare Advantage plans. You can email President Biden at or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414. You can find contact information for your US Representative at and for your US Senators at

[1]      Biden, President J., 3/7/23, “My plan to extend Medicare for another generation,” New York Times (

[2]      Kuttner, R., 2/1/23, “Can Medicare Advantage be contained,” The American Prospect (

[3]      Abelson, R., & Sanger-Katz, M., 12/18/22, “US officials seek curbs on private Medicare Advantage plans,” The Boston Globe

[4]      Ross, C., & Herman, B., 3/14/23, “Denial of care often blamed on insurers’ AI,” The Boston Globe

[5]      Cyrus, R., 2/27/23, “Private health care companies are eating the American economy,” The American Prospect (

[6]      Archer, D., 6/2/22, “Inspector General, AMA and AHA agree: Some Medicare Advantage plans are endangering their enrollees’ lives,” Common Dreams (

[7]      Jayapal, Representative P., 1/19/23, “Jayapal applauds exit of bad actors from ACO Reach program, calls for greater accountability,” (

[8]      Physicians for a National Health Program, 1/17/23, “Letter to US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra and CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure,” (

[9]      Johnson, J., 2/28/23, “Report shows big insurance profiting massively from Medicare privatization,” Common Dreams (


The key takeaways from this post are:

  • The Biden administration is taking strong actions to rein in monopolistic corporations and reinvigorate competition in our economy.
  • Some members of Congress are pushing to revitalize antitrust enforcement.
  • Results are already evident and will benefit workers, consumers, the public, and democracy.

(Note: If you find my posts too much to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making.)

Corporations and other business interests spend billions of dollars each year on election campaigns and lobbying. (See this previous post for details of their spending.) This spending is an investment in influencing public policies and the enforcement of them that provides benefits that are much, much greater than what the business interests spend. (See this previous post for more details on the benefits they get.)

The good news is that the Biden Administration and some members of Congress are working to turn the tide on monopolistic corporate power. In 2022, Congress passed the first significant update to antitrust laws in 50 years. It includes a new merger fee that will be used to fund the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) antitrust enforcement efforts, as well as to support states’ attorneys general in enforcing antitrust laws at the state level. [1]

Senator Warren (D-MA) is introducing the Prohibiting Anticompetitive Mergers Act in Congress, which would set clearer rules for what makes a merger illegal and create a streamlined process for breaking up monopolistic corporations. There are also three bills with bipartisan support that would rein in some of the monopolistic practices of the Big Tech companies, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook. Bills to further update antitrust laws, make meat processing more competitive, and increase competition in defense contracting are also being introduced in Congress.

On July 9, 2021, President Biden signed a sweeping Executive Order. It included 72 separate actions all focused on reinvigorating competition in the U.S. economy and pushing back against monopolistic corporate behavior. He described it as being “about capitalism working for people” and noted that “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.” [2]

Seventeen federal agencies were specifically named in the Executive Order and even ones that weren’t responded with explanations of what they would do to foster competition in the economy. Key Biden appointees leading the revitalization of competition are Lina Kahn, chair of the Federal Trade Commission and Jonathan Kanter, head of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. A new White House competition council was created, led by the National Economic Council, to monitor implementation of the executive order, including complementary legislative and administrative efforts.

Results are already evident. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has promulgated new definitions of unfair or deceptive acts and practices. And it’s taking action based on them. It has proposed a ban on non-compete clauses in employment contracts, which depress wages and limit workers’ career advancement. At least one-third of U.S. companies require non-compete clauses, including for fast food workers, dog groomers, and custodians. The FTC has also filed a lawsuit to force Meta (parent of Facebook) to spin off Instagram and WhatsApp. It has sued Meta over its acquisition of the virtual reality company, Within. Last February, Lockheed Martin dropped its proposed merger with Aerojet in the face of an FTC lawsuit. The FTC is working to restore consumers’ right to repair equipment they have purchased, from cell phones to farm tractors. There’s also new scrutiny of bank mergers, pricing practices in the pharmaceutical industry, anti-competitive practices by the giant railroad corporations, price fixing in ocean shipping, abusive use of patents to restrict markets and jack up prices, and junk fees in banking, credit cards, airlines and elsewhere.

For example, according to research by the Center for Responsible Lending, TD Bank charges U.S. customers more than $100 a day for overdrafts by levying a $35 fee three times in a day. These are junk fees that bear no relationship to actual costs; they are opportunistic price gouging. In Canada, where these practices are regulated, TD and other banks may charge overdraft fees only once a day of no more than five Canadian dollars (about $3.50 in USD). This is one reason TD Bank’s proposed merger with Memphis-based First Horizon Bank, a $13.4 billion deal, should be blocked. [3]

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and FTC are rewriting merger guidelines to strengthen antitrust enforcement. The DOJ has already begun a number of antitrust enforcement actions. One would require Google to separate its online advertising business from its search engine business. The DOJ has successfully blocked the merger of publishing houses Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House. It has filed suit against three giant poultry processors who are alleged to have colluded to deny workers $85 million in pay and benefits.

The DOJ is also investigating the Live Nation – Ticketmaster merger. This is an all-too-frequent example of a merger that was allowed with conditions, but where the merged entity has not complied with the conditions. Live Nation and Ticketmaster promised that after their merger they would not block events from taking place at venues that did business with their competitors. It now appears that Live Nation – Ticketmaster have done just that. In many cases in the past, there has been no enforcement when merger conditions were violated. Hopefully, this is changing. Furthermore, Senator Warren (D-MA) argues that a merger that requires conditions simply shouldn’t be approved. If it’s illegal, then it’s illegal and authorities should just say, “No.” The government shouldn’t be put in the position of having to spend time and money monitoring compliance with merger conditions and then having to go through a typically long and costly process to enforce them when violations occur. [4]

Several federal agencies, not just the FTC and DOJ, have the power to block anticompetitive mergers in their areas of jurisdiction. The Department of Transportation can stop anticompetitive mergers and practices by airlines and other transportation corporations and banking regulators can do so for banks. The Department of Agriculture can regulate mergers and practices of food processors and can protect farmers and ranchers from exploitation by monopolistic agribusinesses. The Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is investigating monopolistic consolidation among beer makers and also the distributors of alcoholic beverages.

In 2017, Congress passed bipartisan legislation allowing the purchase of hearing aids without a prescription. The requirement for a prescription had allowed a small cartel to control the market and jack up prices by thousands of dollars. As a result, less than one-fifth of the Americans who would have benefitted from a hearing aid got one. The Trump administration failed to implement the law. Biden’s executive order gave the Food and Drug Administration 120 days to implement it. People are now able to buy hearing aids for thousands of dollars less than before.

It’s past time to take on corporate power in America and return power to workers, consumers, and the public, i.e., to rebuild democracy. The Biden administration has made a good start at doing so. Partially as a result of its efforts, merger and acquisition activity in the last half of 2022 slowed sharply. (See this post for more on ways to take on corporate power and rebuild democracy.)

Competition is essential to the vitality of our economy – and of our democracy. A shift seems to be taking place in government and public consciousness about what it means to be a democracy, both politically and economically. Taking back our democracy requires regulating capitalism so it serves multiple stakeholders and the public good, not just wealthy shareholders and executives.

I urge you to contact President Biden and thank him for his efforts to reinvigorate competition in our economy and democracy in our society. You can email President Biden at or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414.

I also urge you to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators to ask them to support efforts to strengthen antitrust laws and rein in monopolistic behavior by big tech, meat processors, defense contractors, and others. You can find contact information for your US Representative at and for your US Senators at

[1]      Warren, Senator E., 2/15/23, “Keynote speech at the Renewing the Democratic Republic Conference,” Open Markets Institute (

[2]      Dayen, D., 1/25/23, “A pitched battle on corporate power,” The American Prospect (

[3]      Kuttner, R., 3/3/23, “Excessive bank overdraft charges demand regulation,” The American Prospect blog (

[4]      Warren, Senator E., 2/15/23, see above