Out of the Park?

October 25th, 2009 by Gid

My partner received a note from an acquaintance who works for a hospital, encouraging him to view a video of Mike Rogers’ arguments against health care reform. In her view, his comments “hit it out of the park.” My partner asked me to write an opposing point of view for him to share with her. He read it, found it too “snarky,” and asked me to “tone it down” for the benefit of a Repugnican point of view. The idea immediately put me in mind of the White House pandering to Olympia Snowe — a situation I view with disgust. If I viewed it as a teacher gearing a lesson toward the students, it became more palatable.

In Mike Rogers’ last campaign in 2008, this is what some of his campaign funding looked like:
Pharma/Hlth Products $117,500
Hlth Professionals $96,200
Insurance $70,900

Why would such companies give him all that money? Do they really like Mike, or might they expect something in return? In the last election, I didn’t give Mike any money at all. Would he be disposed to act in my best interests in the legislative process knowing I will be no help in getting him reelected, or to act in the best interests of his contributors?

Mike states that health care reform, and the public option in particular, are against the principles of America, but one principle of the American marketplace is competition. Since the MacClaren-Ferguson act, the health insurance companies have been free of that particular constraint, and therefore free to create a cartel: a syndicate formed to regulate prices and output in some field of business. My own premiums have increased by 55% in the last 3 years alone. If health reform passes with a personal mandate as included in the bill by Senator Baucus (who, btw, got well over 1.5 million from health care concerns in his last campaign), that will guarantee millions more in premiums for the health insurers. This bill would ban exclusion, while allowing no competition. But when it seemed that the public option was gaining popularity last week, the insurance industry’s lobbyists reported that if any type of reform were passed, they would increase premiums by 111% in the coming years.

There is no basis in fact for any claim that a public option would take care away from anyone. The only thing purported to be cut is wasteful spending. If my cardiologist orders a CBC one week and my endocrinologist wants one the following week, I’d rather save my blood (and a few hundred dollars worth of wasteful spending) and tell him to call the other doctor and get the info from him. I want them to collaborate with each other anyhow. Health care being withheld as a result of a government run public option is a rumor created to scare people into defeating the public option. In fact, health care being taken away and disenrollment of policy holders has been part of the status quo of the private healthcare giants.

It’s common sense that the less money one pays out, the more money one has; therefore private insurers do everything possible to legally refuse coverage or reimbursement, and cancel policies they consider risky. CIGNA denied a liver transplant to a young woman, now dead. A healthy baby’s coverage was cancelled because he was too fat. Guardian insurance cancelled the policies of many Muscular Dystrophy patients, because one man’s annual care was in excess of $1 million. In a worst case scenario, where all the myths and misconceptions spread by spin-doctors were true, a government run system could not be worse than the treatment we now receive at the hands of the private insurers.

Mike argues against government run health care, though we already have it in the medicare and VA systems, in which the care is so good that well over 150 eligible congressment get their own health care through those systems. Furthermore, the other representatives have a health care bloc at their disposal, through which they can pick and choose their coverage from a number of companies to obtain competitive prices. It seems somewhat hypocritical that the people we elect can do this while denying that privilege from those who elected them. Mike warned that a government run health plan could determine which doctor you visit. My insurance carrier is UHC, and they do the same thing. They frequently make deals with different providers, laboratories, and hospitals, and tell me I must either see a different provider or pay steep deductibles. How would this be worse if a government run system did the same thing?

The public option offers competitive pricing and precludes price gouging, and if I can get good quality health care without paying an extra 25% to 30% for a company’s administrative costs, exorbitant executive salaries and high profit margins, I will go with a plan that’s easier on my wallet. The private insurers have become quite used to their high income — theirs is one of the few markets that showed billions in profit while most others saw the bottom fall out when the recession began. Equally comfortable are the many representatives who receive millions from private health enterprises on a yearly basis. Equally comfortable are the lobbyists who earn billions — the private insurers at the height of the campaigning this summer, were spending upwards of $1.5 million every single day to stop any reform.

On a good day, a Repugnican will admit that health care reform is necessary, but they will insist upon letting the private sector fix the problem to preclude government involvement. As this method has achieved no progress in the last 40 years — why should the private sector fix something which has made them obscenely wealthy? — I think it’s time for more affirmative measures.

The Race Is On

October 15th, 2009 by Gid

Though Obama certainly exhibits more intelligence and savoir faire than his predecessor, he experienced what seemed to be an acute attack of cranial-rectal inversion vis-à-vis the Repugnican Party. He campaigned with an intention to foster bipartisanship; considering that the GOP gaggle includes a host of antediluvian, racist throwbacks, this was a very shrewd move. Repugnicans praised his intentions right up until his election. Within minutes, however, they showed their true red roots: RWNJs must have been in labor with the Birther Movement before the Democratic landslide was declared. Five minutes after the inauguration, it was denounced as invalid because the oath was misread. The tea-baggers came along with cries of socialism, fascism, and czarist tactics, and noises of secession were made. Not only did the Repugnican leadership (talis qualis) fail to censure such behavior, they encouraged it. The term “Party of No” was born, and yet Obama stubbornly reached for the bipartisan meringue pie in the sky.

Many say the president shot himself in the foot with regard to health care reform in an effort to eat that unattainable pie. With a clear majority of Democrats we voted into office to facilitate the changes touted by the Obama campaign, it would have made sense to present a health care reform bill to the House with twice as much as he wanted in the final product, knowing that half would disappear in the negotiations. Instead, precious time was wasted and momentum lost in the name of bipartisanship. Baucus was allowed to present a bill for “reform,” which excludes competition via a public option and guarantees billions more for a greedy industry via personal mandates and federal subsidies. This was done in hopes that the industry would relent and lower their premiums to a reasonable level, yet as soon as the bill passed the Finance Committee, health insurance representatives promised to increase premiums by more than 100% in the coming years.

While all this unfolded, Olympia Snowe was cultivated and brown-nosed as the one Repugnican who might vote for an extremely diluted version of what once might have led to health care reform. The only way she’d endorse a public option is if it’s so heavily triggered that it could never be realized, thus safeguarding the health insurance cartel from meaningful competition. She was, in my opinion, given far more significance than was ever deserved. Though she voted for the Baucus bill, she made it clear that this does not mean endorsing reform once the bill hits the floor. Her yes vote could be little more than a ploy to remain involved in the discussion over health care reform, rather then being pushed aside along with the rest of the Party of No while the Democrats do what is necessary, hobbled though they be by the Blue Dogs – another name for a Repugnican masquerading as a Democrat. It may be that she was worried about disregarding the will of 75% of her constituency who want meaningful health care reform with a robust public option.

Meanwhile, abuses of the public under the status quo continue unabated. While the senate placidly debated the issues last week, a CIGNA employee gestured “F*** you,” to a mother who came to their offices to complain. Her daughter had died because that company denied her a transplant. While the senate placidly debated, a healthy baby’s coverage was cancelled because he was too fat. While the senate placidly debated, Guardian insurance cancelled the policies of many Muscular Dystrophy patients, because one man’s annual care was in excess of $1 million – a bare fraction of what that company’s CEO made as a bonus last year – and canceling only that one man’s policy would have been blatantly illegal. While the senate placidly debated, another week passed and another 865 people died for lack of health insurance. 2993 Americans were killed on 9/11/01, and the government has since spent over $920 billion on unfounded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 45,000 Americans died last year because of skyrocketing medical costs, and the government has done nothing.  This must be somewhat akin to the theory of New Math; the number of casualties isn’t as important as the method of the killing.

And why does the US so blithely trot off to spurious wars even as it ranks among the worst nations in caring for its people? It is because the majority of our senators and congressmen over the last 9 years have been getting quietly rich on kickbacks and campaign contributions from health insurance corporations, big pharmaceuticals, health professionals, and independent military contractors. With over a million from insurance and health professionals, and the content of the Finance Committee bill, is there any real question of who authored the Baucus bill or whom Senator Baucus really supports?

Clearly, the “conflict of interest” concept is foreign to the Senate Committee on Ethics, which explains how any discussion of health reform could include any Senator receiving campaign contributions from the health insurance industry. Equally interesting is potential application of the oft controversial Honest Services Law. Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia interprets that law as that “officeholders and employees owe a duty to act only in the best interests of their constituents and employers.” Is it truly in our best interests to allow an unbridled health insurance cartel to bleed us white with premium hikes and increasing deductibles? Is it truly in our best interests to refuse a bill with a robust public option when 75% of Americans, including doctors and nurses, are in favor of either a public option or a single payer plan? A determined lawyer or two could make quite a case or two – were it not for the fact that they’d be subject to countless reprisals by those happy with the status quo.

They way I see it, we have two choices. We can do what we have been conditioned to do, which is to sit quietly by, vote occasionally, and allow our government representatives to do as they see fit, policing themselves when they see fit, and enacting legislations to benefit whomsoever they see fit, including their top contributors. We can allow the status quo to continue, grab our ankles and brace ourselves for the inevitable. Or we can do once again what we did last November, cast off the apprentice’s robes, and let our professorial side show. We can use our resources to contact our elected officials, school them in what we want, and make it plain that reelection to their cushy posts hinges upon showing their allegiance to their constituency rather than their campaign contributors and lobbyists. We can back these assertions with substance by enlisting our families, friends, and acquaintances to repeat these lessons to their representatives, and then use their vote as the ultimate report card.

As of this posting, I have contacted all of my representatives at least twice. I have contacted every blue-dog Senator at least twice, especially when they send form letters advising me of the importance of proceeding cautiously, or other such “foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging behaviors (yes, I’m a staunch Graysonite). I have written and called Harry Reid in hopes that he will bend to the public will and put a public option and public option plus into the bill sent to the senate floor. I have written to the White House to tell Obama what I expect, along with a few choice words for Mr. Emanuel. I have asked my exceedingly modest number of Facebook and Twitter followers are to call their representatives (202.224.3121 is the general switchboard, 202.224.3542 is for Harry Reid) to make their demands. And so I invite you to reject the stupidity of the status quo and raise a little hell. You never know what you might get if you ask for it.