Archive for October, 2009
The MP3 file, linked to below, is a five minute Halloween soundtrack created by me and my son, Austin, about seven or eight years ago. The voices are ours, run through a pitch conversion box, and the rest came from a few canned sound effects. Click on the link below, or the graphic above, to listen to it. Once you’re there, you may download it and use it by clicking on the down arrow at the right end of the progress bar, and selecting ‘Save as source” or “Save as Quicktime movie.”
Burn it to a CD, put it on your iPod, or just play it from your computer. Set it to repeat indefinitely, and it will play all Halloween night. It’s long enough that it won’t repeat in front of your Trick-or-Treaters. It is a stereo mix, and the effects move back and forth across the stereo field, but it also sounds fine in mono. If you have the ability to set up a pair of speakers about 25 feet apart in your yard, you’ll get the best stereo effect. We hide our speakers behind the shrubs. Have fun.
This file may be used and shared freely, but it may not be
sold, alone or in conjunction with any other files or products,
nor given as a free bonus for buying any product.
Copyright ©2009 David M. Perkins
If this is supposed to be the middle, no wonder so many
people think ABC, NBC, and CBS are the “liberal” media.
Hey look! I went for a beer run, and got on television!
I feel kinda bad for putting this in the “Humor” category, but I don’t have a “Sad” category.
Since the outset of the current healthcare reform debate in this country, a lot has been said on talk radio, cable news outlets, assorted print media, the blogosphere, and thousands of other internet outlets. Not to mention every corner drugstore and coffee shop in America. The available information ranges from “just the facts” to honest attempts at decoding government speak, from inadvertent misinformation to deliberate distortion, and from demagoguery to outright lies. There is no shortage of opinion to be found out there, and no shortage of people, on both sides of the argument, who are willing to twist the facts to represent their predetermined point of view. But how does one go about sifting through the fact and the fiction to arrive at an informed judgment?
It’s a good question. Another is how this new phenomenon—the ability to spread misleading information at rapid speed through chain e-mails, blogs, text-messaging and “tweets”—will affect the reform debate.
“What we’re seeing is a flood of viral content that distorts the Obama effort to reform health care,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who codirects www.FactCheck.org, a website that examines questionable claims from all sides of the political spectrum. Today’s opposition tools are very different from those used against previous attempts at health care reform in the Clinton era. Then, the key means of attack available were television advertising and direct-mail campaigns, which were expensive and took time to organize.
“Extremists and people who are so locked into their own ideology that they’ll distort anything have been out there forever,” Jamieson says. “But they haven’t had a way to reach out to as many people as efficiently as they have now.”
To be fair to the opponents of health-care reform, the lies and exaggerations they’re spreading are not made up out of whole cloth—which makes the misinformation that much more credible. Instead, because opponents demand that everyone within earshot (or e-mail range) look, say, “at page 425 of the House bill!,” the lies take on a patina of credibility. Take the claim in one chain e-mail that the government will have electronic access to everyone’s bank account, implying that the Feds will rob you blind. The 1,017-page bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee does call for electronic fund transfers—but from insurers to doctors and other providers. There is zero provision to include patients in any such system.
Here are several other myths about healthcare reform that just won’t die:
You’ll have no choice in the health benefits you receive.
The myth that a “health choices commissioner” will decide what benefits you get seems to have originated in a July 19 post at blog.flecksoflife.com, whose homepage features an image of Obama looking like Heath Ledger’s Joker. In fact, the House bill sets up a health-care exchange—essentially a list of private insurers and one government plan—where people who do not have health insurance through their employer or some other source (including small businesses) can shop for a plan, much as seniors shop for a drug plan under Medicare part D.
The government will indeed require that participating plans not refuse people with preexisting conditions and offer at least minimum coverage, just as it does now with employer-provided insurance plans and part D. The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.
Senior citizens seem to be a particular target for these liars. A lot of the mythology about health reform is designed to scare them, like another lie spread across the country: the president’s proposal will lead to cuts in the coverage seniors receive for prescription drugs. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said as much on July 21st when he claimed that the Democratic proposal would cause “millions of seniors to lose their coverage for prescription medicine.” In fact, health insurance reform will save seniors hundreds of dollars on their prescriptions because it cuts the cost of drugs by half, once they reach the Part D coverage gap. Moreover, it begins phasing in the end of the “donut hole.”
No chemo for older Medicare patients.
The threat that Medicare will give cancer patients over 70 only end-of-life counseling and not chemotherapy—as a nurse at a hospital told a roomful of chemo patients, including the uncle of a NEWSWEEK reporter—has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare. The House bill does not use the word “ration.” Nor does it call for cost-effectiveness research, much less implementation—the idea that “it isn’t cost-effective to give a 90-year-old a hip replacement.”
The general claim that care will be rationed under health-care reform is less a lie and more of a non-disprovable projection (as is Howard Dean’s assertion that health-care reform will not lead to rationing, ever). What we can say is that there is de facto rationing under the current system, by both Medicare and private insurance. No plan covers everything, but coverage decisions “are now made in opaque ways by insurance companies,” says Dr. Donald Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was on Fox News last month saying that the president’s proposals would be paid for “on the backs of seniors through Medicare cuts.” That’s a lie. This refers to proposed decreases in Medicare increases. That is, spending is on track to reach $803 billion in 2019 from today’s $422 billion, and that would be dialed back.
Even the $560 billion in reductions (which would be spread over 10 years and come from reducing payments to private Medicare advantage plans, reducing annual increases in payments to hospitals and other providers, and improving care so seniors are not readmitted to a hospital) is misleading: the House bill also gives Medicare $340 billion more over a decade. The money would pay docs more for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles for preventive care, and help close the “doughnut hole” in the Medicare drug benefit, explains Medicare expert Tricia Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As the Alliance for Retired Americans points out, Medicare will benefit from cost-containment across the entire health care system. Furthermore, President Obama has proposed ending the wasteful overpayments currently given to private Medicare Advantage plans. That reform will help ensure that Medicare resources benefit all Medicare participants, and are not diverted to insurance companies.
Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance.
The House bill doesn’t give anyone free health care (though under a 1986 law illegals who can’t pay do get free emergency care now, courtesy of all us premium paying customers or of hospitals that have to eat the cost). Will they be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance? The House bill says that “individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States” will not be allowed to receive subsidies.
The claim that taxpayers will wind up subsidizing health insurance for illegal immigrants has its origins in the defeat of an amendment, offered in July by Republican Rep. Dean Heller of Nevada, to require those enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase private insurance to have their citizenship verified. Flecksoflife.com claimed on July 19th that “HC [health care] will be provided 2 all non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.” Rep. Steve King of Iowa spread the claim in a USA Today op-ed on August 20th, calling the explicit prohibition on such coverage “functionally meaningless” absent mandatory citizenship checks, and it’s now gone viral. Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.
Death panels will decide who lives.
When Sarah Palin writes that President Obama is going to set up “death panels” to decide whether her child with Down syndrome, or elderly parents, are going to live or die, she is spreading a lie. That’s a disgrace and she is not alone. On July 16th Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York and darling of the right, said on Fred Thompson’s radio show that “on page 425,” “Congress would make it mandatory…that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition.” But it was Sarah Palin who coined the term “death panels” in an August 7 Facebook post.
This lie springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.
The death-panels claim nevertheless got a new lease on life when Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives under George W. Bush, claimed in an August 18 Wall Street Journal op-ed that a 1997 workbook from the Department of Veterans Affairs pushes vets to “hurry up and die.” In fact, the thrust of the 51-page book, which the VA pulled from circulation in 2007, is letting “loved ones” and “health care providers” “know your wishes.” Readers are asked to decide what they believe, including that “life is sacred and has meaning, no matter what its quality,” and that “my life should be prolonged as long as it can…using any means possible.” But the workbook also asks if readers “believe there are some situations in which I would not want treatments to keep me alive.” Opponents of health-care reform have selectively cited this passage as evidence the government wants to kill the old and the sick.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) went on the House floor to state that the GOP opponents of health care reform “would not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.” The idea that the president and supporters of health insurance reform want to put people to death is an outrageous lie. As the Los Angeles Times noted on August 10th, “This has become one of the most misleading, inflammatory claims made in the health care debate, advanced repeatedly by conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Republican lawmakers working to stoke fears among seniors.”
In fact, as the Times notes, under the proposal, Medicare would start to cover voluntary doctor visits to discuss living wills and advance directives for care, which would be used only if a person becomes seriously ill and unable to make medical decisions. As is currently the practice, advance care decisions would still be made by the individual. There is nothing mandatory or coercive in the proposal, which was proposed initially by Republicans in Congress.
The government will set doctors’ wages.
This, too, seems to have originated on the Flecksoflife blog on July 19. But while page 127 of the House bill says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive 5 percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna. “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false,” says Amitabh Chandra, professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
To be sure, there are also honest and principled objections to health-care reform. Some oppose a requirement that everyone have health insurance as an erosion of individual liberty. That’s a debatable position, but an honest one. And many are simply scared out of their wits about what health-care reform will mean for them. But when fear and loathing hijack the brain, anything becomes believable—even that health-care reform is unconstitutional. To disprove that, check the commerce clause: Article I, Section 8.
So what are we supposed to do about it?
All across the country, the opponents of health care reform are spreading misinformation about almost all the proposals to improve health care coverage for Americans. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. The insurance companies, the right-wing radio hosts, the K-Street lobbyists and the Republican leadership who are spreading the misinformation have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. And they are willing to lie to protect industry profits.
It’s troubling to see that so many well-meaning citizens are listening to the lies and believing them. One has only to watch a handful of angry questioners at some televised town-hall meeting to know that some of these questioners are good people who are troubled by what they are hearing. They want to know the facts. But all too often, they are denied answers by the rabble that eschews the truth by shouting others down. The opponents of health care reform are pulling out all the stops to kill the reform that millions of Americans need to improve our health care. They’re spreading falsehoods and creating chaos. They know what they are doing.
All of us need to work together to break through the lies and shouts and slurs. We need to make sure that our friends and neighbors know the truth, and can separate the lies from the facts about health insurance reform. Educate yourself. Learn what is true and what it not. And when you hear someone spreading misinformation and lies, knowingly or unwittingly, don’t let it go unchallenged. Correct it. Do your part to set the record straight. There have been few times as important as now to stand up and speak the truth.
Would you kill a wheelchair-bound man for a million dollars? Probably not. But there are those who would. If you needed further proof that the health insurance industry is broken, and needs some new controls, here’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with it.
Ian Pearl is 37 years old, and he suffers from muscular dystrophy. He is confined to a wheelchair, and is hooked up to a breathing tube, but he refuses to just give up and die. He is insured by Guardian Insurance of New York, which pays for the one million dollars in care, each year, that it takes to keep Mr. Pearl alive. Most of that is for around the clock, in-home nursing care – for operation of his ventilator, hourly breathing treatments and continuous intravenous medication.
Ian Pearl has been fortunate, most of his life, to be covered under the Guardian small-business health plan his father bought through his remodeling company. Generous by modern standards, the health insurance plan covered home nursing, something most small-business plans do not cover today. In the state of New York, where Mr. Pearl’s business operates, 54 other employers offered the Guardian plan. Their policies covered nearly 500 employees and dependents, including two other severely ill people.
But Guardian grew weary of paying Mr. Pearl’s expenses, and decided to find a way to get out of its obligation. Legally barred from discriminating against individuals who submit large claims, they couldn’t simply cancel Mr. Pearl’s policy. Besides, that would just be wrong. Then someone at Guardian struck on the perfect answer. Instead of canceling Mr. Pearl’s policy, Guardian chose to cancel entire lines of coverage altogether, in whole states, to avoid paying high-cost claims like Mr. Pearl’s. In an e-mail, one Guardian company executive called high-cost patients such as Mr. Pearl “dogs” that the company should “get rid of.”
A Guardian spokesman said policies such as Mr. Pearl’s – which offered unlimited home nursing – had simply become too expensive for new small-business customers to buy, and that even Medicaid and Medicare do not cover 24-hour home nursing. His parents, Warren and Susan Pearl of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said their health insurance premiums had risen over the years to $3,700 a month. That’s $44,400 a year. Fortunately, they are in a position to pay these premiums.
A federal court ruled that the company’s actions were legal. The judge found that the company had not violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), because it canceled entire policy lines. The Pearls also claimed Guardian violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but the judge found that only HHS can enforce that law and that private citizens cannot sue under it.
The Pearls appealed to HHS under the Bush administration and were told the agency could do nothing, Warren Pearl said. They petitioned again in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on October 5th, with support from their congresswoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat, but have not heard back. So, on December 1st, barring an order by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Pearl will lose his benefits.
The insurer also canceled similar policies in New Jersey and South Carolina, and earlier ceased offering any health plans in Colorado, but did not cancel all of the policies in every state in which they were offered, said John Fried, the Pearls’ attorney. The company took the action only against those plans where claims were highest, he said. In an e-mail to four other Guardian executives entered into evidence in the Pearls’ suit, company Vice President Tim Birely discussed how the company could “eliminate this entire block to get rid of the few dogs.” Wow. This reminds me of something I’ve heard before …. what is it? Oh yeah. Death Panels.
Guardian, a 150-year-old mutual company, reported profits of $437 million last year, a 50 percent increase over $292 million in 2007. It paid dividends of $723 million to shareholders and had $4.3 billion in capital reserves, according to its annual report. The company’s investment income totaled $1.5 billion that year, a small increase from the year earlier. They discontinued Ian Pearl’s coverage late last year, but were required by law to continue paying for his care for another year. Next year, without Mr. Pearl as a drag on their books, they will earn an extra one million dollars in profits.
Ian Pearl has Type II spinal muscular atrophy – which often kills victims in infancy. He grew to adulthood only to suffer respiratory arrest at 19. He has required a tracheal tube ever since. The Pearls moved to Fort Lauderdale 30 years ago because the humidity there is beneficial to their son. Warren Pearl has commuted back and forth from New York every weekend since to continue to operate his business. Ian became the first wheelchair-bound pupil to be mainstreamed in the Broward County elementary schools, and he was elected president of his high school class at University School of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
As a last resort, Ian would be admitted to a state hospital under Medicaid. But the Pearls consider that a death sentence. “Ian would be lucky, or unlucky, to survive more than a matter of weeks or months,” Mrs. Pearl said. “One-on-one skilled nursing is essential.” Her husband, 60, a wealthy businessman, said the couple have enough savings to pay for their son’s care for a few years, and after that, they could mortgage the family’s home.
This is capitalism at its finest. The free market at work. And a perfect example of why the health and well-being of Americans should not be a part of that equation. Profit will always be the priority.
“This is a matter of life and death for my son,” Warren Pearl said. “I have to have faith that HHS will enforce the law. This is attempted murder, as far as I’m concerned. They targeted us, they never expected to get caught. I believe that justice will prevail.”
I hope your faith is justifed, Mr. Pearl.
The Washington Times
Playing for Change is the organization that produced the wonderful international music video “Stand By Me” which can also be found on our site. This followup is the great Bob Marley song, “One Love” recorded with many of the same international artists who participated in the first project. Their mission is to promote peace and awareness through music.
NOTE: Once you’ve clicked the “Play” button, to view this video in full screen mode, hover over the lower right corner of the picture, and click the full screen button.
Visit Playing For Change at their website to see their other Peace Through Music projects.
The debate over whether or not the federal and/or state governments should mandate affordable access to medical care for all Americans has raged for at least 75 years. As a larger and larger segment of the population finds itself in the “have not” column when it comes to healthcare access, this debate is more critical than ever in our history. Passions erupt into angry exchanges on both sides of the argument. Accurate information sometimes gets little notice, while misinformation and deliberate lies gain traction simply because they get intense exposure.
All the heat and light encircling the debate make it difficult, even for an astute observer, to separate the reasonable from hyperbole, the right from the wrong. and the truth from the lies. But one thing has never been more true. If we don’t get it right this time, the consequences will be damaging for a long time to come.
Who Are The Uninsured?
Many on the political right are fond of pointing out that only a small portion of the uninsured in this country are legal residents of the United States; that, of the nearly 50 million people without health insurance, only about 17 million are U.S. citizens. Like many things the right is fond of pointing out, this is simply untrue. According to a study released in October 2008 by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a large majority of the uninsured (79%) are native or naturalized U.S. citizens.
Another favorite, but false, statistic is that most of the uninsured are the chronically unemployed, and those who are uninterested in working for a living, and pulling their own weight. The fact is that more than eight in ten of the uninsured are in working families—about 70% are from families with one or more full-time workers and 12% are from families with part-time workers. Only 19% of the uninsured are from families that have no connection to the workforce.
Also, about two-thirds of the uninsured are poor or near poor. These individuals are less likely to be offered employer-sponsored coverage or to be able to afford to purchase their own coverage. Those who are poor (below 100% of the poverty level) are about twice as likely to be uninsured as the entire nonelderly population (35% vs.17%). Were it not for the Medicaid program, many more of the poor would be uninsured. The near-poor (those with incomes between 100% and 199% of the poverty level) also run a high risk of being uninsured (29%), in part, because they are less likely to be eligible for Medicaid. Only 10% of the uninsured are from families at or above 400% of poverty.
Adults are more likely to be uninsured than children. Adults make up 70% of the nonelderly population, but 80% of the uninsured. Most low-income children qualify for Medicaid or SCHIP, but low-income adults under age 65 typically qualify for Medicaid only if they are disabled, pregnant, or have dependent children. Income eligibility levels are generally much lower for parents than for children.
Most importantly, the uninsured are people you know, maybe even love. They are the people you work with. The people you socialize with. They are your neighbors, and your friends, and your family. And if something isn’t done soon to address the problem, one of them could someday face the reality that their life cannot be saved because they don’t have the resources to afford healthcare.
‘The Public Option’
The public option has been called a lot of things; a government takeover of healthcare, socialized medicine, an intrusion into our doctor-patient relationships, and a safety net to assure that no American has to go bankrupt or die just because he or she doesn’t have health insurance. Opponents of reform like to cite polls that indicate Americans do not want a public option included in any eventual healthcare bill. If you listen carefully when they cite these studies, their source is almost always the Lewin Group, a consulting firm in Falls Church, Virginia. With the political battle over healthcare reform being waged largely with numbers, few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group.
Most of their studies appear to point to certain doom for America if any form of public option is included in the reform bill. According to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the second-ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, the Lewin Group is “well known as one of the most nonpartisan groups in the country.” Generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers. Does the term “conflict of interest” seem appropriate here?
More specifically, the Lewin Group is part of Ingenix, a UnitedHealth subsidiary that was accused by the New York attorney general and the American Medical Association, of helping insurers shift medical expenses to consumers by distributing skewed data. Ingenix supplied its parent company and other insurers with data that allegedly understated the “usual and customary” doctor fees that insurers use to determine how much they will reimburse consumers for out-of-network care. In January, UnitedHealth agreed to a $50 million settlement with the New York attorney general and a $350 million settlement with the AMA, covering conduct going back as far as 1994.
The Lewin Group, and other partisan “think tank” studies aside, when mainstream nonpartisan polling organizations ask the question, without using loaded phrases like “government takeover” and they include an accurate explanation of what it is, the American people strongly favor a public option by a 61% to 34% margin. Almost two to one. And they trust the president over the GOP by 47% to 31% to properly deal with healthcare reform.
A Question of Morality
By law, we have stacked the deck against the American healthcare consumer. Health insurance companies are exempt from antitrust laws, thus allowing insurers to establish near monopolies in most states. In Georgia, two companies – WellPoint and UnitedHealth Group – hold a 69 percent share of the market. The American Medical Association reports that 94 percent of insurance markets in more than 300 metropolitan areas are now highly concentrated. WellPoint runs Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans in 14 states. In Maine, for example, WellPoint controls 78% of the health insurance market. It dominates the market in Missouri, with 68% of the business, as well as in its home state of Indiana (60%), New Hampshire (51%), Kentucky (59%), Connecticut (55%), Virginia (50%), and Ohio (41%).
In addition, we have allowed insurers to “cherry pick” the youngest and healthiest Americans to insure, while rejecting those who are more likely to file a claim. If you are fortunate enough to have employer subsidized health insurance, and happen to suffer from a chronic ailment, if you lose your job or change jobs, qualifying for insurance coverage again can be impossible due to the “preexisting conditions” exclusion. If anything positive comes out of the current healthcare debate, outlawing the preexisting condition exclusion should be a top priority.
The United States is the only modern industrial democracy where the health and welfare of its citizens, and the life and death decisions connected to it, are just another bushel of free market commodities to be bought, sold, granted or denied based on the bottom line profits of a handful of large corporations. Uninsured citizens aside, Americans with health insurance die every day because a decision was reached, in some corporate office, that treating their condition was just too costly. Or, some pretense was used, based on a possible preexisting condition, to deny treatment. If you don’t believe this, read through a few transcripts of congressional hearings on healthcare. You will find it disturbing. Meanwhile, we worry and debate about government intrusion. In this country, in the 21st century, whether or not you live or die should not be contingent on how much money you have. It is immoral, plain and simple.
The ‘S’ Word
Providing an alternative, like a government sponsored insurance pool, immediately raises the dreaded ’s’ word. Socialism. As soon as the word socialism enters the discussion, rational debate disappears. We are so appalled by the prospect that we immediately forget the fact that, in most urban and suburban areas of this country, we long ago agreed to pool our resources, and fund through taxes, socialized police and fire protection, socialized street and bridge maintenance, socialized sewer and garbage removal, water systems, and on and on and on.
Our elderly are protected by a socialized medical and pension plan. Our veterans have access to excellent medical care through a socialized system of hospitals and doctors. By and large, most of these people are satisfied with the service they receive. We are already a hugely socialized democracy, and we haven’t completely collapsed as a society because of it.
If you decide to protect your home with flood insurance, State Farm or Allstate will be happy to sell you a policy. Unless, of course, you live some place that actually stands a reasonable chance of flooding, like the Florida coast or the Ohio River Valley. Then, your only option for flood insurance is the federal government. The free market won’t touch it.
If you live in a fire-prone area, or an earthquake prone part of this country, your only choice for fire or earthquake insurance is often a state run insurance pool. Virtually all states require that automobile drivers carry liability insurance against potential accidents. Most states also have a state run insurance pool for high-risk drivers who are unable to purchase coverage anywhere else. And the last time I checked, State Farm, Allstate, Geico, Progressive and AAA are all doing just fine, precisely because they are protected from writing high-risk coverage.
So, the federal government is happy to be in the flood insurance business because it protects the profits of private insurance companies. Under the guise of protecting competition, they are equally unwilling to intervene in the health insurance business for the same reason; the protection of corporate profits. The health and welfare of the American people is a secondary consideration.
In any case, there is no competition. Most Americans who have health insurance get it through employer subsidized plans, and therefore don’t get to “shop” for coverage. They get what their employer decides it can afford to offer. While health insurance costs are theoretically regulated, health insurers seem able to manipulate rates, deductibles, copayments, restrictions, and exclusions with impunity, unlike their counterparts in the home and auto insurance fields. They also appear able to lower reimbursements to medical facilities and professionals at will. In short, they are a government protected, unrestricted monopoly against which the healthcare consumer stands no chance of prevailing. Only our elected legislators have the power to influence the outcome, and they seem to have been bought and paid for long ago.
What Do We Do?
It’s a good question. It may well be that the outcome has already been written, and that all the current Sturm und Drang is strictly theater. But, on the off chance that right can still prevail, I urge anyone who feels that every American deserves to have access to quality and affordable medical care, regardless of economic station, to find out who your senators are. Find out who your congressman is. Write them. Email them. Fax them. Telephone their offices. Call and email the White House.
Until we know for certain that the issue is resolved, for good or bad, we should not stop trying to make our voices heard.
It has been clear for a long time that there is no statement, no deed, no effort by President Obama that the Republicans would applaud, or even acknowledge as worthwhile. But last week they cheered, en masse, America’s loss of it’s Olympic bid just because they saw it as an embarrassment to Obama. Today, they booed our President’s award of the Nobel Prize for Peace.
At what point do you just call it unAmerican? Unpatriotic? Shameful? These people are an embarrassment to this country.
Will Rogers was fond of saying, “I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat.” I don’t know whether to take heart from the fact that the Democrats’ current lack of focus and direction is not a new phenomenon, or to be discouraged by the fact that they’ve been this undisciplined for at least eighty years. It doesn’t much matter, I guess.
What does matter is that the Democratic Party is setting the stage to squander, once more, an opportunity to pass the first real healthcare reform legislation since 1965. If this comes to pass, and reform fails yet again, history demonstrates that it will be another generation or more before the window opens again. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more Americans will die simply due to lack of access to adequate healthcare. Nearly forty-five thousand lives a year will continue to be lost until we finally do something about it. And it will not be the fault of the Republicans.
The Republican Party, as an institution, has never favored healthcare reform. It doesn’t view healthcare as a right, and therefore sees no role in it for government. They managed to get it removed from Franklin Roosevelt’s original Social Security legislation in 1935. They defeated it again, in the late 1940s, when Harry Truman urged congress to mandate healthcare for all Americans. Finally, in 1965, Medicare and Medicaid were signed into law, and it was generally believed that they were just the first step to universal health coverage. The political and fiscal toll of Vietnam, however, squashed that possibility.
For twenty of the next twenty-four years, the Executive Branch was helmed by Republicans, and serious healthcare reform was not raised again until 1993, when Bill Clinton was elected President. The Republicans, along with their traditional allies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the American Medical Association, mustered all the money, pressure, propaganda, misinformation, half-truths, lies, and demagoguery they could bring to bear. Fear triumphed over reason, and healthcare reform was smothered in its crib. Lost for another sixteen years.
It was in this atmosphere, and with this history, that the Democratic Party sallied forth in 2009 on a quixotic quest to rally bipartisan support for major healthcare reform. In control of both houses of Congress, and the Executive Branch for the first time in fourteen years, and without the need for Republican votes, they have all but slain healthcare reform on the altar of bipartisanship. And it was completely unnecessary.
Because the Republicans see killing healthcare reform as crucial to embarrassing, and hopefully crippling, President Obama, there is no healthcare bill that will garner Republican support, even if they know for a certainty that it’s the best thing for America. Everything is secondary to diminishing Obama. Add to this the fact that most Republicans, like many Democrats, are financially beholden to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, there is no reason for anyone to expect Republican votes in favor of any healthcare reform that is not fully supported by the healthcare industry.
Everyone knew this, or should have known it, at the outset. The only thing achieved by catering to Republican demands was delay. Delay that gave opponents of reform time to raise the time-honored specters of “socialized medicine” and “government intrusion” and a few new ones, like “death panels.” And while all the typical Republican sleight-of-hand and fear mongering certainly hasn’t helped to advance the debate, it will not ultimately be what guts reform. The Democrats will accomplish this all by themselves.
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He has also accepted approximately 3.5 million dollars from insurance and other health industry contributors, almost three and a half times the amount accepted by the average senator. With the help of a handful of “Blue Dog” Democrats, his committee will be responsible for producing a healthcare reform bill that is little more than a huge gift basket to the healthcare industry. The elected senators and congressmen who are most opposed to real reform, Democrat or Republican, are the ones who have taken the most money from the industries that would be affected by it. Pardon my cynicism for seeing a connection.
The bill about to emerge from the Senate Finance Committee will leave millions of Americans still uninsured. It will subsidize some low income Americans, but not nearly everyone who cannot afford coverage. It will not include a public option for those who do not have and cannot afford coverage on the open market. It will not address the cost of premiums, or deductibles, or copayments, or care, or medications. The bill, in its present form, will not protect Americans with “preexisting conditions” and it will leave the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to continue business as usual at the expense of the American people.
The good news for Republicans in all of this is that they should retake control of one or more branches of the government, and rightfully so. The American people gave the Democrats large majorities in both houses, and the presidency, because the Republicans under George Bush and Dick Cheney had forfeited their right to govern. They had, as Americans saw it, done such a poor job that it was time to give the other side an opportunity to show what they could do.
When Republicans were in charge, they did what they wanted. All the whining and crying from Democrats didn’t even slow them down. Their attitude was, “We won. We’re the majority. Shut up and sit down.”
If the Democratic majority, with a Democratic president, cannot come together to produce the cornerstone legislation that was promised to the American people, and that a large majority of Americans still want and expect, then they will forfeit their right to govern. And they cannot blame the Republicans for the failure of healthcare reform. The Republicans were doing what they always do. Anyone who was surprised by it is a fool. It is up to the Democrats to ignore Republicans and do what they know is right. So far, they haven’t shown a willingness to do that. And if they can’t fix it, they will pay the price.
Forty years ago this week marked the launch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on British television. The show was later picked up by the PBS station in Dallas, Texas, and eventually spread across the United States and the rest of the world. Television comedy was forever changed. The Parrot Sketch was not part of the first Python program, but is a longtime favorite of mine, and as such, is included below for your nostalgic pleasure.
Well, maybe it’s going to be Lindsey Graham, GOP senator from South Carolina, who will stand up and call out the “Four Horsemen.” Graham made news by saying what no other conservative Republican has wanted to say – the birthers are crazy. He also called them nuts. Should we hold out hope that this will spark a trend? Or, should we be taking bets on when he will apologize and “clarify” his remarks?
Presumably, Graham was including Lou Dobbs, who has been one of the birthers biggest allies, and was chastised by the president of CNN and told to drop the issue. Dobbs had also been called an embarrassment to CNN by present and former staffers over his support of the birthers.
Graham also called Glenn Beck a cynic, which is what you call someone like Beck who says things that might be called crazy, but when you’re making the money he is by doing it, you call it cynicism.
Here’s part of what Graham had to say at the “First Draft of History” conference sponsored by The Atlantic:
As for the fringe elements of the right (the birthers, for example) Graham said Republicans have to call them out — have to police their own ranks.
“We have to say that’s crazy,” Graham said when The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg asked him about the conspiracy theories that have sprung up on the right.
“So I’m here to tell you that those who think the president was born somewhere other than Hawaii are crazy. He’s not a Muslim. He’s a good man,” Graham said.
When asked how he communicates that sentiment to the conspiracy theorists themselves, Graham was blunt: “When I go to town-hall meetings, say, ‘You’re crazy.’ In a respectful way”–a comment the audience seemed to enjoy….
Talk radio contributes to the right’s less constructive tones, Graham suggested, drawing a parallel between the conservative airwaves and the left’s MoveOn.org. When asked about Glenn Beck, the newest conservative-commentary phenom (though, as Graham noted, Beck isn’t necessarily a voice of the conservative clique, but rather his own beast), Graham said:
“Only in America can you make that much money crying…I mean, you know, what [do] I think about Rush Limbaugh? Well, I think he makes hundreds of millions of dollars being able to talk on the radio.”
But the real question, according to Graham, is: “how many people in my business are going to be controlled by what’s said on the radio or in a TV commercial … Glenn Beck is not aligned with any party as far as I can tell. He’s aligned with cynicism, and there’s always been a market for cynicism.”
According to CBS, “Graham lauded Mr. Obama for energizing young people and also engaging Hispanic voters, which he said Republicans had turned off with rhetoric on immigration ‘coming out of certain quarters of our party.’”