Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reform Rx - Blue is Red, Red is Blue!

Fellow Travelers!
Comrade Reg Henry has provided propaganda for our relentless march toward Commiecare and the Peoples Democratic Republic of Veterans Affairs for all. As our cells are unmasked in our unrelenting struggle to establish a dictatorship of the medical proletariat we can now overthrow and defeat the capitalist villains.
Long Live Socialism!
Viva la Revolution!
Blue is Red, Red is Blue!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reform Rx - Answers About Abortion

A difficult road is ahead with a pending summer Congressional recess without resolution of health care reform. We have the enormous challenge of in Maine of trying to convince our Senators to support substantive reform with a robust public option that begins at the plan’s inception.

Across the land of non-universal health coverage there will be fear mongering about socialism, free market sainthood, anti-government propaganda, bureaucrats making choices for you, tax impositions, and mindless rationing. Radio right wingers and Republican office holders who pander to the same fears will be all over the airwaves and at an internet location near you. Attack ads about socialism will abound and our Canadian and European friends will be vilified as foisting ineffective health plans on their citizens that leave them in lines out into the streets dying.

Delay is what the opposition wanted. The slow down sought by them has been gained. They intend to bleed us by a thousand little cuts. Delay, slowing down to get it right, and bipartisan calls have never had the intention of working toward reforms to truly meet the needs of Americans. These actions have been about interrupting momentum, killing any worthwhile reforms, and passing some future feel good bill without teeth. It is an outright choosing of sides between serving people or supporting corporate interests.

If all the above slop that can be thrown at were not enough, expect far worse as the right wing, health care insurance lobby, and the Republican Party prepare to go nuclear big time. We’ve already seen the edgy stuff about grand conspiracies to euthanize older citizens and using reforms to establish a beholden class of beneficiaries supporting one-party rule. But while this gets the fringe excited, and the ads and talking heads keep inflicting those thousands of little cuts, abortion is entering stage right. Articles such as one on Tuesday by Star Parker are a sign of things to come.

Health care reform has never been about abortion. It has been about access, coverage, positive medical outcomes, and securing stability in a huge portion of our personal and national economies. But abortion is the irresistible bomb to throw without evidence and reason because it can really shift the entire focus to a single emotional issue. It can divide us; it is seen as a potential knock-out blow that is lethal to reform.

This is going to be tough as we try to cut through the emotion. Our responses must keep the vision positive and retain the high ground. Health care reform citizen-advocates like us need to engage this issue forthrightly to demonstrate what it is that we care about. We care that good pre-natal care is delivered to expecting mothers. We care that the infant mortality rate in our country is lowered. We care that all citizens have affordable access to medical professionals to improve their health and well-being.

Finally, no matter where one comes down on the emotional issue of abortion, there are long-term considerations that deserve reflection. A healthier population means less risky pregnancies. A society that develops better health education as part of its services leads to better overall choices prior to pregnancy. A plan that gives affordable access to all citizens, especially teen women, mothers, and children, is superior to one that forces difficult economic choices.

Abortion is not referenced in any of the major health-care bills now under consideration. But the temptation to follow the airwave warriors and the attack ad legions with the nuclear option is desired by the right because it can destroy everything. Our calm, factual, dispassionate responses to this assault will be an important factor in retaking the high ground. Citizens that value pro-choice rights can candidly say to anti-abortion advocates that substantive health care reform will in all likelihood make abortions rarer. The abortion debate will remain in the public arena regardless of enactment of any type of reform; health care reform will not be where this issue is resolved. Let us together provide health care for all, especially including the poor, mothers, pregnant women and children for whom we all share concern.

Reform Rx - Midweek Chuckle

Here is another good laugh courtesy of Tom Tomorrow. I realize it isn't quite midweek but I think we all believe in early intervention!

You are invited back later for a serious piece regarding the third panel in the cartoon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reform Rx - Should Obama Visit Maine?

The case is being made by Robert Reich in his blog that President Obama visit states with fence sitting Senators on recess to shore up support for health care reform and he specifically mentions Maine. Since the President will be taking a much deserved vacation nearby, we'd welcome Marine One to make the short hop from Martha's Vineyard's shores to Maine's shores. We have two fence sitters that we'd like him to visit while demonstrating the strong appeal of his health care message among the people of Maine who would turn out in droves to reinforce him. And we'd be happy to steam some Maine lobsters to serve along with some Maine baked potatoes followed by Maine blueberry pie for the Obamas!

Patient Outcomes? What Patient Outcomes?

At a recent Health Care Forum held in Mount Vernon (great event, and congrats to the organizers and panel members!), many references were made to a recent New Yorker article on the subject. It's by Atul Gawande, author of the eye-opening Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science.

In "The Cost Conundrum", published by the New Yorker on June 1, 2009, Gawande challenges us to look, not at where funding for health care will come, but on patient outcomes, on how effectively the money is spent. He gives us a new focus, backed up by lots of facts and figures. It's worth reading, and when you do, please add some comments. I'd love to know what you think.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reform Rx - Collins Stuck In Same Snowestorm

Unfortunately for Mainers desperately in need of good representation Senator Collins is coming from pretty much the same direction as Senator Snowe. The Collins Watch is highlighting these outtakes from a July 22, 2009 New York Times article:

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, worries about requiring employers to provide insurance to workers. Without categorically rejecting the idea, she said: "My inclination is to oppose an employer mandate. Employers want to provide health insurance and do so if they can afford it."


She said that she was "very skeptical" of the new government health insurance plan that Democrats want to create.

Once again Susan Collins prepositions herself to be a "centrist" courted by special interests rather than an active representative for the people who elected her. We need to tire of that game.

Reform Rx - Snowejob

Senator Olympia Snowe continues to talk about reform as if she is the champion we need in our corner. In today's Kennebec Journal Maine Compass piece she engages in a quite a bit of that talk. But she just doesn't walk her talk.

She sounds pretty pleased with the damaging slow down now occurring in the process. Most disappointingly, she relegates a robust public plan, the best possible engine for reform after all out single payer, to a "fallback plan" to be applied to states if needed when insurance companies do not meet whatever watered-downed criteria they may need to meet. It is exactly this naive absolute trust in the heavy lobbying private insurance industry and carving up America into little state market playgrounds that let's these special interests Tread on ME. Senator Snowe unbelievably supports failure as a major reform option.

Please write Senator Snowe and react directly to the Maine Compass piece. She needs to understand that her position is misguided and not what we expect and need from her representation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reform Rx - Health Civil Rights

Rush’s recap of his worst of the week was droning on in my car this Saturday in order for me to get that all important “the right is wrong” perspective. I was astounded to hear him blabbing on and on about how no one is leaving this country for health care somewhere else. This was a new twist on the old “we have the best health care in the world” argument.

Usually this case is made from the opposite point of travel initiation. It goes like this: People come to this country for health care because we have the best in the world. The thin evidence given is that this distant royal prince or foreign head-of-state or celebrity star came here for his or her heart bypass, kidney transplant, et cetera, et cetera, ad nausea rather than subject themselves to the normal care or lack-of-care in their own country.

Both of these earth shattering fault lines of unreason are a good example of the tone deafness of the right to their own disjointed arguments. Their cited examples verify that care access affordability is one of the core problems with the current systemic failure of for-profit health care.

We do have a system that has the best in the world gleaming high tech locations, excellent first class accommodations, superbly trained specialists, rapid medical service capabilities to deliver targeted care to those who can afford nothing but the best when their gurney is wheeled off their private jet. But of course those who are not leaving this country for health care that irrational Rush cites are those who can neither afford to travel to do so or afford the first class health treatment at home in their own country. They are economically trapped.

One can claim we have the finest health care in the world but it is reserved for our country's wealthy and some selected paying guests. We simultaneously have an extremely strained system serving the middle class that is on track to shove them down the economic ladder with shrinking health care services. And our poor are treated like they are panhandlers to avoid eye contact with when one doesn’t want to part with a buck. Those millions are invisible to Rush and the radio blabbers as they hype up the middle’s illusions about evil socialist fantasies in a selfish bid to keep exclusive access for the right wing √©lites to the upper stratosphere of private care while avoiding taxes that might share the economic benefits they have gained from this country.

A fundamental issue that needs to take the high ground as we continue to discuss health care costs is one of civil rights. Just like race discrimination in the past, we have exclusive country club health care for those with the means that excludes the rabble. It even is reasonable that added expenditure for government provided health care, even beyond the President’s wish for budget neutrality, is morally justified. A little reconstruction expense would not hurt to also address past wrongs. Further violation of health civil rights will only lead to future greater and more dangerous rifts in this country’s fabric.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Reform Rx – $100 To Kill Someone’s Health Care!

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's drive for healthcare reform suffered a setback on Thursday when Senate leaders said they would not be able to pass the measure before leaving for a monthlong August recess"

With lobbyist cost to kill health care reform running at $1.4 million dollars per day and 14,000 Americans lose health care every single day in this recession, that’s like spending an even $100.00 a day to kill someone’s health care. Math aside, the true cost of delay is immeasurable for those affected and immoral by any standard of political decency. In fact, a Families USA report estimates that more than one working-age Mainer dies each week due to lack of health insurance! What price are our representatives willing to have us pay?

The disciples of delay hope to drastically water down reform and spread fear in the interim. Senators Snowe and Collins need to hear about how this harms Maine citizens. Their participation in further impediments to prompt reform is beyond justification.

Senator Snowe, Get It Right Again!

Why Maine's so called moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe thinks we can wait years for good health care is beyond me. But the story just gets worse.

Last Saturday, in front of many hundreds of demonstrators in Portland's Monument Square, Olympia Snowe's position on health care was clearly outlined by her representative, Cheryl Lehman: full support for the public option from day one. Period.

Good news, right? But what Snowe giveth, she taketh away. After the jubilation at the senator's finally taking the same position as the majority of her constituents, she now says that isn't her position at all, that she still wants to give insurance companies lots and lots of time to prove they can do a better job after all--while still maintaining record breaking profits. Huh?

Look and listen for yourself. While many websites have, at the Senator's request, removed video of Saturday's statement, Daily Kos has not. trigger here, just the public option Mainers are asking for. And more....take a look at why Senator Snowe might just feel that her constituents' voices are not the loudest ones she hears.

Senator Snowe, you got it right in Portland. You owe this one to Maine.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reform Rx - Republican "Dear Senator" Version

My previous post "Dear Senator" was written as a template you are welcome to use, modify, adapt, expand, and send to Senator Snowe and Senator Collins. Please help prevent them getting more letters from this RNC template:

Dear Congressman or Senator and Last Name:
The president’s plan for a government takeover of health care will cause many Americans to lose the private insurance they currently enjoy and interfere with decisions of care that belong between a doctor and patient. Any health care reform passed by Congress should strengthen a patient’s control of health care, not threaten it.
The president’s insistence that there is only one option before Congress to reform health care presents a false choice. Republicans have presented principles for reform that will strengthen patient choice, preserve quality care, end lawsuit abuse and drive down costs. All of these reforms are possible without a government-run plan that would add substantially to the public debt.
As a concerned constituent, I am urging you to oppose any government-run component in health care reform and consider a solution that truly strengthens our health care system.

Reform Rx - Dear Senator

I am only one voter. In fact, I did not vote for your re-election. However, despite growing skepticism, I hope that you might represent me and fellow Maine citizens regarding health care to accomplish what we deem is of vital necessity.

I am only one voter. I cannot compete with insurance company special interests and large profit making corporations. Should I ever be able to visit you briefly in our capital or at a Maine office, I still lack the privilege of constant daily Washington access to you that these industries and their lobbyists enjoy. I cannot compete with paid self-described experts working tenaciously to influence you and your staff.

I am only one voter but in regard to health care reform, I believe my concerns about health care reform ought to prevail over those of any special interest. I represent not an industry but one affected voter joined with a swelling demand for substantive action on behalf of citizen expectations.

There are aspects of health care reform which are starkly clear to a voter. Reform that is not profound and robust will not serve the everyday, serious financial and health requirements of Maine citizens. We instinctively recognize that a light touch of minor guidelines and incentives that can be ignored or manipulated, disregards our needs. We fear tepid action and delay becoming a harbinger of future difficult dilemmas that will be more daunting. We intuitively understand that reform without a strong and direct government role from its initiation will simply not transform health care.

I am only one voter but engage in discussing health care everyday with fellow voters who are neighbors, relatives, social acquaintances, and fellow workers. They find consensus in the need for dramatic reform led by direct permanent government involvement as the solution to this vital issue. They are a broad group of individual voters; some have supported you in the past, others have not. In candid discussion, they all believe they are deserving of your full support now of their consensus.

You take hundreds of votes as our Senator. Consideration of varied interests on these votes is valid. However, a few times in a long Senate career, there are vital matters of overwhelming importance that distinguish leaders and directly affect the very lives of constituents in a way that will last well beyond your service. Some of these times present fundamental choices between clear constituent voices and very powerful influences. I am only one voter who sees heath care reform as one of these significant matters that requires unequivocal and decisive action, reflected in the conversations and concerns heard everyday in Maine.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Story

I made the news last Saturday night when Channel 13 reporter Jim Cyr shoved a microphone in my face at the beginning of the Portland health care demonstration march and asked me what my interest was in the issue, what brought me to Portland. Having little time to think, hanging on to one end of the Kennebec County Democrats banner (with Bia Winter at the other end), and not wanting to lose our place in the march or impede the marchers behind us, I blurted into the mike (and I am paraphrasing here but you get the gist) "I'm here for my children. 4 out of my 5 adult children have, through no fault of their own, become disabled and/or unemployed and are in danger of of losing everything they worked for. They went to college, got good jobs, bought homes and raised kids. They were hard working responsible citizens and they don't deserve to lose all that they have gained." If you saw the 6 PM Channel 13 news Saturday (and I understand it was repeated later on Sunday morning), you saw the edited clip of what I said.

My story is much more complicated and detailed than that, but I can't get into the details here. (I had originally posted the details to this blog but was asked to remove them to protect my family's privacy.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Farewell, Walter Cronkite

Watching the retrospective coverage on Walter Cronkite's life and work has given me some insight on why we Americans have become so polarized.


Let me explain.

When our television news choices were limited to the three network channels, those venerable organizations could afford both great coverage of international events, and solid investigative journalism. They had the ability to look beyond the press releases and official statements, and give viewers information they needed to become an informed electorate.

Today's television news often seems more interested in covering votes on Survivor than votes in the US Congress. More interested in covering celebrity gossip than interviewing both sides of the war in Afghanistan. More interested in covering infidelities among elected officials than investigating who paid for the campaigns that got them elected in the first place.

Where are the politically neutral news outlets that do the kind of investigative reporting we get from Rachel Maddow and, yes, sometimes on Fox Noise?

Whether chicken or egg, whether we have a polarized media because we have a polarized electorate, or the other way around matters little at this point. What matters is where we go from here. Maybe we need to make progress by looking back, and maybe Walter Kronkite will remind us how.

Reform Rx – Delay is Death

Senators Snowe and Collins have both signed off on the “centrist” letter urging President Obama to slow down the progress of health care reform. They basically argue that a bipartisan bill is needed and add concerns about costs. This message might have resonated in 1994 or possibly even at the 2009 opening of the current congressional session but not now.

These six signing Senators do not represent the center as they purport. The center is the vast majority of the public who continue to support substantive reform now even with added tax authority to pay for it. Instead this group is effectively the doorway leading to watering down what citizens need and desire. Their motivation must be suspect.

Delay is death for a robust public option. Delay is a lobbyist lifeline to spend another $1,400,000 per day on influencing congress, and even more on misleading advertising to support every possible effort to create public doubt in the government role in health care. Our Senators are not being perceptive to history, health care needs, or the overriding desire for change among their citizens. They are listening to the louder better financed voice.

Reform progress could be parlayed into paralysis. Our reaction to this letter needs to be loud and swift. Call them; please do not delay.

Senator Olympia Snowe: 202-224-5344
Senator Susan Collins: 202-224-2523

Friday, July 17, 2009

Health Care Plan Endorsed by... AMA?

Interesting news, indeed.

The American Medical Association on Thursday endorsed a liberal health overhaul bill that includes a public insurance option, a bold step for a traditionally conservative group with a checkered past on health reforms.

In its strongest action yet signaling support for President Barack Obama's vow to reform health care, the nation's largest doctors' group sent letters to three House committees behind the bill. The letters, signed by AMA's executive vice president, Dr. Michael Maves, said the AMA appreciates and supports what is being called America's Affordable Health Choices Act.

Ponder this for a while with me. Because it makes my head hurt.

Obama gave a speech at the AMA about a month ago. Its reception was lukewarm, at best. The AMA stated they did not endorse Obama's plan for health care reform, and listed off a bunch of reasons I've since forgotten, and I'm too lazy to search for an hour. The public option topped the list, though. But whatever the case, they weren't thrilled. Members at the meeting likened the public option to communism. (Mental note: educate doctors about communism.)

Since then, many doctors have canceled their memberships to the AMA. You can read one doctor's tale here, which also includes some of the text of the AMA's original attack against the public option.

Now, this is all well and good -- people change their positions all the time. We're spending time trying to convince Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe that their current position is not the right one for Maine or the nation, and we will applaud them for it should they make such a change. But as elected officials, their changing of their stance would be simply explained as following the poll numbers, and heeding the call of the constituents who are speaking up the most and showing their support. The AMA has no such pressure.

So this is where I get confused. Is the AMA seriously pulling a 180 on this, and now supporting that which they opposed just over a month ago? Is this unprovoked? Did the membership cancellations spur this change on, like public pressure on our senators hopefully will? Was the pot merely sweetened in a good way for them, such as the elimination of an odious Medicare regulation that resulted in doctors making less money every year?

Or is there now -- among the hundred-plus Republican amendments to this bill -- a poison pill attached? Is there some small tweak in it, some change in wording, which will cause it to serve a different purpose than what is currently outlined? Is the public option as we envision it already dead? I for one will never be able to find an offending section when presented with 1,600 pages of legislation.

What do you guys think? Honest change of heart, covering their backsides, or something more sinister?

"Health Care" Issue vs "Health Insurance" Issue - Redux

Following up on our KCDC monthly meeting last night, I just wanted to repeat what I stated here in an earlier blog on July 3 - I wish that we could rename the current health crisis in this country and the push for reform to a health insurance problem and not a health care problem. In my view, the beef is not so much with the health care providers as it is with the insurance companies and their fat cat executives who deny claims and disallow procedures so that people get sicker and die without the necessary health care. Or they retroactively cancel health insurance policies for which people have paid their very expensive premiums faithfully for years as soon as a claim is made against the policy, thus sticking their insurance customers with exorbitant bills which were acquired assuming that they had health insurance to cover the costs. It is the ability to pay for the health care provided and not the health care itself that should be the focus of the debate, and renaming the issue to a health insurance issue might just focus the attention on the real problem and get us away from the red party's argument that we are pushing toward socialized medicine. I believe, as I think we all believe, in free enterprise when it comes to private practice for health care providers, if we only had the means to pay the bills without going into bankruptcy, or having to forego essential prescription drugs because they are unaffordable, as happens all too often.

I also tried to make the point at the meeting that health care is a constitutional right provided under the "promote the general welfare" clause of the preamble, but was corrected by Carl Pease that a SCOTUS decision handed down some time ago ruled that the preamble is not part of the Constitution, so its content cannot be used to argue for constitutional rights, as the gun nuts do with the 2nd amendment. Anyone care to weigh in on this, that we have a constitutional right to health care, from any clause that is part of the Constitution? Could be an interesting discussion!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reform Rx - The Collins Dodge

7/15/09 - President Obama met at the White House with Republican Senator Susan Collins.

"I urged him not to rush consideration of the bill," Collins told reporters later. "This bill is going to affect virtually every American. If the president tries to rush this through in the next two weeks...I fear the process will be very divisive."

A great follow up from Collins Watch: "Fair enough. But more important: What does the junior senator think about the content of the plans moving through Congress? Could she support the House bill? The legislation emerging from the Senate committees? Are there popular ideas that she considers off the table? Reform features that she can't live without?"

We are still waiting for Susan Collins to represent us.

Reform Rx - Rational Right Responds

When questioned about reform, Glenn Beck lucidly engages in the discussion to help us understand the coherent conservative position with well reasoned respectful debate.

Mr. Beck may also want to consider this message from the Mental Health Liaison Group.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reform Rx - Republican Solution? Tax Cuts.

The apparent Republican solution equation:

Evil Taxe$+HC Reform/Taxpayer$=Less Evil Taxe$+Less HC Reform/Corp. Profit$

...or something like that. To get a better incomplete picture you can read the approach offered to insurance companies...I mean American citizens from the House Republican Health Care Solutions Group chaired by Republican Whip Roy Blunt.

And here's a backslapping interview on a proposal from one of the Group's signatories centered around a $2500 - $5000 tax credit. And wow, you can join an healthy lifestyles incentive pool perhaps sponsored by the Rotary or the Daughters of the American Revolution to help keep the government off our backs!

"The annual premium that a health insurer charges an employer for a health plan covering a family of four averaged $12,700 in 2008. Workers contributed nearly $3,400, or 12 percent more than they did in 2007. The annual premiums for family coverage significantly eclipsed the gross earnings for a full-time, minimum-wage worker ($10,712)." Source: National Coalition on Health Care

We retort - you deride.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reform Rx - Flipsides

It is always useful to look at things from a different angle. It would be helpful if our representatives included these perspectives in their information gathering rather than relying on industry "facts" and projections.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reform Rx – The Bureaucrat Between

One big contention from those who would deny Americans of substantive health care reform for all is that it will “place a bureaucrat between you and your doctor who will make decisions about your health care for you”. The unspoken implication is that decision will be based on frugal formulas and denial of treatment by an uncaring robotic government bureaucrat like that found in some 1960’s socialist parody.

Surprise; there is already a full fledged faceless bureaucracy making those decisions for you within private for-profit health care! Definitions of a bureaucracy are not limited to governments but include “concentration of power in administrative bureaus or administrators” and “administration characterized by excessive red tape and routine.” Insurance companies are the very definition of a bureaucracy full of faceless bureaucrats.

Take a good look at who presently comes between you and your doctor. The private insurance bureaucrats review cases to deny care, relentlessly reduce the amount they need pay, and steer patients into less effective but more profitable care regimes. They use formulas to determine mortality ratios versus the legal risk of denying claims. They use special software to make their robotic decisions to catch obscure and unrelated technicalities that get them off the payment hook using pre-existing conditions allegations. They study and determine what small businesses ought to have their policies rescinded based on medical loss ratios to appease their investors not their customers. They have bureaucrats running around Wall Street to determine what kind of care is worthy of profitable investment rather than being even remotely based on pragmatic medical needs. Finally, they are not interested in your family doctor at all; the bureaucracy thrives on pre-packaged tests and specialist evaluations that can be debunked by corporate doctors or used for denial purposes.

And dealing with the bureaucratic insurance billing and administrative staff can be a nightmare for any average person. There is relentless arguing for coverage of vital procedures, the hassle of many bills from a multitude of unknown providers, and frustration upon frustration of transferred calls, waiting on hold, and unemotional detached claims denials.

Let’s pass health care reform to extract us from this insufferable bureaucracy!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reform Rx - Extraordinary Interview

An extraordinary interview by Bill Moyers that needs to be watched by every member of Congress who believes the marketplace serves us best with health care coverage.

Bill Moyers interviews Wendell Potter who formerly held a variety of positions at CIGNA Corporation over 15 years, serving most recently as head of corporate communications and as the company's chief corporate spokesman.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reform Rx - Weekend Juice

Once in a while you need a good kick to get the adrenalin flowing. Bob Cesca's blog entry on Huffington Post entitled "If You Don't Want the Public Option, Get the Hell Out of the Way" does the trick!

Reform Rx - The Two Front Trick

Republican moderates and even some Blue Dog Democrats really lay a trap when they say they support health care reform but balk at costs they say are excessive while opposing a public option which would in fact be the most significant tool in keeping down costs. That’s classic fence sitting to appease lobbyists while attempting to make the right noises for constituents back home.

I do want to commend Congressman Mike Michaud, who is referred to as being in the Blue Dog Coalition as being on record as supporting the public option. Here is part of a statement on his website: “I am, however, supportive of a public insurance option. I believe that if people like their current health insurance that they should be able to keep it and continue to see the doctors that they have grown to trust. But if people don’t like their health insurance or have none, a properly structured public insurance option could provide an affordable alternative.”

So how do we get our Senators off the fence? We need to directly ask them to take sides.

Last night I joined with about twenty of my neighbors at a friend’s home to talk about health care and write letters to Senators Snowe and Collins. The group included local activists and some individuals involved in health care delivery. There was a range of incomes from retired citizens watching the medication costs eat up their savings to middle class parents concerned about their new college grads finding affordable access to care. There was even someone recently laid off. It was a typical cross section of individuals from whom our “moderate” Senators expect to pull a few votes each election. All spoke passionately about the need for health care reform now with a public option.

These people asked Senator Snowe and Collins to take their sides by writing to them with their stories, describing their needs, adding their hopes for their children, sharing their cost concerns, and noting the critical need for a public option to achieve real reform. The longer our Senators engage in the two front trick described in this post’s opening sentence, the more one must be concerned that they may be taking the non-voter side of private insurance companies who oppose substantive health care reform.

Please join these letter writers with your personal letters and help pressure Senator Snowe and Senator Collins to take your side at one of their local Maine addresses.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Reform Rx - Parasite Cure

I just got a typical junk email from “Affordable Coverage”. It is a pretty straightforward scam aimed at getting the recipient to log onto their website and either get infected with malicious spyware or undertake some steps to aid them in stealing your identity. Of course it might even give you some sort of coverage certificate you can print out with a few miles of exclusions, bogus help lines phone numbers and an unhealthy dose of teeny tiny type deductable double talk to ensure you never see a dime.

Pariah schemes blossom best when things are broken. High pressure selling of scam adjustable mortgages reached a fever pitch in a largely unregulated and unwatched financial system that did not work for citizens. The same is true for health care insurance. Our present private system which takes high premiums and then delivers little, creates the conditions in which creative email copywriting of outright pickpocket falsehoods becomes tempting to cyber criminals and enticing to those trapped in difficult situations .

These emails and similar web ads that are “too good to be true” prey on young inexperienced consumers, the working poor, insurance rejection victims, small struggling entrepreneurial businesses, and the newly unemployed. We see examples of this type of con in online pharmacy fraud activity as well. We are necessarily focused on the health care reform debate about many of the larger issues on the table. But let’s not forget that the present system creates lots of social venerability and has real live victims of all kinds of other systemic problems. Another outcome of excellent and substantive coverage for all will be to marginalize these predators.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Reform Rx - Reactions Triggered!

President Obama followed up on the AM Wall Street Journal trigger talk with a clarification that still embraces a public option. It was important enough for him to address in the midst of his Russian trip. Let him know we have his back on this!

Office of the Press Secretary
July 7, 2009
Statement from the President on Health Care Reform

"I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and still believe, as I've said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals."

And there was a different reaction that should be a "follow the money" lesson that we ought to heed. Insurers were pretty happy with that trigger talk. Triggers are good for Wall Street profits because they delay heath care reform to residents of America's streets, roads, and alleyways.


"Shares of health insurers were up as much as 8 percent at midday on the possible shift in the administration's stance on a public plan, then they gave up some of their gains.

Shares of Aetna Inc and UnitedHealth Group Inc closed 6.3 percent and 4.5 percent higher respectively, while shares of Humana Inc closed more than 3.3 percent higher and WellPoint Inc 2.4 percent."

Reform Rx - Bipartisanship Smog (BS)

Bipartisan health care talk is more about extreme dilution than effective solution. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that the there is a possible opening in the White House door to the “trigger” option on a public plan. If our leaders move blindly forward to achieve reform to get a token bipartisan stamp, we will be ill treated.

Charting the present path of this debate provides an important case study. First, in a historical election, we fought for and won an overwhelming Democratic victory based on issues that included substantive health care reform that covered every single citizen. Ironically the absence of Edward Kennedy due to medical reasons may have allowed voices opposed to a single-payer plan to prevail early on the legislative front. We seemed destined to have to settle for a compromise that offered a public option among insurance plans. And now the effort to delay, dilute, weaken or outright kill a public option is in full swing.

It is almost like watching high stakes poker as all the industry cards are played to put the emphasis on only the finances of health care. The hospital industry ponying up $155 billion in savings as reported in today’s Washington Post or the drug manufacturers $80 billion are beginning to look like bets placed to represent paper savings now but not give us the real heath care reform we need in the long run. A lot of the bipartisan smog around compromise and cost neutrality ignores one thing: our health!

The danger is that compromise killing essential elemental reform of health care will become capitulation. The economic debate is really cost neutral already because no one is proposing raising costs or even not containing cost. The financial concern is largely about whether payments occur out of our pocket in insurance premiums and co-pays which are controlled by profit pursuit rooted in privilege or out of our pockets in taxes to be paid in pursuit of “happiness” or in other words, health care as a right. An outright majority of 57% said in a New York Times/CBS poll that they are willing to pay higher taxes for health care for all and 59% believe the government would do a better job holding down costs than private insurers. The public’s opinion is being purposely obscured.

We gained political power in millions of votes, thousands of house parties and many small donations this last November. That strength is being challenged by the influence of filibuster threat votes, backroom dealing and millions in big donations. Blow away the smog. Write (again and again) to Snowe and Collins. Copy those letters to the White House to let President Obama know we actively back him on standing firm in our interest for a public option as a part of substantive health care reform.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Reform Rx - Recognizing the Opposition

"I happen to be in the camp of great concern that, if we don't have a public option, we won't be able to reform the system." That’s what my Congressperson, Chellie Pingree said in a room full of health care stakeholders in a listening session that included a representative of private insurers. She hears out constituents but takes a straightforward stance. I also had the opportunity to hear her on a full hour MPBN call in conversing in her understanding manner with her ability for candid and open dialog. You know she’s on your side.

So who’s on the side of not supporting a public option? We hear the radio rants and read letters from those fearing the march to socialism. Do they honestly feel that our goals are heartless bureaucratic control of their lives, rationing health care so that they will wallow in illness, and killing free market entrepreneurialism? Well they really are fooled into believing they do but the key to the initial question is “follow the money”.

Following the money is complicated in its details but not in recognizing its beneficiaries. The cash trail directly leads to insurance companies in the multi-trillion dollar health care business. With a great deal of searching, it is difficult to derive the total of US health insurance profits except for a few billion here and several billion there. That information is hidden in company reports that apply enough numbers to satisfy stockholders about the company after tax earnings but fail to disclose the real capital at stake in perpetuating their existence.

It is important to be clear about profits as well. Those after tax earnings do not include all the pre-tax loopholes, high executive salaries with lucrative stock options, administrative inefficiency and dozens of other profit only focused factors that a public option similar to Medicare or the VA system will not need such as huge marketing budgets and denial specialists. Adding up all the money at stake for private insurers makes the mere $28,654,121 given in 2008 campaign donations just to members of Congress look like a rewarding investment.

Thus the radio rants and fear are whipped up by the political power funded by insurance companies. Those involved can’t define their position as being for big insurance company profits, they need to drive it with a philosophy about markets working better and always at ultimate efficiency. And that is exactly what is happening; the ultimate efficiency of those markets is working overtime at preserving their fiefdom of profits.

All this market driven frenzy and supposed efficiency has ignored one thing: our health. It denies care in the name of efficiency; it excludes poor people in the name of markets; it squeezes premiums out of the middle-class in the name of earnings; it serves stockholders in the name of profits in lieu of serving consumers, patients and, health care professionals. Private insurance companies are the opposition, they are precisely what needs to be reformed and they absolutely know that a public plan is that pathway to reform.

"Health Care" Problem? Or Insurance Problem?

Why do we continue to call the issue a "health care" problem when it is really an insurance, or ability to pay, problem? If we spent as much in additional taxes or medicare payments as we do in "health insurance" premiums, we could cover all Americans, regardless of income, with the finest health care in the world, while denying nobody. So what is wrong with that? A few fat cat insurance executives would be out of jobs (oh, pity poor them - - NOT!!) and investors might have to find other opportunities - such as renewable energy stocks, for example. Not such a bad idea? Providing health insurance coverage for all is not the same as "socialized medicine", and we have to make that argument loud and clear to rebut the assertions of the other side!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reform Rx - Midweek Light Moment

Sometimes you have to laugh.
H.A.A.R.M. Thanks, SEIU!

It is healthy to laugh at yourself but I hope that my favorite political cartoonist, Tom Tomorrow, is off the mark in this week's installment.