Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reform Rx - Snowe Weary

Good morning, happy Halloween, and just in case you did not have a nightmare, read the morning papers:

Snowe reaffirms her opposition to public option
- Portland Press Herald
Snowe on health care legislation: 'I will try to make it better'
- Morning Sentinel, Waterville
Senator hopes to improve health care measure, even if she votes against it
- Kennebec Journal, Augusta

In a story by Matt Wickenheiser, Maine Today Media has decided to become a part of the the legendary Snowe-making machinery equating her serious style with wisdom. Giving Senator Snowe occasional good marks for diligence and even level-headiness may be appropriate. However, just being earnest does necessarily yield wise statecraft. Senator Snowe is fallible, subject to misdirection, can be close-minded, and simply be dead wrong. That's the case with health care reform, Snowe has a nice bedside manner but her diagnosis is inaccurate and her prescription is full of complications for the patient.

Here's a few outtakes from the Maine Today Media piece that cause pauses:

Sen. Olympia Snowe reiterated one of her key positions Friday, saying she won't support a Senate bill that contains a public option.

The most vital tool to control costs effectively to cover the most individuals, supported by a majority of both houses of Congress, the President, the American people, and constituents in Maine continues to earn a complete dismissal.

She again suggested her alternative to a full government-backed plan: a fallback, safety-net plan that would be triggered in states where insurance companies fail to offer affordable plans.

Senator Snowe continues to tout her plan for a triggered public option fashioned for failure despite compromise after compromise and concession after concession that have brought us to the present "opt-out" public option version.

"I just think it's going to be very difficult to get it done by Christmas," she said.

A procrastinator's persistent petulance prevails.

"Introducing a government approach in an already dysfunctional market would truly threaten the ability to create a competitive market," Snowe said.

Oozing gravitas apparently can obliterate a lack of logic in any utterance. Faith-based market worship blinds her.

Snowe said that what has happened in the insurance industry has been "unconscionable."

Those are fighting words! Run up the white flag!

Let's put Senator Snowe's dalliance with health care reform in some sort of perspective. She has diagnosed a dysfunctional market. The dysfunction comes about from an insurance industry engaged in activity that is "unconscionable". Majorities of her colleagues, Americans, and Maine constituents see the value of a public option as the corrective solution. And, she seems to agree that a public option can fix things too. Senator Snowe has thus concluded that threatening an industry engaged in "unconscionable" practices in a dysfunctional market they brought about ought to be threatened with the fix for a few years. Maybe they will the play nice.

Senator Snowe: We're weary of your delaying tactics and continual preference for corporate entities over critical individual needs; please get with the program or at the very least stop obstructing the process by seeking concessions that hurt us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reform Rx – Vote NO on One

A clear connection unites these issues. Beyond the debates of who, what, when, and where lays the essential interwoven question of why we ought to reform health care and why we must guarantee equality for all. The answer rests on choosing that which is morally right and affirming that “we hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reform Rx - BOO to Seniors

Let freedom ring;
Let fear upswing.
You sacrificed dearly,
To be frightened insincerely?

60 Plus a right wing group that tries to pass itself off as an AARP equivalent is spending two million dollars in a fear smear that tries to frighten seniors. Here is an excerpt from their press release on the media buy:

October 28, 2009 - ALEXANDRIA, VA – The 60 Plus Association today announced a new advertising campaign targeting Senator Snowe. The $2.0 million ad buy, which will also run in Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota, celebrates our greatest generation, asks seniors to call Senator Snowe and demand she fight the massive cuts to Medicare the current health care reform legislation before the Senate would bring.

Here is the actual Maine version of the ad found on You Tube. It is easy to identify the fear tactics used by 60 Plus. However, the organization actually has the callous audacity to accuse health care reformers of being the fear mongers!

“Even with Halloween around the corner, Senator Snowe shouldn’t be scaring seniors with the threat of Washington bureaucrats refusing care or making health care decisions instead of your doctor,” said Jim Martin, President of 60 Plus.

There is one simple thing we can all do when these ads start running amok across our screens here in Maine. Adopt a senior. And if you are senior, adopt a peer. Find an senior neighbor or relative and ask them if they saw the ad and if it caused any concern. Tell them that health care reform is about improving health care for all Americans and not to the detriment of anyone else. Listen and share your views in a caring manner. Better health care for them, their children and grandchildren is the fulfillment of their sacrifice. And be sure to thank them for bequeathing to us a country where universal health care is possible.

Here are two timeless quotes to heed today that inspired the greatest generation.

Consider this more complete and in context famous quote by President Roosevelt at his first Inaugural Address in 1933:
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

And at President Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union Address he proposed a Second Bill of Rights that included:
"...the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health."

Pass health care now. We are fearless.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Reform Rx – Opting In to Opt Out

A public option will now get debated in the Senate. The opt-out option announced today by Senate Majority Leader Reid is far superior to the trigger in many ways.

Consistent broad voter support of a public option and your activist efforts kept this fight for fairness alive. The health care lobby came extremely close to killing the public option in the Senate. It is imperative to remind ourselves that they will not surrender. They will try to influence the processes at every single step. And rest assured that they and their surrogates will also resort again to fear tactics.

We need to ensure that the Senate Democratic caucus stands together and that no single member abandons the aspirations and essential needs of the citizens who gave the Democratic party a mandate by slinking off and joining the Republicans in a filibuster even if they might be individually disinclined to support the final bill.

Despite the efforts of our own Senator Snowe, her trigger trick is not the public option version that Senator Reid will offer for debate. But again be forewarned, we have not heard the end of the trigger and the opt-out replacement with a trigger is entirely possible. Maine citizens need to tell Senator Snowe to abandon her allegiance to the trigger; her constituents do not want it

We must intensify pressure on both Senators Snowe and Collins to support substantive health care reform with a robust public option. It is also critical that we be wary of too much attention being given to our Senators when it might cross the threshold into too much concession. We expect them to support our interests and not be granted the capability to barter away our hopes.

(From single payer to supporting a public option as a necessary compromise and now to using opt out as a tactic to win the compromise, my line in the sand is now drawn.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reform Rx – Now playing, “Trigger Kill Bill”

Every great once in a while, pulling a loaded gun’s trigger accidently causes a misfire injury or death. That’s accidently; one could of course deviously rig things for an intentional result. However, this column is not about hashing out 2nd amendment arguments but trying to dissect Senator Snowe’s politicking.

Amid a very good analysis by Jacob S. Hacker in The New Republic regarding why a trigger for health care reform will not work, this gem glistened:

“As is well recognized, triggers are generally designed to create political cover, not effective policy.”

In scrutinizing the possible effects of a trigger and the opportunity for insurance companies to anticipate it and thwart its effectiveness, Hacker comes to this unsurprising conclusion:

“Added to the Senate bills, a trigger would represent a backdoor way of killing the public health insurance option that a majority of Americans (and U.S. Senators) support.”

Perhaps this is Senator Snowe’s objective all along.

The TNR piece has enough good information in it to help anyone compose a very good letter to Harry Reid and Christopher Dodd about not including a trigger in a combined Senate bill. Whoops, left out Max Baucus…must be an oversight, sorry misplaced his contact information.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reform Rx - Snowe's Body Language

Statement from Maine People’s Alliance Executive Director Jesse Graham:

“For months now, political analysts throughout the country have been attempting to divine Senator Olympia Snowe’s intentions towards health care reform. Now, it’s come down to reading her body language.

With a single sentence to reporters and a nod of her head as she walked down a Senate corridor, Snowe today appeared to say she would filibuster a health care bill if it contains a public option.

If that interpretation is correct, Senator Snowe would be signaling her intention to deny the people of Maine the affordable health coverage they desperately need.

Three recent polls have all shown around 58% of Mainers in support of a public health insurance option, with only 35% opposed. A recent Democracy Corps poll showed that a vote against real health care reform would reduce her electoral support to 44%, with another 44% of Mainers surveyed opposing her reelection.

Premiums have risen astronomically for Maine people over the past decade and Anthem, Maine’s largest insurer, is now engaged in a legal battle with the state to raise them even higher. They have proposed an unconscionable 18.5% increase for individual plans.

A public plan would keep insurance companies accountable and guarantee an affordable health care for people in Maine.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reform Rx: The Death Dividend

$263,000,000 has been spent by health care lobbyists this year.
The average individual annual health insurance premium is $4,824.
$263,000,000 divided by $4,824 is enough to cover 54,500 people.
45,000 people a year die in the US due to lack of health insurance.

Yes, the deaths are only a portion of the uninsured but all the plans on the table are aimed to reduce the uninsured by payment of premiums! Get more background on the numbers story at Dirigo Blue.

Maybe the health care industry, big pharma, and health insurance lobbyists could just save the cash for quarterly dividends and simply mail death certificates directly to Congress.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reform Rx – Upside-down Bipartisanship

In Maine we’ve seen the courting of Senator Olympia Snowe to obtain a bipartisan imprimatur on the Finance Committee mark yielding the negative result of a weakened bill devoid of a strong public option. Will the pursuit of bipartisanship now extend to the full Senate in an equally damaging manner?

We will soon find out as the Finance and HELP Committee efforts get combined and move in front of the full Senate. One obstacle that the press often points out as a supporting reason to pursue “bipartisan” course is the looming threat of a Republican filibuster. However, there is absolutely no such thing, it is a deceptive illusion.

A Republican filibuster is technically not feasible within the full Senate because the body is divided in such a way (60/40) that with a full roster it takes 41 votes to frustrate the advance of vital legislation. That’s 41 Republican votes, not 40; there are 40 Republican Senators. Lather, rinse, repeat…that’s 41 Republican votes, not 40; there are 40 Republican Senators.

The concluding vote math is easy; a filibuster in the current United States Senate must be bipartisan. At the very minimum a single member of the Democratic caucus must jump ship and support the use of a filibuster against her/his own fellow caucus. In this case it is not a trivial hop across the aisle from a divided caucus but a leap across a chasm containing a majority of the Senate supporting a public option.

In an October 19th New York Times piece we learn:

“There are 52 solid Democrats for the public option,” said Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the health committee. “Only about five Democrats oppose it. Should the 52 give in to the five? Or should the five go along with the vast majority of the Democratic caucus?”

The pursuit for a lone Republican to get a bipartisan stamp on a bill reported out of committee at 14 - 9 when 13 -10 or even 12 -11 might have advanced better legislation was pointless. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of reality TV show called the “Amazing Chase” to get a single Republican vote for health care reform. Citizens cannot be fooled this easily; bona fide bipartisanship obviously involves the contributions of larger groups when it can be achieved. We also understand that it is not possible this time because Republican Senators in any real numbers do not genuinely support meaningful health care reform in any way, shape, or form. Besides, they have their own reality TV show, “Extreme Fakeover”, in which a lone filibustering Democrat is lured into the Republican pack ready for reruns.

Any forthcoming filibuster threat will be as bipartisan as Olympia Snowe’s committee vote.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reform Rx – Secret Agent Snowe

Mole (noun)

someone who joins or works for an organization in order to give secret information about it to other people, especially to its enemies

a defector in place, an informant, a spy from one organization seeking to weaken an opposing organization from within

commonly used to describe anyone working in one organization, seeking access to confidential information that they will pass to the organization for whom they really work

Is Senator Snowe a planted Republican mole or joining with the Democrats to play an outsized role that destroys health care reform efforts from within? No. This column isn’t a left wing version of “Beck conspiracy in everything” nuttiness.

However, Olympia Snowe is playing an outsized role in health care reform legislation that is weakening substantive reform and killing chances of an immediately available robust public option. We need to help stop this unwitting mole activity.

Maine citizens can and should continue to be on the offense and contact Senator Snowe to demand that she support significant health care reform represents our needs for urgent and substantive action.

We also need to be defensive and let other Democrats know that Maine citizens are not aligned with Senator Snowe’s destructive gutting of reform and feel poorly represented as a result. We need their understanding that beyond state borders we recognize a need for national program that is far stronger than what Senator Snowe is willing to barter away in the name of negligible bipartisanship.

Our message needs to be:

I hail from Maine; please do not compromise with Senator Snowe. While I appreciate the goal of bipartisanship, I know that Maine citizens cannot endure an ineffective compromise brokered by our own Senator misrepresenting us that weakens substantive health care reform and eliminates a robust public option. In Maine, we support and need authentic reform that addresses our needs and that of all Americans. Please represent us.”

Call, email, fax:

President Barack Obama
Senator Harry Reid
Senator Max Baucus
Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reform Rx: The Forecast for Snowe

"My vote today is my vote today. It doesn't forecast what my vote will be tomorrow."
- Maine Senator Olympia Snowe

Our senior Senator has garnered a lot of national press with expectations of her vote for the Baucus bill and her eventual Finance Committee vote in favor of the measure. Take little comfort from her involvement, it has not served us well. In part to earn her vote, the public option that would save us the greatest amount of money and save us from insurance company exploitation never appeared in the bill. Certainly there are a few Democratic members aligned against the public option but her acceptance of it could have been pivotal. Instead Senator Snowe influenced the watering down of the Finance committee bill.

Her support may indeed prove to be a thorn that penetrates deeper. Now there will be a concerted effort to keep her on board with the hopes of also attracting her colleague and our other wayward Senator, Susan Collins. This effort could indeed ensure that the Senate’s eventual merged bill of the Finance and HELP measures has no public option or just a public option gimmick like a trigger. Senator Snowe will have future water runs available to her to dilute the reform desperately needed and assist keeping insurance companies floating on top.

The final step will be the House/Senate Conference to craft the final bill. It will pit a weakened Senate bill against the more robust public option offerings that the House is sure to pass. Senator Snowe may even have a seat in that conference but if not will surely have an open back door. After she helped weaken the Senate Finance Committee bill and likely assisted in passing a weak Senate combined bill tailored to keep her “bipartisan” stamp on things, do we want her doing further damage to health care reform?

The national press will continue with their attention on our senior Senator. The lobbyists and influence peddlers will remain in touch with her with their privileged special Washington access to keep their version of market solutions in front of her. Some leading Democrats, despite the fact that she will weaken the very reforms they know in their hearts are essential and even the administration seeking the bipartisan imprimatur will continue to court her vote and thereby give her a role out of proportion to what would best serve us in Maine.

In Maine, citizens really need substantive robust reform. We need a public option and not some flimsy state sized substitute public option but a national solution that is powerful enough to save us substantial money in a nationally reformed system. The argument will arise that some reform is better than none. But like a badly broken bone, set improperly, the future difficult complications sure to come will be on the nation’s and Maine’s horizon.

Constituents are one voice in the process, one that all the other powerful influences are dismissing and trying to suppress. We must counter loudly and forcibly hold Senator Snowe accountable to us. She may not “forecast what my vote will be tomorrow” but we need to forecast the storm that results from giving into the pressure system in Washington with its effect on the political weather in Maine.

We must translate Senator Snowe's “you lose me” if a public option gets in the final bill to “you lose us if she does not support substantive reform.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Reform Rx - Corporate Communism & Health Care

Watching MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan, who started his journalism career at the Portsmouth Herald next door, can be an exhausting tour de force. Whatever one deduces about his opinions, his logic is sharp and his questioning is doggedly pointed. At the heart of his economy reporting is a provocative message about manipulation of the many by the few feeding excessive greed and for unearned rewards with long term consequences. His explanation of corporate communism in this piece is particularly apt and his fair warning that our form of capitalism could capitulate into the type of thugocracy we see today in “democratic” Russia is prescient.

Here he is referencing corporate communism in a highly spirited health care debate with anti-health care reform shrill Betsy McCaughey and Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Reform Rx: Defanging Predators

Reading the Wall Street Journal can be a difficult chore at times when wading through market and business news about how corporations and industries manipulate everything from Washington to currencies to their own opaque images. Wearily one comes to the editorials and opinions that cheerlead and critique aspects of a superficial world that real people who are the instruments and hostages of capital do not inhabit.

But there is much that is to be gleaned from careful reading of this chronicle of corporate elitism. A wry smile at quirky front page offbeat stories, an impressive answer back to the palaces of power in an op-ed or letter, and perhaps a useful personal finance pointer are occasional rewards. And an understanding of the financial class's evangelical manipulation of tax and free market religion to single-issue conservative voters to insulate them from regulation and continue feeding the politics of selfishness is valuable.

Then comes Wednesday and The Tilting Yard by Thomas Frank that tells me that a genuine op-ed which in one of its best roles as “opposition-editorial” does take place within the pages of the Wall Street Journal. This week’s installment, like many, gets behind the gauzy curtains of Republican Conservatives exposes their shallow interpretation of economic theory and adoption of sound bite politics. Mr. Frank challenges the right wing’s mantra of government as predator by once again demonstrating that corporate teeth in the state’s jaw are the real danger to health care reform.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Reform Rx - Conservative Accidental Values

George Smith's Kennebec Journal column, the Native Conservative, today included praise for the Italian socialized health care system. He gave a quaint tale, never mentioning socialism, taxes, or big bad government about his brush with the system and implying how well it worked. I often refer to him as the "Naive Conservative" precisely because he so often "can't see the forest because of the trees" despite all his time in the woods! Read his piece, which is the first half of the column, and preview the letter of response below submitted for Journal publication that will appear hopefully soon.

George Smith’s October 7th quaint vignette of Italian health care does not take the tale to its logical conclusion.

Italy has a public plan modeled along the lines of the British system. The World Health Organization system ranks Italy #2 out of 191 countries for quality care outcomes. The US is ranked #37. In 2005, Italy spent 8.9% of GDP or $2,714 per person on health care; the US spent $6,347 per person on health care or 15.2% of GDP. Italians live longer, have lower birth mortality rates, and more doctors per capita. Everyone is covered in Italy and guests such as the Smiths are treated efficiently and fairly when the need arises.

Yes, Italy taxes to fund their system but the net costs as noted above are far less to every individual. Conservative voices ought to be supporting a robust public plan because it is a conservative wise investment in citizens that costs less money. Oh, regarding the dreaded subject of taxes – isn’t paying some efficient amount for our common defense against sickness and hazards better than a taxing private debilitating legalized levy?

Substantive health care reform will also help business, except health insurance companies, in being more competitive on the world stage. A robust public plan would assist that engine of growth, small business, and unleash many to consider possible entrepreneurial options. It would be a bulwark of support for conservative ideals in trade and individual initiative.

Let’s hope Mr. Smith takes his next column to the logical conclusion by researching the Italian system and recommending the model based on its conservative and prudent investment of funds that generate excellent outcomes. Reforming health care with a public plan ought to be a conservative ambition.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reform Rx: Be there or be square

Major rally for single-payer health care and to protest Anthem's suing the taxpayers of Maine at the Kennebec County Court House at 95 State Street in Augusta, Maine (map) on Wednesday, 7 October at 12:00 noon.

We are very fortunate to have Wendell Potter, the former health care insurance executive turned reformer speaking at this event!

Brave New Films is supposed to also be there and I suspect filming for additional footage of their coverage of the WellPoint affiliate Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield's suit to guarantee profits in Maine.