In Search of…a 7 foot doctor

Thanks to Think Progress we get to learn of more craziness from Michele Bachmann.

I suspect that this doctor is hanging out with the mom’s whose daughter became mentally retarded after taking the HPV vaccine, and also with Paul Bunyan and the Loch Ness monster.

I am also confused about how the doctor is prohibited from asking a person for their residential status, but have to get wait over 2 hours to get a number from the IRS to see someone.   So can’t ask one thing, but must have number to even see someone.

And a doctor would assign staff to wait with the IRS for the number.  If the part about the IRS was true, which it isn’t.

Maybe it should be in search of sanity or reality.



Question of the Day – April 8, 2010

People who don’t like the health care reform bill call it Obamacare.  But since the law came from Congress, with not to much direction from the White House, why do they call it that?

AHIP either lying or very misleading

Over at the Huffington Post they are reporting (original reporting from AP) that the industry lobbyists, American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), is defending the rate increases of it members health insurance plans:

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, said insurance industry workers “do not deserve to be vilified for political purposes. … For every dollar spent on health care in America, less than one penny goes toward health plan profits. The focus needs to be on the other 99 cents.” AHIP plans to spend more than $1 million to run television ads on cable stations nationwide beginning in the next few days to push back on the attacks on insurers.

So less than 1 percent spent on health care goes to profits.  This could be true, as the government spends much of the money spent on health care in the country, and they aren’t a for profit entity (look at the debt for proof).

But I think that isn’t the best measure, I think it would be best to look at what some of the for profit health insurance companies get in profits in comparison to their revenue.  I used 2008 Fortune 500 data and it paints a more profitable picture, out of the Fortune 150, these are the five companies whose names I recognized as being health insurance providers, the rest of the data speaks for itself.

So back to the original point, AHIP could be telling the truth if they count all the money that is spent on health care in the US, including that spent by the government and non profit insurance companies, both of which would bring down the average.  But when we look at five of the largest health insurance companies in the US, the data shows profit margins that are anywhere from 3.3 pennies to 6.6 pennies on the dollar, much higher than AHIP would have you believe, either as an out and out lie, or a masterful deception of gaming the numbers.


17% of the economy

Republicans seem to hammer away at the idea of health care reform by talking about how Congress shouldn’t change things drastically for something that covers 17% of the economy, or sometimes referred to as one sixth of the economy.

Here is the thing about that, it is the inaction that has made that such a large percentage of our GDP.  In fact Forbes (not exactly a bastion of liberal journalism) reports this,

According to the OECD, the U.S. spends 5% of GDP more on health than France, the nation with the second highest level of health spending among the 30 wealthy countries in the organization. The average for all OECD countries is 8.9% of GDP.

We spend $7,290 per person on average versus $2,964 among all OECD countries. Norway, the nation with the second most expensive health system on a per capita basis, spends $4,763. (Currency conversions based on purchasing power parity.)

If we hadn’t gone down this road that leads us to a  crazy system of health insurance (insurance not care), this attempt at reform would be impacting a smaller portion of our GDP.  But the Republicans didn’t try to fix it, in fact they are noted for blocking it for the past 30 years, letting it become a larger and larger portion of our GDP.  The Kaiser Family Foundation has this graph (exhibit 5)looking at the percent of GDP for many industrial nations in 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2003.

So when they try to scare you, and that is really all they do these days, ignore the fact that it is such a large part of GDP, it is such a big part of GDP because of their inaction, and it is not a reason for continued inaction.


Election prediction

Now this is a prediction of who will run, but a prediction of what will happen depending on who wins.

If Martha Coakley wins – the price of health insurance stocks will go down.

If Scott Brown wins – the price of health insurance stocks will go up.

And really, those are very basic predictions, heck a monkey could make them.

Is Senator Mitch McConnell really that clueless?

This morning on ABC’s This Week, Senator McConnell stated that he doesn’t think the government should get in the insurance business referring to Congress passing a health care reform law that provides a public option.  See his comments starting about 2:00 mark.

Now, I want to bring you back in time to this summer’s town hall anger, where we heard this story:

At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told  Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

“I had to politely explain that, ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,’ ” Inglis recalled. “But he wasn’t having any of it.”

Rep. Inglis, a Republican, is partially right, the constituent’s health insurance is provide by the government, but unlike Canada, the providers are private, so just the insurance is provided by the government.

Back to Senator McConnell, either he is as clueless as the man at Rep. Inglis town hall, or he is  a liar.

What kind of insurance does the Federal Government provide – Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare (insurance for military), Veterans Affiars (socialized medicine like Canada), State Childrens Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP), flood insurance, and Social Security (social insurance), those are just the ones that I can rattle off, there maybe more.

So when Senator McConnell makes a statement like that, either he is so clueless he should not be leader of his party in the Senate (does he even know what government does?), or more likely he is just a liar.  I am going to vote that he is an idealogically driven liar.


Doesn’t the new health insurance report make the case for public option?

So the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) released a new report this weekend on the rising cost of health insurance premiums.  As the New York Times reports:

The report says that the cost of the average family coverage, now $12,300, will rise to $18,400 in 2016 under current law and to $21,300 if the Senate bill is adopted. Likewise, it said, the cost of individual coverage, now $4,600, will average $6,900 in 2016 under current law and $7,900 under the bill.

So for both family and individual plans the status quo shows a 50% increase or under the Senate plan a just over 70% increase in seven years.  That is a crazy increase, and it sure makes the Senate plan look bad compared to the status quo.  For those progressives, like myself, we have thought that the Baucus plan was kind of crappy, partially because it didn’t include a public option.

The funny thing is that the Lewin Group came out with a report in April 2009 that talked about the value, not that they thought it was a value, of a public option.  The Lewin Group is owned 100% by United Health Group, which is a large health insurance group.  So what did the report say?

If Medicare payment levels are used in the public plan, premiums would be up to 30 percent less than premiums for comparable private coverage. On average, the monthly premium in the public plan for a typical benefits package would be $761 per family compared with an average of $970 per family in the private market for the same coverage.

If as the President proposed, eligibility is limited to only small employers, individuals and the self-employed, public plan enrollment would reach 42.9 million people. The number of people with private coverage would fall by 32.0 million people. If private payer reimbursement levels are used by the public plan, enrollment would be lower, with only 10.4 million people switching to the public plan from private insurance.

If the public plan is opened to all employers as proposed by Senators Clinton and Edwards, at Medicare payment levels we estimate that about 131.2 million people would enroll in the public plan. The number of people with private health insurance would decline by 119.1 million people. This would be a two-thirds reduction in the number of people with private coverage (currently 170 million people). Here again, if the higher private payer levels are used, enrollment in private insurance would decline by only 12.5 million people.

Medicare premiums would be lower than private premiums because of the exceptional leverage Medicare has with providers. Medicare pays hospitals about 30 percent less than private insurers pay for the same service. Physician payments are about 20 percent less than under private coverage. Also, because Medicare has no allowance for insurer profits or broker/agent commissions, administrative costs for this population are about one-third of administrative costs in private health plans.

So under a public option that pays Medicare provider rates, we could see our premiums 30% lower, sign me up.  Seriously what is wrong with allowing Americans to see that savings?  When families are losing health insurance coverage, do we really need to worry about protecting profits?  Protecting broker commissions?  No we need to worry about our friends, family, and neighbor not having health insurance, not the profits and commissions.

Now they will say that Medicare underpays the health insurance providers, since they pay a lower rate.  But isn’t that exactly what Wal-Mart gets credited for, using its size and clout to extract lower costs from the manufacturer that proivdes their product?  Why is it good when Wal-Mart does it, but not when the US government is doing the same for its citizens?  Well you could say that we are going to put the health care providers out of business.  Yet, the government gets deals that we don’t get based on their size.  Are you aware that hotels give a government rate?  Why shouldn’t there be government rates for health care procedures?  Well they do and it is the Medicare rate.

I think this week’s AHIP report in combination with this Lewin Group report this past spring make the case that the public option is the only way to go for American citizens.  After all the US government is We the People, not We the Insurance Industry.  So will Congress do what is right by us, not for their corporate masters?


I have a dream…

…in my dream I would love to see someone make all 535 members of Congress fill out the applications for health insurance.  In this dream, I see some members of Congress, think Michelle Bachman, balk at the intrusive questions, worse than census, that is asked about her and her family’s health.

But more importantly, in this dream, I see an awakening in members of Congress when they learn what their health insurance premiums would cost.  Not that many members of Congress couldn’t afford these costs, but it might make them aware of what average Americans pay for health care, and what the true cost of these plans are to the employers who still provide health insurance.

In my dream of dreams, I would challenge each member of Congress to try and get insurance on the individual private market, and I suggest Senator McCain lead the way.


Get to your member of Congress’ town hall meetings

I am going to be heading out shortly to attend Rep. Keith Ellison’s town hall on health care reform.

Now I know Keith’s position, especially after he signed this letter (pdf) from 57 member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Dear Madam Speaker, Chairman Waxman, Chairman Rangel, and Chairman Miller:

We write to voice our opposition to the negotiated health care reform agreement under consideration in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

We regard the agreement reached by Chairman Waxman and several Blue Dog members ofthe Committee as fundamentally unacceptable. This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards. Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates -not negotiated rates -is unacceptable. 

It would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of”keeping insurance companies honest,” and their rates down. 
To offset the increased costs incurred by adopting the provisions advocated by the Blue Dog members of the Committee, the agreement would reduce subsidies tolow-and middle-income families, requiring them to pay a larger portion oftheir income for insurance premiums, and would impose an unfunded mandate on the states to pay for what were to have been Federal costs.

In short, this agreement will result in the public, both as insurance purchasers and as taxpayers, paying ever higher rates to insurance companies.

We simply cannot vote for such a proposal.

Knowing that we are on the same side, why should I spend my Saturday morning at this Town Hall?  Well there are two reasons, the first is my fundamental belief in democracy, which really requires more than voting, but civic engagement.  The other reason is a worry that those who don’t support at a minimum a public option my try to pack the town hall.  Those of us who support a public option and prefer single payer, need to make our voices heard.  We cannot allow corporate media drown out our voices for real change. 

I realize that even if it was overrun with folks wanting the status quo, that Rep. Ellison wouldn’t change his position on this.  But not all members of Congress are as committed to real reform as he is, so if you have town hall coming up on this topic with your member of Congress.  Get to it and make your voice heard.


Screw bipartisanship

It is way over-rated.  It is something that the corporate media tries to impose on the Democrats to stiffle truly progressive legislation that the American people want, not the power brokers that represent monied (corporate)interests.

As this Washington Post editorial demonstrates, their desire for bipartisanship is at the expense of the only reform that matters, the public option.

Second, Democrats continued their insistence on a public option — a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers — as essential to effective health reform. Mr. Obama issued what amounted to a public rebuke of his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, for the apparently heretical act of suggesting openness to an alternative: having a “trigger” mechanism under which a public plan would be established if the private insurance market fails to provide enough competition. The president, from Moscow, restated his support for a public plan, though, thankfully, he continued to avoid drawing a line in the sand. As we have said before, it would be tragic if this issue were to drag down health reform or make it impossible to secure Republican votes. Restructuring the health-care system is risky enough that Democrats would be wise not to try to accomplish it entirely on their own.

So they are saying that including a public option will drive away every Republican vote.  If they want to subvert the will of the people and vote against, then they are going to cement their role as a minority party.  After all this CBS/NY Times poll shows:

A clear majority of Americans — 72 percent — support a government-sponsored health care plan to compete with private insurers, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds. Most also think the government would do a better job than private industry at keeping down costs and believe that the government should guarantee health care for all Americans.

CBS deserves a little bit of smackdown on this, a clear majority?  55 percent is a clear majority, 72% is almost 3 in 4 people.  You know they call the 60 votes need for cloture in the Senate (which is 60%)?  A super majority.  To get an amendment out of Congress it needs 2/3 thirds votes in each chamber, that is only 67%, this is higher.  Okay back on topic!

From the actual poll (pdf) this gem comes out about the public option that 72% of Americans support.

Even 50% of Republicans favor that.

So I say include the plan that Americans want, that includes a public option.  Remember corporations do not vote, oh we know they give money in the form of campaign contributions that our politicians are constantly chasing after.  But they can give all the money they want, we can vote them out.  And if I were a Republican, I would be wary of putting off that 50% of my party voters, because most current Repbulicans in Congress have little chance of picking up the Reagan Democrats.  Especially Senators Snowe and Collins, you vote against cloture on public option, and I hope that you are voting yourself out of office.

Has the Washington Post ever called on Republicans to be bipartisan on legislation when they were in power?  If you find an example, I would welcome it, but I am not going to search for it because I doubt exists.

So back on track again, in theory the members of Congress are our representatives, and we want a public health option.  I disagree with the editorial that it should be not be line in the sand as away to try and sway Republican votes.  They ruled the country and left a mess, it is time to try some good old fashioned progressive policies to get the country on the right (not poltically) course.

Public option is the line in the sand.  The Democrats in the Senate started this process with a handicap when Senator Baucus wouldn’t even discuss Single Payer in his committee when talking about health care reform.  That is the ideal, but I am willing to settle for public option, but when public option is the far left position on the table (and would be the center-left position if single payer were still on the table) and makes for a weaker negotiating position. 

But here is the beauty part, if Harry Reid could find his spine, and get his Senators to vote for cloture, we have the 60 votes, we don’t need any Republicans in the Senate for this vote.  

And if the Republicans require a cloture vote, don’t just do the vote, and don’t run (as he has in the past) if you are not sure you have 60 votes.   Spend days of debate on the topic.  Put your most progressive Senators out there making the case for the public option.  Make the Obstructionist Republican Party defend their position of opposing a public option.  Get the news cameras in, get in on the record, and get footage of their corporate arguments that can be used in ads against them in the next election.  And if any of the Democrats are waffling, we will get the calls into their offices to swamp, to make them think twice about their chances of re-election if they go against the will of the people.

The time to leave policy in the hands of members of Congress and the talking heads in the corporate media is over.  It is time for Americans to take back our politicians, to make them serve our interests.  So screw the bipartisanship that the editors at the Washington Post think is critical!  Americans don’t need bipartisanship, Americans need an affordable health care system that serves the needs of the people, of the patients!


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