Sunday, November 08, 2009

Pop-Top Health Care

Health care reform took another step forward last night with the passage of a bill in the House.

I don't know if we will ever get a bill or if it will cost a lot of money or if it will accomplish what I hope needs to be done. I hope it passes, but I don't have a lot of hope. If a bill passes and becomes law, flawed as it will be, at least we will have a framework which future generations can build on. Assuming they have more guts and foresight than current and previous generations.

Personally, I believe a single payer, government run system would be better, but we are not good at legislating big, contentious issues like health care. Isn't that a good reason for government to stay out of health care? Yes, except everyday we live with evidence that the alternative is worse.

I try to listen to lots of different ideas so I was interested in listening to stories about health care systems in other countries. Contrary to what you often hear, I think most people in these countries are satisfied with their health care systems. I heard about one country on NPR (National Public Radio, if you don't listen to it, you should) where you can call and talk to health care professionals day or night, and if your condition warrants it and you can't come in, they will send a doctor to make a house call. Amazing.

In the U.S., I believe we pay about twice as much per person for health care as other countries with government sponsored health care. We do benefit from some of the best health care in the world, if you can afford it.

But two other anecdotes really bother me.

I believe it was the man in charge of health care in Great Britain who said that no one in his country ever goes bankrupt trying to pay for health care. In the U.S., health care bills are the number one cause of personal bankruptcy. He also pointed out the people in Great Britain never have to worry about losing their health care because they lose their job.

In my office we have containers to recycle soda cans. Someone recently added old gallon milk jugs and asked people to tear off the pop-top tabs and put them in the jug to help pay the medical bills for a very ill two year old girl. I heard an official from a foreign country comment on NPR that they were taken aback the first time they saw such an appeal in the U.S.. He was shocked that a parent in the United States of America had to resort to begging to get money to pay for health care for their seriously ill child. That was unheard of in his country.

Think about, some parents in the United States have to beg for health care for their sick children!

The news this morning talked about a few Democratic members of Congress who threatened to stop the health care reform bill unless harsh anti-abortion language was added to the bill. The language was added to gain their votes. Abortion is a serious ethical issue and I understand that people can have strong beliefs on both sides of the issue, but this move really bothers me. Supporters of a woman's choice could take the same stand and refuse to vote for the bill unless the abortion restrictions are removed (the Hyde Amendment would still apply).

I have a question for people who think the current health care system is fine or would rather not have reform if they can't have their personal needs satisfied.

What do you think when you pass the milk jug begging for help for a sick child?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama Administration Uses Torture!

Breaking news. Terrorist suspect Najibullah Zazi has admitted ties to al-Quida and attending a terrorist training school in Pakistan.

But that isn't the real news.

The real news is that the Obama administration has taken former Vice-President Cheney's advice and used torture!

They haven't admitted they used torture, yet. But we know that real important information can only be forced from terrorists with torture. Therefore, the Obama administration must have tortured Najibullah Zazi.

Darn, I expected better from President Obama.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

You Lie!

A few weeks ago I heard a TV commentator advise that Democrats needed to learn from Republicans how to speak in "bumper stickers". This is the common wisdom that by labeling an issue, you control it.

Drill, Baby, Drill!

No New Taxes!

Life Begins At Conception!

Death Panels!


Of course, this is a lot easier for Republicans. They think and communicate via bumper stickers. "Nuance" is an epithet that Republicans use to denigrate Democrats. Institutes of higher education are always "bastions of liberalism". The mainstream media always has a "liberal bias" (as compared to?). Climate change is a fraud. President Obama isn't a citizen. Evolution is just a theory. Medicare is not a government run health plan. Do you see a pattern here?

During the Bush administration, more than once I complained to conservative friends that I objected to being called unpatriotic or worse if I questioned administration policies. My conservative friends countered that they objected to being considered stupid. That is fair enough until you listen to them explain their positions. Bumper stickers may be a simple way to summarize your position, but they don't form the basis for a discussion and they do nothing to convince anyone you know what you are talking about.

Joe Wilson has apologized for his "You Lie!" outburst. I listened to him today on Fox News Sunday. He did not apologize for calling the president a liar. A lie is conscious effort to not tell the truth. So he really believes the president intentionally meant to lie to Congress and the American people. He never once explained why he thought the president would presumably want to give insurance coverage to all illegal immigrants. That would require too much explanation. Way too much for a bumper sticker.

What bothers me most about Representative Wilson's outburst is that it only feeds the outrage in people who who much prefer a bumper sticker rather than a discussion and continues to distort the debate.

I'm sure there are already cars with "You Lie!" bumper stickers.

I'd like to ask Representative Wilson why he didn't yell "That's Not True!" or "You Are Wrong!"? Too many syllables?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let's Hear It For A Wise Latina Woman

Tomorrow, confirmation hearings will begin in the Senate for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Republics will make a show, just to show they can.

This morning on Fox News Sunday, Texas Senator John Cornyn questioned Judge Sotomayor's qualifications to be on the Supreme Court partly because of her often quoted comment "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Senator Cornyn strongly believes justice should be blind.

Supreme Court rulings are seldom nine to nothing. What accounts for this difference of opinion? Justices hear the same facts and come to different conclusions, often based on predictable ideological lines. Maybe some of the differences come from life experiences.

Also, there are eight men and one woman currently on the Supreme Court. There have only been two women Supreme Court Justices in our nation's history. This in a country that has about the same number of women citizens as men (actually, today women are in the majority). Those facts would suggest that, historically, male presidents and predominantly male Senates have decided that a man's legal opinion is better than a woman's.

So Senator Cornyn's opinion that the legal system should be blind to characteristics such as gender and race is noble, but these ideals don't seem to apply to the executive and legislative branches when it comes to judicial appointments.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Simple Universal Health Care Plan

Universal health care will involve rationing, but as I explained in a previous blog, our current health care system already has rationing. In fact, health care will always involve rationing because in an advanced technological society, the cost of unlimited, advanced health care options for everyone will always exceed our ability to afford them.

I have a proposal. When a person is born, they are given a health care fund. For this discussion, let us say it is one million dollars. They can use this money for all their non-elective health care needs. Preventive care, medicine, surgeries, mental health, dental, etc. All these costs would be deducted from the balance of their account. When the money runs out, their access to further health care is ended, although they can continue to receive hospice care until they die.

In addition, starting at age 21, the balance in their account goes down every year on their birthday. On each birthday starting at age 21, the balance in their fund goes go down by 15,000 dollars.

Ideally, this would be the entire system, but we could add incentives as long as they are objective and consistently applied. For example, once a year you could take a fitness test. Those who don't smoke, keep their weight down, exercised and could pass the test, would have their balance reduced considerably less than the standard 15,000 dollars. I know this doesn't seem fair to people with unpreventable conditions, but life is not fair. But people who actively work to keep themselves healthy may decrease overall health care costs, freeing money to increase the lifetime allowance or decrease the annual reduction. This would benefit people who can't qualify for a fitness allowance reduction.

People would be able to buy supplemental insurance, but the premium would greatly exceed the cost to provide this benefit. The additional money would be used to help pay for the system and thus make insurance available to everyone.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Universal Health Care and Rationing

In the current debate over a national health care system, we have heard a lot about how this will lead to rationing. The truth is that we have a lot of health care rationing under the current system.

Anyone who isn't rich or have a job with health care benefits suffers from rationing.

Elective surgeries, experimental procedures and procedures that are considered to be ineffective are usually not covered by health insurance. This is certainly rationing and who determines what is covered? The health insurance company. Or in some cases, your employer, who opts for a less expensive plan.

If you are not covered by health insurance at work and you have the money and you haven't already been diagnosed with a serious condition, you can sign up for any number of insurance plans. Every plan has limits (rationing) and you pay more for less rationing. For example, many of the lower cost options for women do not have any maternity benefits.

Rationing is often used as another term for "cost control".

Another complaint against universal health care is that people don't want to pay for other people's health care. They accept the shared costs of insurance, but object to paying for people who don't contribute any thing to the cost of the insurance. I believe these people think it is a matter of fairness.

But, of course, people without health insurance go to the emergency room and the cost of that care is passed along to people who use health care and can pay.

But even for many people with insurance, the costs are not shared fairly. Every employer plan I've been in charges different fees to the employee depending on how many people are covered. Covering just the employee costs the employee a lot less than covering the employee and a spouse. A family plan costs the employee even more except a family plan is the same cost whether the family has one child or ten. How is that fair?

Life's not fair, so why should paying for health care be fair? Health care costs must be controlled and that will inevitably lead to what some people will call rationing.

So lets have a discussion of the best way to create a health care system that is "fair" and affordable. "Rationing" will be one of the tools we use to achieve this.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Torture Proof

Several conservative pundits have stated that water boarding is not really torture. Well if water boarding (and other questionable techniques the Bush Administration approved) are not really torture, why were they effective at getting information?

You’ve captured a terrorist and believe he has information about an attack that could kill hundreds, thousands or millions of people (the Jack Bauer scenario). What would convince this terrorist to tell you what you want to know? Threat of a wedgie? A water balloon fight? No, according to the Bush Administration, the only thing that would work is some sort of coercion that would force a person to talk. You might need water boarding, thumb screws, nail pulling, the rack or something equally painful.

But wait, if water boarding is not really torture, why would anyone tell you something they otherwise wouldn’t just because of water boarding?

So the proof that water boarding is torture are the very claims by Bush Administration officials that it was effective

Why Not Really Torture?

I’m also bothered and confused by the “the ends justify the means” defense of "enhanced interrogation techniques" being espoused by Bush Administration defenders. How did the Bush Administration decide where to draw the line of acceptable versus unacceptable techniques? If they were really worried about the safety of U.S. citizens and convinced that torture, excuse me, "enhanced interrogation techniques" were required, why weren't they willing to authorize techniques more severe than water boarding?

The line had been drawn for decades with the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law. The Bush Administration thought these rules were inadequate to the threat we faced. They decided they needed to move that line, but they only moved it a little.

I'm missing something.

Who Deserves Jail Time?

There are many things that bother me about the Bush Administration torture policies.

The Administration didn’t have the balls to admit what they were doing when they were initially caught. They let U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib go to jail for using techniques that somehow just happened to be many of the same techniques that Bush Administration lawyers had approved in written memos. If soldiers can do jail time for using these techniques, it sure seems logical that people up the chain of command can go to jail for authorizing them.

Ugly Alert!

There is one thing sure about the current controversy over U.S. torture policies under the Bush Administration; it is going to get ugly.

We’ve heard accusations that President Obama has lost control of the torture issue. Of course, he never had control. Too much was already known. He could have tried to prevent release of the torture memos, but the courts would have eventually forced their disclosures and then President Obama would have been accused of being complicit.

Former Vice-President Cheney has not helped. Well maybe he has helped…, helped himself and fellow former administration members. He has positioned himself and them to be vindicated should another attack occur (after 9/11/2009, that is).

Their argument is that the Bush policies kept us safe after 9/11 and that fact justifies whatever they did. Of course, as I’ve previously written (Who Has The Best Record?), Bill Clinton kept us safe after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993 and I haven’t heard anyone claim he authorized terrorism (although there may have been renditions). And we have at least one documented case (the planned bombing of the LA airport in 2000) where they thwarted a terrorist attack.

I don’t think we know why the terrorists attacked when they did and why we haven’t been attacked since 9/11. But if water boarding 3 terrorists is the reason we haven’t been attacked in the U.S. since 9/11, we are in trouble. I haven’t heard about any recent high level terrorists we’ve apprehended who we could torture to prevent the next attack.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Nuts and Dolts of the Republican Party

Did I just hear Republican strategist Todd Harris on Hardball call CPAC the "nuts and dolts of the Republican Party"?


Republics Got Deficit Religion

Senator Judd Gregg was on NPR today complaining about deficit spending by President Obama. He was outraged that Democrats were heaping debt on our kids and grand kids.

This is standard Republic talk. I was appalled by the deficits run up under President Bush. Why weren't Republics concerned then? Suddenly they've gotten deficit religion.

Sorry guys, you missed your chance. If President Obama currently had the financial situation that George W. Bush had when he became president, I'd be on you side.

As it is, we are in a massive hole that in large part was created by President Bush and the Republics.

I suggest Republics wait for 8 years. We can then see how well President Obama did with the economy he inherited compared to what President Bush did with the economy he inherited.

Until then, Republics, SHUT UP!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Foreclosures: We Needed More Lawyers?

This past week, I heard a talking empty head (i.e. television analyst) complaining about President Obama's mortgage rescue plan bailing out people who faced foreclosure . He wanted to know why the rest of us should have to help people who made bad decisions. When the host said that some of these people were duped into taking these loans, the talking empty head was astounded. He couldn't understand. Didn't these people have their lawyers look over these loan contracts? This guy then asked the host something like, "Did you ever buy a piece of property where you didn't have your lawyer check everything?" The host said "No" when he should have told the guy he was an out-of-touch idiot.

It might be a better world if we all had lawyers who could look over our shoulders and check all our decisions. What do you think?