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Friday, April 09, 2010
The Ghost Of Health Care Yet To Come

The state of Massachusetts has a health care system similar to what Obama's gang is imposing on the entire country and things are getting rather interesting in the Bay State. An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal gives us the frightening vision of what health care will be like nationwide if we don't turn things around.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has effectively imposed a premium cap on the state's insurers by rejecting 90% of the premium increases they have requested. Several top insurers suffered operating losses last year and in order to avoid huge additional losses, and possible insolvency, they filed suit in Boston superior court and simply stopped offering quotes.

What was the state's response, you ask? As if you didn't know. The state of Massachusetts is now demanding that these insurers immediately resume selling new policies, at year old base premiums no less, or face fines and penalties.

So just to sum it up. The government is forcing private companies to sell health insurance at a loss, or face fines and penalties, which can only result in these companies going out of business. The government is also requiring all citizens to purchase health insurance, or face fines and penalties, and since there will now no longer be any private insurers left they will be forced into the welcoming arms of their loving government.

How can this be, one could ask? President Obama promised that Americans would be able to keep their current insurance and that the government would never be taking over the insurance industry.

Well, I guess the President technically didn't lie. You could keep your current insurance but the evil insurance company you had your policy with is no longer in business...and good riddance because they died trying to raise your premiums. And the government didn't directly take over the insurance industry. They had no choice because all of those evil insurance companies are no longer in business...and good riddance because they died trying to raise your premiums.

I gotta hand it to Obama. That's a pretty slick way of getting what he wanted after promising the exact opposite. It's also incredibly sleazy and dishonest, but it's pretty slick.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Defining Responsibility Down

Gary Larson looks at Children of Lesser Gods...under Obamacare:

Under Obamacare, state laws are trumped if less than age 26. Federal law triumphs, Big Brother-like, over perennially squelched states' rights. "Millions of adult children," says CNN, with tacit approval, "will be eligible to be enrolled in their parents' group health plan."

Isn't the term "adult children" an oxymoron?

No mention is made, or even estimated, of costs. Good Things apparently are free, it appears. At this point even self-insured (non-group) plans are tagged with this provision of the long-arm grip of Big Government. Who knew?

The new law exudes strong incentives for a young adult, still "the kid," to remain tied to mommy and daddy's loving care. Certainly there is a psychic cost of all this for the young adult, being treated, even called, a "child." More work for psychologists?

Disincentives are at work here, folks. All the result of the sleazy sausage-making in closed-door meetings, backroom deals, no promised hearings on C-SPAN, no five days for the public to examine this Frankenstein Monster. Promises? What promises? You must have heard him wrong.

Got all that? Yes, if nothing else, Obamacare is obtuse. And the rules of coverage, well, they're yet to be written. God help us all.

If the state is increasingly becoming the nanny for us all, it would follow that its citizens must increasingly become childlike. Funny that this doesn't make me feel any younger.


Wrong Side of History

David Harsanyi explains that It's me, not you, Mitt in the Denver Post:

It is possible to see--if one dares to dream--some authentic fiscal conservative emerging to take a shot at the presidency in 2012. While Romney has the required drive, intellect and temperament, he is wrong on the fundamental ideological question of this time: health care.

In fact, Romney's illogical and unconvincing defense of his own health care plan is not only a deal breaker, it allows folks like White House press secretary Robert Gibbs to tell reporters that Obamacare is similar to a plan enacted (and still defended) by a leading Republican contender in 2012. And Gibbs is right.

Let's concede momentarily that the GOP will win back enough seats in 2010 to make it thornier for Democrats to push through any other comprehensive assaults on the economy. Let's concede also then that health care reform becomes the defining legislative accomplishment of Barack Obama's first term.

By 2012, many of the hidden costs of this reform will have surfaced, while the bulk of the alleged benefits still will not have kicked in. Barring some earth-shattering geopolitical event, candidate Romney will be impelled to spend a noteworthy chunk of his time pointing out differences and/or defending comparisons between the two plans--effectively eliminating the issue that holds potentially the greatest impact for Republicans.

As Harsanyi notes, and as I mentioned last week, so far Romney's attempts to explain why RomneyCare was not a precursor to and a watered down version of Obamacare have failed miserably. Simply calling it a "conservative alternative" does not make it so. Unless and until Romney is ready to swallow hard and issue a heartfelt mea culpa about the error of the RomneyCare ways, he has no chance to be the GOP standard bearer in 2012.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Is There An Echo In Here?

Excellent editorial in today's WSJ on what really lead us to ObamaCare:

The reality is that ObamaCare is the price of two GOP electoral defeats caused by the failure of the DeLay Congress and a dismal Bush second term. The 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit compromised the GOP on spending and legislative bullying. Republicans had a chance to do better on health care in 2005 but put their chips on Social Security and failed. Mitt Romney also gave Democrats renewed political confidence when he signed a prototype of ObamaCare into law in Massachusetts, though he now claims that these fraternal policy twins aren't related.

Romney was interviewed on Hugh Hewitt's radio show tonight. As usual with Mitt, Hugh was pretty much tossing softballs, giving Romney every opportunity to come off well. Yet when it came to simple questions about ObamaCare and how it did or did not resemble RomneyCare, Romney was unable to deliver convincing answers. It may well already be too late for him anyway, but if he can't explain in clear and concise terms why the health care reform that he helped enact in Massachusetts is anything but some version of ObamaCare Lite, he's a dead man walking when it comes to 2012.

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Profile in Pro-Life

After the events that transpired this weekend in Washington, D.C., it's easy and tempting to bag on the "pro-life" Democrats like Bart Stupak and James Oberstar who, when push came to shove, proved all too willing to surrender their "pro-life" principles for the greater good of their party. At least Stupak could maintain the pretense of having gotten something in return, although if there's one thing that all sides of the abortion issue seem to agree on it's that President Obama's promised executive order to prevent federal abortion funding is essentially meaningless. Longtime Oberstar observers like our own Saint Paul knew that while might he make noises about standing firm, in the end his "pro-life" convictions would only come into play when convenient and that the Democrats could count on him to play ball when needed.

But instead of dwelling in the darkness, let's instead keep on the sunny side and give kudos to a member of the increasingly rare species of truly pro-life Democrat. The man deserving of said praise is Minnesota's own Congressman Collin Peterson from the Seventh District. Peterson has a consistent pro-life voting record and, even though he faced all the same pressures to support the health care bill from his party, Pelosi, the President, and progressive groups, he did not waver. He put his principles before his party and for this he deserves credit.

Interestingly enough, in his statement on his Health Care Vote he does not cite abortion funding as a reason to oppose the bill. Rather, he focuses on the lack of cost control and disparities in coverage:

This legislation doesn't control costs, doesn't reform Medicare, and only covers 37% of the uninsured in the 7th District as opposed to an average of 68% nationwide. Some districts will see coverage expanded to cover as much as 92% of the uninsured and Minnesotans will be paying for that while leaving 63% of our 7th District residents without coverage. This is very similar to the way the Medicare geographic disparities problem was created back in 1982. The geographic payment disparity encourages cost-shifting and rewards low quality/high cost health care providers in other states while forcing Minnesota to do more with less. Instead of fixing that problem--which we need to do--this legislation will lock us into that same disparity situation with regard to the uninsured. Minnesotans will be asked to do more with less while also covering costs in other states that aren't doing the right thing for their own citizens. And on top of that this legislation will not control costs--in fact it seems to me that it will do just the opposite; health insurance premiums will rise. CBO has said that premiums for individuals will increase 10-13%.

But based on his past voting record and opposition to federal funding of abortion, it seems likely that at least part of Peterson's NO vote was due to the pro-life views. That makes him a very rare bird indeed these days, a genuine pro-life Democrat. While there are many issues where Collin Peterson and I disagree, I respect the courage and character he displayed here when his mettle was truly put to the test. He did what was right when it truly mattered. And isn't that what we really want to see from our politicians?

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Monday, March 22, 2010
You Ain't Seen Nothin' yet

So it has come to pass. I spend yesterday trying my best to avoid hearing, seeing, or reading anything about the imminent passage of the health care reform bill. And between Mass in the morning, a walk to the park in the afternoon to savor the lovely spring weather, and a hockey game at night, I was for the most part successful. Oh, I knew what was happening all right. There really wasn't any way to completely escape it. But I was able to put it out of sight and mind as much as possible. No reason to ruin a perfectly good Sunday.

My first reaction upon waking this morning with the dawning realization of what had transpired last night was to launch into a "Planet of the Apes" tirade:

By the way, a good spoof on what our health care future will look like would have the Taylor character discovering a MRI machine or perhaps the ruins of the Mayo Clinic jutting out of the sand.

Over the last ten years, the decline of the influence of the mainstream media has been obvious. Part of this decline has been brought about by technology, but part of it is also no doubt due to the MSM's dereliction of duty when it comes to reporting in a factual and objective manner what is really happening. This unwillingness or inability to communicate in a straightforward manner was again in evidence throughout the health care reform debate, particularly so as it reached its climax over the last week.

I can't even count how many times in recent days that I heard news stories about how the House Democrats were trying pass a health care reform bill in the face of "fierce opposition" from Republicans. This was narrative that was presented again and again, yet it was fundamentally not accurate. It wasn't House Republicans that Nancy Pelosi was bribing, threatening, and cajoling to get the bill passed, it was her fellow Democrats.

Most news reports also did not mention that poll after poll has shown that most Americans did not support this bill. A more accurate narrative might have been that Democrats were trying to pass a health care reform bill in the face of fierce opposition from the American people. Funny that wasn't the one they went with.

The media also paid scant attention to what really was going on with the critical debates about government funding for abortions, choosing instead to present it as "one side says this and one side says that and no one knows who's actually right." Or buying in to the notion that because a few nominally Catholic groups or individuals supported the bill, it was okay for Catholics to support it in spite of clear and consistent statements from Church authorities to the contrary.

The media was also complicit it pretty much blindly accepting the Obama Administration's claims about the costs and deficit impacts of the plan because they had the imprimatur of the CBO. Even today's WSJ had a front page story with a box showing how much the plan would reduce the deficit. "Where's the freakin' asterisk?," I wanted to scream when I saw that this morning.

The media's behavior in the health care reform battle is just the example of how far they've fallen. Reporters either cannot because of their own intellectual limitations or choose not because of their own ideological motivations to provide the full story. Some of it can also be explained by their attitude that most Americans are too stoopid to too apathetic to truly understand or care about how the sausage is being ground through the process. In reality, Americans did care and many did take the time to understand exactly what Congress was up to.

And that's why if Democrats think this is going to blow over in a few weeks now that the deed is done, they are sadly mistaken. I've never seen the level of anger, disbelief, and frustration with the powers that be and the processes that they used to get this bill passed that I see now. And it's not just the usual political junkies either. I know a lot of people who, except for a few weeks during a presidential election, typically aren't that interested in politics who are now paying attention. And they're pissed.

These people aren't necessarily Republicans or conservatives. While they might have some sympathy to their cause, they haven't showed up at Tea Party protests. Yet. They're what you would call your average Americans, usually more concerned with their church, their families, their jobs, their friends, and yes their fun, than what politicians in Washington, D.C. are doing. But this time is different. This time, they do care. This time, they have paid attention. And this time, they're not going to put up with attempts to return to "business as usual" in Congress and move on to the next agenda item. This time, when they say they're going to "throw the bums out" they mean it. That battle is over, the campaign has just begun.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010
Lesson Learned

If nothing else, today's peformance by the Democrat representatives in Congress offers the opportunity to internalize a concrete truth that is commonly fogged over in the course of a political campaign or debate. Quoting Mark Steyn again:

... isn't one of the lessons of the last weekend, where the fate of the
republic hinges on a jelly-spine squish like Ben Nelson, a terrible indictment
of the political culture of the United States, apart from anything else. But
doesn't it also tell you something -- I think as Jennifer Rubin over at
Commentary magazine said that when it comes to the last ditch, every Democrat is a liberal and they'll sign on to the bill regardless of what's in it.

Jim Oberstar was prime evidence of this yesterday. Remember, he caved on the issue of tax dollar funded abortions last night, even before this "executive order" protection business was even conceived of. But what about Bart Stupak? Over the last week his steadfast commitment to the pro-life cause was being hailed in conservative quarters. There was at least one man on the other side of the aisle who had integrity and commitment to principle. Is he the exception to the Steyn rule? Check out this video from some time ago, just now surfacing:

Amazingly flexible defintions of voting his conscience and staying true to principle. I guess that's how you sleep at night as a pro-life Democrat. I just wish he would have come clean about this to the national media earlier this week, we all could have been spared a lot of needless drama. Here's hoping the pro-life voters understand now and won't get fooled again.


Saturday, March 20, 2010
Down and Out Goes Oberstar

Looks like the Democrats are desperate for votes tomorrow. They refused to let Rep. James Oberstar off the hook have forced him to abandon his pro-life voting record in favor of a bill that for the first time will allow federal tax dollars to fund abortions. From his Facebook announcement:

This afternoon, Congressman Jim Oberstar announced his support for the comprehensive health care legislation that the House of Representatives will consider on Sunday.

"I have evaluated the issues of health care for 35 years and very intensively for this past year as Congress has worked on the major reform legislation. The fine points of this health care bill have now been defined, and in my judgment, the balance of benefits are in favor of this bill. That will benefit the people of the 8th congressional district and the American people."

And about that Stupak amendment he insisted on when the House passed its bill in December, but has been stripped out of the Senate version he's now supporting?

Regarding the lingering issue of abortion, I am confident that abortion will not be funded in this legislation.

In other words, he's closing his eyes and covering his ears and pretending its not there. The US Catholic Bishops have made it clear the current legislation does in fact change the status quo in favor of now funding abortions. The Democrat pro-choice caucus in the House confirm this, in their vehement protest over any inclusion of Stupak restrictions.

A sad day for Oberstar and Catholics and pro-life advocates in MN-8. Paradoxically, it may still signal good news for the defeat of the bill. If the Democrats need Oberstar's vote, they don't have it locked up without him. Should be a close one tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010
Back Slides Oberstar

Ominous developments today for opponents of Obama Care. Democrat leadership has confidently announced a final vote on Sunday. And James Oberstar is back to pretending he's on the fence:

Just as President Obama thought single-payer holdout Dennis Kucinich had
bought in to the Democrats' health care package, Minnesota's own Jim Oberstar is
now back in doubt.

Oberstar, after reportedly having words with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, appears to have backed off the assurance he gave last weekend, when he said he was "prepared" to vote for health care.

The Iron Range Democrat's latest utterance to Washington reporters, from a closing elevator door, was "I'm a strong, likely yes vote."

A strong likely you say? You have to admire a man with such conviction in his equivocation.

"He's not 100 percent in the yes column," [Oberstar spokesman John Schadl]
said Thursday. According to Schadl, that's not a change from last week. "He's precisely where he's been."

Why is a potential "no" vote from Oberstar a positive development for the bill's passage? It probably means they've got enough votes without him. Paraphrasing Mark Steyn, Oberstar is a last ditch liberal on this issue. An ideological die hard who will tow the line when he must, but ardently pro-life when it doesn't stand in the way of his party's agenda. If they don't need him anymore, he's free to resume the kabuki dance that plays so well with his voters. His spokesman is right, Oberstar is precisely where he's always been.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010
All This Much to Lose Than All This Much to Gain

It's interesting to note how often military battles are invoked for comparisons or metaphors for political battles. Commentary on President Obama's recent campaign for health care is replete with references to historical military campaigns or specific battles.

Last summer, Senator Jim Demint was the first, but far from the last, to speculate that failure to enact health care reform could be Obama's Waterloo. At the time, I thought that Stalingrad might be more appropriate as a health care defeat for Obama wouldn't necessarily be the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning. More recently, we've seen speculation that even if health care reform is somehow rammed through, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the President.

Now, it seems like there's a new favorite making the rounds with more and more pundits comparing Pelosi's health care cramdown to Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. This one does seem to be especially apt at the moment. For like General Lee at Gettysburg, President Obama's final push on health care is a desperate gamble in the hopes of achieving a smashing victory that will change history. Like Lee's choice after two hard fought days at Gettysburg, President Obama could have chosen to disengage, to step away from the fight, lick his wounds, and wait for another opportunity.

Had Lee left the field after two days, Gettysburg would have been a setback for the South and a minor victory for the North. But it would not have been the kind of pivotal point that it turned out to be. After Gettysburg, the South would never again threaten the North with invasion and hopes for a decisive Southern victory to end the war were gone. Historians continue to whether the Union's victory at Gettysburg was militarily "decisive" in terms of the outcome of the Civil War overall, but there's no doubt that it was significant. It boosted Northern morale proved that Union troops (and more importantly) their generals could beat the Confederates under Lee. Without the failure of Pickett's Charge on Day Three, Gettysburg might have gone down in history as another one of the bloody, but largely inconclusive battles of the Civil War.

By committing himself to getting the health care reform bill through now, President Obama is following Lee's lead by rolling the dice. If he wins, it could irrevocable alter the political landscape. While the GOP will do all they can to repeal it, they're going to face an uphill struggle. Once Obamacare begins law, Obama will hold the high ground and be in an advantageous position to defend his gains. However, if he loses it's difficult to imagine that Obama will ever be able to mount a significant domestic policy campaign before 2012. He'll be forced to pull back, watch as the Democrats take their lumps in November, and enter into a stalemate with a much less friendly Congress.

Finally, no matter how what the outcome of the current House battle is, the casualties among Pelosi's caucus will likely resemble those suffered by Pickett's troops. After the failed charge, when Lee asked Pickett to reform his division for defense, Pickett is alleged to have replied, "Sir, I have no division." Under similar circumstances, President Obama could well hear something like "Sir, I have no majority" from Speaker Pelosi after this November's election.

UPDATE: Yet another historical parallel is that some of the fiercest fighting at Gettysburg was at Devil's Den while the outcome of the health care reform battle may hinge on who wins the fight for Demon Pass.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Down Goes Oberstar

Way back in December, the first time the allegedly conservative and moderate Democrats in Congress had their chance for a profile in courage, Mark Steyn had this to say about their collapse in the face of Obama Care:

... isn't one of the lessons of the last weekend, where the fate of the republic hinges on a jelly-spine squish like Ben Nelson, a terrible indictment of the political culture of the United States, apart from anything else. But doesn't it also tell you something -- I think as Jennifer Rubin over at Commentary magazine said that when it comes to the last ditch, every Democrat is a liberal and they'll sign on to the bill regardless of what's in it.

Remembering this, I considered it laughable that Jim Oberstar's allegedly bedrock pro-life beliefs were being invoked this past week as a potential barrier to passing Obama Care, based on provisions which will lead to federal tax dollars paying for abortions.

Looks like this 36 year incumbent from a pro-life district gets the last laugh on all of us:

With the finish line in sight on the long national health care debate, Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Democrat who opposes abortion, announced that he will not stand
in the way of a final bill, meaning that all of the pieces have fallen into place for the Minnesota delegation.

Oberstar spokesman John Schadl said Monday that Oberstar would prefer stronger abortion language, but that the difference "wasn't enough to warrant denying health care to 30 million people."

I suppose it's true that Oberstar does have a pro-life voting record in Congress. But this episode tends to expose the true nature of that stance. It's a "preference". Something to advocate for when convenient. Something it's OK to vote for when your party's contrary agenda has a safe enough margin not to need you. But when it comes to the last ditch, he has a bedrock belief even deeper than being pro-life.

Oberstar commonly cites his Catholic beliefs as a reason for his his heretofore pro-life record. It's interesting to note the motivations he cites for this current vote:

Schadl said Oberstar's office has been deluged with appeals from all sides, including letters from liberal Catholic theologians who say that the Senate bill upholds existing restrictions on abortion funding.

In the end, Schadl said, Oberstar will follow his own conscience as a Roman Catholic: "He will not be consulting polls, tea leaves, Tarot cards, or any other form of unholy divination before he makes a decision that is this important."

In summary, persuasive sources of information: letters from unnamed liberal Catholic theologians.

Unpersuasive sources: polls, tea leaves, Tarot cards, and other forms of "unholy divination" (!)

If Oberstar is limiting himself to these competing outlets, I can see where his conscience might have gone astray. But you'd think this regularly self-professing Catholic might consider sources more substantial than Tarot cards to counter the arguments of liberal Catholic theologians. A few suggestions he may have heard of before: The Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, various Papal Encyclicals going back decades, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and The Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Check 'em out Congressman, there's still time.

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Monday, March 15, 2010
The Road to Perdition

Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, on Catholics, Health Care, and the Senate's Bad Bill:

The long, unpleasant and too often dishonest national health care debate is now in its last days. Its most painful feature has been those "Catholic" groups that by their eagerness for some kind of deal undercut the witness of the Catholic community and help advance a bad bill into a bad law. Their flawed judgment could now have damaging consequences for all of us.

Do not be misled. The Senate version of health care reform currently being pushed ahead by congressional leaders and the White House--despite public resistance and numerous moral concerns--is bad law; and not simply bad, but dangerous. It does not deserve, nor does it have, the support of the Catholic bishops in our country, who speak for the believing Catholic community. In its current content, the Senate version of health care legislation is not "reform." Catholics and other persons of good will concerned about the foundations of human dignity should oppose it.

Ardent, practicing Catholics like Nancy Pelosi for example.


Monday, March 08, 2010
Kill Bill: Vol. 3

Minnesota Majority is organizing a rally this Saturday at noon on the steps of the State Capitol in St. Paul to call on Congress to Kill The Bill:

Even though every major poll clearly shows that a supermajority of the American people oppose the current health care "reform" bill, Nancy Pelosi is planning to jam the bill through Congress with a vote scheduled for March 18.

If you care about preserving your right to make health care decisions for you and your family, please be sure to come to Saturday's rally. Bring a sign demonstrating your opposition to the bill.

Conservatives and libertarians aren't typically wont to organize, rally, and protest as much as those on the progressive side, but if anything is ever going to get you out in the streets (as it were) this is it. This is the time, this is the place, this is the issue that calls us out to make a stand.


Thursday, February 18, 2010
No Free Parking

Veronique de Rugy has a revealing piece at Reason Magazine on the history of government cost projections not even coming close to what the projects or programs ultimately ended up costing. She draws heavily on a study of cost overruns prepared by some Danish economists.

Nor is the problem limited to Washington. In 2002 the Journal of the American Planning Association published one of the most comprehensive studies of cost overruns, looking over the last 70 years at 258 government projects around the world with a combined value of $90 billion. The Danish economists Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Soren Buhl found that nine out of 10 public works projects had exceeded their initially estimated costs. The Sydney Opera House and the Concorde supersonic airplane were the most spectacular examples, with cost overruns of 1,400 percent and 1,100 percent, respectively. Budget busting occurred throughout the seven decades studied, with the totals spent routinely ranging from 50 to 100 percent more than the original estimate.

How did the United States do? According to the Danish researchers, American cost overruns reached an average of $55 billion per year. The table shows a small sample of these boondoggles. The Big Dig, the unofficial name of the Central Artery/Tunnel Project in Boston, Massachusetts, is the most expensive highway project in the history of the country. By the time the project was completed in 2008, its price tag was a staggering $22 billion. The estimated cost in 1985 was $2.6 billion. The Dig also took seven more years to complete than originally anticipated, and it ran into severe construction quality problems along the way.

These blown estimates aren't merely mistakes either:

According to the Danish study, such inaccuracies aren't just errors. They reflect widespread, deliberate lying on the part of public officials. "Project promoters routinely ignore, hide, or otherwise leave out important project costs and risks in order to make total costs appear low," the authors conclude.

Something to keep in mind as we're promised that the health care reform bill will be "cost neutral" by politicians whose track record in such matters doesn't exactly inspire confidence. A table in the article lists nine of the biggest boondoggles including the estimated and actual costs of the project/program. One of the more amusing was the Kennedy Center. The original price tag was tabbed at $18.3 million in 1995. In 2003, the actual cost was $22.2 million. A 21.3% overrun is actually stellar performance by government standards and the project wouldn't seem to deserve a place on the list had it not been for the next item; the Kennedy Center Parking lot. Originally estimated to cost $28 million in 1998, by the time the parking lot was completed in 2003 the "investment" required a cool $88 million. I guess there really is no such thing as free parking anymore.

And these are the folks we want running our health care system so that we can control costs?

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Mexico's Immigration Problem

A lot has been written about undocumented immigrants from Mexico entering the United States and putting a strain on our health care and other public services while often failing to pay their full share of taxes. Less common is an expose of Americans crossing the Rio Grande to freeload off the Mexican people.

But, a few weeks ago, the Star Tribune provided just such a story. It was a profile of one of my favorite musicians, Martin Zellar of the Gear Daddies. Zellar had been a staple of the local music scene since the early '90s. I have been to many of his shows over the years have never been disappointed. Like many musicians, he is also a standard issue lefty and even did a stint as Chairman of the Mower County Democratic Party.

A few years ago, Zellar went into semi-retirement and moved his family to Mexico - mostly to escape the harsh American winters, but there were other advantages:

"The way the economy works down there is perfect for me. There's no mortgage. Everyone buys their houses with cash. The property taxes are really low. There's no homeowner's insurance because it's all concrete, so nothing burns. Financially, it makes perfect sense for a musician."

That does sound like a leftist musician's dream (except the low property taxes part). But that's not all - there is also the socialized health care! This came in handy when Zellar's wife became pregnant while in Mexico:

"I am self-employed, so that means we're self-insured," said Zellar, who still pays U.S. and Minnesota taxes on his local earnings, by the way. "We would have been bankrupt 100 times over if we had been doing all this in the U.S."

Under Mexico's socialized health care services, Carolyn was able to get the weekly sonograms and numerous other tests required by her high-risk pregnancy for about $75 per visit, Zellar said. The delivery, a C-section with several doctors involved, cost only about $5,000. And Zellar swears the facilities, in the nearby city of Querétaro, were "nicer than what we had when the boys were born in St. Paul," and the doctors "unbelievably great."

Another good thing about Mexico: if there had been complications, they were only a short plane ride away from the world's best regarded health care system (no, not that third world St. Paul health system, I'm referring to Cuba, of course).

But who is paying for this world class socialized medicine? Sure, Mexico doesn't have to finance Maple Grove mansions for their fat-cat health care executives, but I'm assuming that even Mexican doctors and sonogram technicians need some money to live on. Zellar clearly isn't paying - he notes that his "property taxes are really low" and all of his income is generated in the U.S. and thus he pays primarily U.S. taxes.

So, the Zellar family gets its health care subsidized by poor Mexican agave farmers because he is too cheap to spend some of his "Zamboni" song money on health insurance for his family.

If Mexico is smart, it will act quickly to shut its borders to freeloading American musicians. Maybe build a wall or something.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Mind If We Watch?

Last month, I noted that the CEO of the company that I work for was becoming more and more publicly outspoken about the dangers in the looming health care reform bill. Today, he has another op-ed that appeared on our internal website and I imagine will soon be published in the St. Louis Business Journal. Here's an excerpt:

Simply, the changes being proposed will have the negative effect of discouraging U.S. employers from hiring as the economy recovers, and will force them to pass on increased costs to employees and/or drop their health insurance benefits to let employees shop elsewhere or move to a government-based plan.

We have an opportunity to create real healthcare reform and make a difference now with smart, targeted, incremental programs, such as: giving small businesses and individuals access to interstate insurance pools; implementing medical malpractice reforms; requiring medical price transparency; and supporting community-based health centers that serve the uninsured, to name several.

Healthcare reform is a complex issue and there is room for honest disagreement on the best way it can be achieved. However, the Senate bill and the House companion fail to solve problems and instead increase government debt, decrease U.S. competitiveness and create one more reason for investment from around the world, as well as jobs, to go elsewhere. This is not the legacy any of us want for our nation.

I must add that equally as troubling is that Congressional leaders now want to slam the door on open debate at this critical point in the process of considering legislation that completely changes the nature of U.S. national health care policy. We can only hope that the Senate and House will do what Americans expect of them, and thats play by the same rules of fairness and openness they set for others and that are established by law. Negotiations and discussions to resolve issues going forward should be conducted in a transparent manner in Conference Committee. I completely agree with Senator Claire McCaskills position stated so clearly last week on this: let the C-Span cameras in.

Saint Paul may have just found a new business hero.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Driving A Crooked Horse

Sometime over the course of the next few days, it appears that the Democrats will realize a monumental victory in their long-awaited scheme to have the government control the American health care system. There are a whole host of reasons to look forward with dread to what likely lies ahead for us as a result of this corrupt bargain. One concern that seems appropriate to discuss at this time of year is that if the government completely manages (and pays for) heath care, they will have an even larger stake in controlling personal conduct that impacts people's health.

If you thought we already had an overreaching, busy-bodied Nanny State, you ain't seen nothing yet. What you choose to eat, drink, inhale, ingest, or otherwise consume is no longer a matter between your brain and your body. Nope. Now that the government will be doling out the care and footing the bill, these decisions will no longer be left up to individuals. It will now be completely within the purvey of the government to decide what's good for you and what's not.

So enjoy this Christmas season while you still can. Eat, drink, and be merry in the manner of your choosing. Make the most of the Christmas cookies, candy canes, and cakes at your disposal. Fill up on that figgy pudding and fruitcake. Pig out on pie and plum pudding. Savor the fowl of your fancy whether it be turkey, duck, or goose. Revel in the roast beast. Hit the hot chocolate and hot buttered rum early and often. Enjoy many an eggnog. Tip back the Tom and Jerries. Consume your favorite Christmas cocktail with abandon.

Because it the not-too-distant future, in may well not be within your means to enjoy these essential elements for celebrating Christmas. They won't be banned outright of course. No, instead they'll be dealt with the same way the government has dealt with cigarettes: tax them heavily while running propaganda campaigns that stigmatize them and exaggerate their health risks (second-hand smoke in the case of cigarettes). Those that still want to enjoy these fine holiday fetes will find themselves paying a pretty penny for their pleasure and risk being ostracized from civil society the way that smokers have been.

The rich and privileged of course will continue to indulge as they do today. They'll be able to afford the added costs and if their appetites do lead to medical problems they'll still have access to the finest care, if no longer in America than perhaps in a luxury hospital in the Caribbean. Celebrities will do PSA urging the proles to eat healthy and exercise to help keep OUR health care costs down while living a separate and very unequal life outside of the public system. Yes, the future of the People's health care will be glorious indeed.

While we're on the subject of Christmas traditions which will no longer be sustainable in our return to the cave new world, you should also be sure to enjoy your Christmas tree while you can:

In other tree news, Alternative Consumer magazine says we should stop buying Christmas trees and just draw holiday trees on old shopping bags. Here's the green prescription from Alternative Consumer for family fun during the holidays and how the tree should look for the kids on Christmas morning:

"No tree. No driving to the tree lot, watching them saw the tree down, wrapping it in plastic and then driving back home. No driving to Target, buying a plastic tree and driving home. We make a tree mural out of shopping bags and leave a few Sharpies around to decorate with. It's personal, meaningful and 100 percent recycled."

And it's more than just Christmas trees too:

"The Rules" in Alternative Consumer for "A Freegan Christmas" include the following: (1) "No cards. Not even e-cards." (2) "No wrapping paper. There's something exciting about opening a wrapped gift, and you can achieve that by putting it in a paper bag--we all know you have a billion under your sink." (3) "No thank-you cards." (4) "No holiday hams. French toast can replace tired turkey and ham dinners." (5) "No stress."

Actually my kids would probably welcome number four.

For now, these are merely suggestions for how you can save the planet by slashing and burning your Christmas traditions. For now.

Finally, it's likely that you'll soon have to forget all about dreaming or roasting chestnuts by an open fire at Christmas. At least in California, which seems to be the primary breeding ground for ideas on how to best restrict individual freedoms for the common good.

Merry Christmas everyone. Be sure to take the time savor the season. Especially this time around.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009
Franken and Klobuchar: Suckers

The Obama administration has finally bought off that 60th vote for health care "reform." Ben Nelson of Nebraska agreed to go against his professed principles and the views of the majority of his constituents in exchange for, among other things, an agreement that the federal government would pick up Nebraska's portion of Medicaid payments.

A few weeks prior, Democrat Mary Landrieu secured $100 million in federal payouts to Louisiana for her vote (she insists the actual amount is closer to $300 million).

Minnesota's two Senators are also Democrats; how much did they get for their votes? I suspect that the answer is this: NADA, ZIP, NOTHING. Our twin toadies are more interested in securing an invite to President Obama's Super Bowl party or keeping open the option that he will appear on their future MSNBC talk show (premiering circa 2015).

Some may argue that Klobuchar and Franken are too saintly and fiscally conservative to bring home pork to Minnesota. I say baloney to that.

Some may say that Franken and Klobuchar are too committed to socialized medicine to risk it over pork. To those people I present the example of Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the only openly socialist member of the Senate. In exchange for his health care vote he secured the same Medicaid payoff for Vermont as Nelson received for Nebraska PLUS $10 billion for community health centers. This is how socialism works--those who have the power and know how to play the game get the benefits--not through the free market, but through the force of government.

Amy Klobuchar will receive a nice pat on the head and be told how well-behaved she is while watching the Colts win the Super Bowl on the White House big screen. Al Franken will be told by President Obama how much he is missed in the Senate as the inaugural guest on Franken's talk show. Then Franken will roll the clip of the time he pw3nd Lieberman by refusing to allow him an extra minute to finish his point.

Franken and Klobuchar were played for suckers. At least they could have gotten everyone in the state a t-shirt:

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Thursday, December 17, 2009
Why The Price Is Right

Kevin Willaimson has an excellent piece in the most recent edition of National Review on the problems caused by lack of pricing information in markets including health care. It's called Priceless Is Worthless (sub req)and includes one of the best explanations of the realities of preexisting conditions I've yet read:

But rather than bring price transparency to health care, we're going full-tilt boogie in the opposite direction, specifically by insisting that insurance companies be barred from putting real prices on preexisting conditions. Set aside, if you can, all those images of poor little children with terrible diseases being chucked out into the Dickensian streets by mean old insurance executives in top hats and monocles, and think, for a second, about what insurance means, and what a preexisting condition is. Insurance is, basically, a bet: The insurer calculates the probability that a certain unhappy condition will befall a consumer. Actuarially speaking, the number of people who will suffer heart disease or car accidents is fairly predictable within a very large pool, so the insurer can figure out roughly what it will have to pay out in a typical year for every 100,000 policies, and the premium will incorporate that number. But predictable applies to things that happen in the future. Maybe 3 percent of those 100,000 people will need to see a cardiologist in a given year, but 100 percent of the people with diabetes will suffer from diabetes. That's a fact: It's what preexisting means.

Unless Governor Schwarzenegger manages to invent Terminator insurance, whereby Allstate agents travel back in time to insure you against problems you haven't developed yet, you cannot insure against something that already has happened, and to pretend otherwise dumps a whole metaphysical can of worms all over the insurance space-time continuum, landing us in an alternative universe where Insurance = Not Insurance. You'd never take a bet that you knew you were going to lose, right? Insurance companies won't do that, either, unless they get paid to do so--specifically, unless they are allowed to charge at least as much for covering Preexisting Condition X as it's going to cost them to treat Preexisting Condition X. Ignoring the reality of prices--waving the magic wand and saying: "There shall be no price put on preexisting conditions"--does not solve the problem. Health care costs money. The price is right, and you cannot politically engineer your way out of that reality, no matter how many sickly toddlers you parade around on CNN.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Not Giving As Taking

David Harsanyi has a killer piece on the delicious irony of pro-choice Democrats being concerned about the health care bill restricting abortion rights and freedom called Freedom to Confuse:

Take the torrent of hypocrisy that spilled from the jilted pro-choice wing of the Democratic Party after a House amendment to the health care reform bill tightened a ban on federal funds for abortions by a vote of 240-194--a more substantial mandate against abortion funding, incidentally, than for health-care reform.

Denver's Democratic congresswoman, Diana DeGette, immediately began collecting signatures to oppose what she called "an unprecedented and unacceptable restriction on women's ability to access the full range of reproductive health services to which they are lawfully entitled."

Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., went further, adding that the amendment "attempts an unprecedented overreach into women's basic rights and freedoms in this country."

Overreach? Unprecedented? Basic rights? Freedoms?

Right words, wrong issue.

I have no doubt that the progressive wing of Congress--folks who generally support a single-payer plan that would eradicate choice and freedom in health care--believe government failing to give you something is indistinguishable from government taking something away from you.

Yet, while no one will be stripped of their right to have an abortion under this legislation, the vast majority of citizens will have to deal with a cluster of new mandates and more than 100 new government bureaucracies to enforce them.

Harsanyi goes on to note that the ultimate irony would be if pro-choice Democrats' concern over protecting "reproductive health services" leads to the eventual scuttling of the entire health care bill. We can only hope.

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Friday, October 30, 2009
Take Two Whiskies and Call Me In The Morning

David Harsanyi has a prescription for reading the House health care bill:

The King James version of the Bible runs more than 600 pages and is crammed with celestial regulations. Newton's Principia Mathematica distilled many of the rules of physics in a mere 974 pages.

Neither have anything on Nancy Pelosi's new fiendishly entertaining health-care opus, which tops 1,900 pages.

So curl up by a fire with a fifth of whiskey and just dive in.

But drink quickly. In the new world, your insurance choices will be tethered to decisions made by people with Orwellian titles ("1984" was only 268 pages!) like the "Health Choices Commissioner" or "Inspector General for the Health Choices Administration."

You will, of course, need to be plastered to buy Pelosi's fantastical proposition that 450,000 words of new regulations, rules, mandates, penalties, price controls, taxes and bureaucracy will have the transformative power to "provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending . . . ."

The true health care "option" for Americans if this bill comes to pass may well be: Drink whiskey and shut up.


Thursday, October 29, 2009
I Want You, I Need You, But There Ain't No Way I'm Ever Gonna Fund You

Editor's note: the author is employed by a large for-profit health insurer. This post represents his personal opinion only and should not be construed as the position of his employer.

There is a saying in the health care industry:


Pick two of the above.

This saying is reflects the basic truth of economics. There is no such thing as unlimited supply of a scarce good. Therefore, favorability of one component of quality health care comes at the expense of one or more other components.

It is possible to offer wide physician/hospital networks. It is possible to deliver health care at low costs. It is possible to provide treatment quickly. However, while each of these ends are desirable, working for one constrains the others.

Americans want to be free to choose their physicians. In the 1980's and early 1990's, HMOs used gatekeepers to lower costs. The gatekeeper system basically prevented choice. If you wanted to see a top orthopedic specialist for your bum knee, the gatekeeper often forced you to see a family practice doctor instead. Seeing a generalist as opposed to a specialist saved money. The practice was universally despised. Our market system essentially did away with gatekeepers a decade ago.

The American health care system has made health care universally available. No one is ever turned away at emergency rooms regardless of whether they are citizens or if they have insurance. Those with insurance don't face waits for treatments that don't involve organ transplants (and those wait times are dictated by scarcity of donors as opposed to systemic problems that socialized systems face such as availability of specialists). In socialist Europe and Canada patients wait months and even years for nonessential surgeries that vastly improve quality of life, such as hip replacements. Since no one has tried to take this aspect away from American consumers, it's hard to determine how much they value it.

The final option is price. Americans have benefited from choice and availability, so prices have increased as more people demand more health care. The result is that consumers spend more of their income on health insurance. This has driven many Americans out of the system. Unsurprisingly, many Americans think rising prices represent a crisis and they want government action to lower them.

So now our government is planning to "solve" our health care "crisis," which could be described as prices higher than many people would prefer. Conservatives suggest that this means there will be rationing of health care. Another way of stating that is that if many Americans have their price subsidized, then they will face new restrictions regarding their choice and availability of care. The insurance industry suggests that costs will actually rise as a result of government intervention. Another way of stating that is that some Americans price will be raised to subsidise other Americans (and possibly many Mexicans) and the net effect will be higher overall prices to the economy due to government inefficiency.

One thing is clear, there is no magic formula to maintain choice and availability and lower price. It would be nice if our legislators would honestly speak to which component of health care they would compromise.


Saturday, October 24, 2009
By The Numbers

President Obama declared the Swine (H1N1) flu epidemic a national emergency yesterday. Some relevant statistics on the US fatalities:

Iraq War: 4,351
9/11 Attacks: 2,976
Swine Flu: 1,000
Afghanistan War: 885

After passing Afghanistan casualties, I'd say it's a pretty likely event that this flu epidemic skyrockets to the top of this list.

Wait, let's add another category:

Annual US cancer deaths: 553,400

Maybe the President's priorities are out of place.


Friday, October 02, 2009
Someone Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Don't know if you've heard the news, but apparently there's some sort of special strain of influenza making the rounds this season. Goes by the innocuous name "H1N1" which sounds more like one of Luke Skywalker's droids than a deadly pandemic. It doesn't exactly convey the sense of fear and dread that the "Black Death" did.

In order to stop the spread of this flu flavor of the month, we're supposed to take the following precautions:

1. Wash and sanitize your hands often

2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands

3. Cough and/or sneeze into the crook of your elbow (some call this maneuver the "Dracula cough," I think it's more like "prepare for impact")

4. If you do get sick, stay home so you don't infect others

How am I so wise in the ways of flu prevention you ask? Oh I don't know, perhaps because I've relentlessly hammered over the head with messages on it for the last month. You can't turn on a TV or open a newspaper without some health expert scolding you about washing your hands and proper coughing technique. It's even worse at work.

I'm not sure if my employer's behavior is unusual, but they're pretty much in full on flu panic mode. I can't even count how many memos we've received on flu prevention, the latest appearing in my inbox less than an hour ago. There are signs plastered all over the building reminding us how important it is to wash our hands and not come in if we get sick. You can't walk ten feet in our building without coming across a hand sanitizer dispensing station. If they had their way, I think they'd like to pump sanitizing fluid through the sprinkler system and douse us every hour or so just to make sure we're properly disinfected at all times.

This week they handed out laminated cards to attach to our security badges. One side contains "Daily Screening Questions" and asks:

"Do you have any of the following symptoms?"

Fever 100.5 F or above
Sore Throat
Difficulty breathing
Runny or Stuffy Nose
Joint & Muscle Aches
Chills & Sweats
Extreme Fatigue

It then says:

If YES to 2 or more symptoms, please see other side.

If NO, report to work.

When you flip the card it tells you NOT to come to work, contact your supervisor, and don't come in until you are symptom free for 24 hours.

First of all, that list of symptoms is awfully subjective. On any given day during flu season it's not hard to imagine a lot of people saying that they had two of those symptoms. Those of us with young kids have accumulated sleep debts that rival the US government's fiscal obligations. Am I extremely fatigued today or just normally fatigued? When a fifty-something coworker near me first saw the list he joked, "Great. I'm never coming to work again."

Second, and more importantly, exactly when was it that we became children and the company our Mommy? I understand why businesses are so concerned about H1N1 and appreciate how disruptive it could prove to be. But can't we manage our way through this without being treated as if we're incapable of determining whether we're healthy enough to work on our own? Do we really need laminated cards with DAILY screening questions and constant reminders about washing our hands, coughing in our sleeves, and wearing a jacket when we go outside? Okay, I made that last one up, but the way we appear to be headed I wouldn't be surprised to see it soon.

We're adults. We now know what to do. None of these precautions are rocket science and most of them are common sense practices that we would likely be following anyway. Now, just step back and let us get on with our work. I'm all for an ounce of prevention, but a healthy dose of prudence is also called for.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009
The Company You Keep

Gary e-mails to note this story:

ST. PAUL, Minn.--Minnesota health experts head to Germany this week to examine a medical system where everyone has insurance and private health plans operate under government supervision.

The 13-member delegation includes state Human Services Commissioner Cal Ludeman, legislators and officials from the Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota, Planned Parenthood and AARP.

The group will meet with German health care regulators and insurers.

They will also visit a for-profit hospital.

The trip runs Tuesday through Sunday. It's organized by the University of Minnesota's Center for German and European Studies.

Gary then asks:

Why is Planned Parenthood going on the trip??

Good question. I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation and the fact that abortion providers are joining politicians and government officials on a state health care junket should in no way raise suspicions about the kind of procedures that taxpayers will end up funding if we move toward greater government control of our health care system.


Monday, September 14, 2009
Never Let The Facts Get In The Way Of A Good Story

In order to persuade people to support his health care reform plans, President Obama has sought to portray insurance companies in the role of the villain. A compelling story usually has good guys and bad guys and by fixating on insurance companies as the cause of the woes in our health care system, the president is setting up a dragon to be slayed by the progressive knight. While it makes for good (and easy) drama, the reality of health care is far more complicated than that.

In today's WSJ, Scott Harrington says that many of the president's assertions on the abuses of insurance companies dropping coverage are more based on fiction than fact:

These two cases are presumably among the most egregious identified by Congressional staffers' analysis of 116,000 pages of documents from three large health insurers, which identified a total of about 20,000 rescissions from millions of policies issued by the insurers over a five-year period. Company representatives testified that less than one half of one percent of policies were rescinded (less than 0.1% for one of the companies).

If existing laws and litigation governing rescission are inadequate, there clearly are a variety of ways that the states or federal government could target abuses without adopting the president's agenda for federal control of health insurance, or the creation of a government health insurer.

Like many of the other rationales that the president uses to justify the need for his reform plans, the problems with companies dropping coverage are exaggerated to foster fear and the false choice is presented that the only options to address the problems are the president's way or doing nothing.

One of the surest signs of the decline of political discourse in America in recent years is the rise of rhetoric by anecdote ("Let me tell you the story of..."). It's an emotionally manipulative and powerful tool and President Obama is a master at using it.


Saturday, September 12, 2009
The Untouchables

Scene from the Obama health care rally in Minneapolis today:

A man in a wheelchair shouted at those headed inside: "Look at all of you - socialists! Shame on you guys!"

An Obama supporter, also in a wheelchair and with a missing arm, yelled back. "Who bought your wheelchair?"

They bring a guy in a wheelchair, you bring a guy in a wheelchair missing an arm. That's the Chicago way!

For some reason this exchange also reminds me of an NHL bench clearing brawl where the two goalies end up squaring off. Unlikely combatants, not something you see every day.

For more on what you might have heard inside the Obama rally, check out this post at the Nihilist in Golf Pants.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009
Liveblog: Senator Amy Klobuchar's Health Care Town Hall

I decided I would make my inaugural post at Fraters Libertas a very special live blog of Senator Amy Klobuchar's Health Care Town Hall. For full disclosure, I have worked in the health insurance industry for two different corporations, including my current employer. However, the opinions I express here are my personal views.

6:52 PM - The way this forum works is that I signed up online before noon on Friday 8/21 and provided a phone number. Early today, I received a conformation that I would be called to be conferenced in around 7 pm tonight.

7:05 - No call yet. I assume the technical issues make lateness a possibility. I won't bail for at least half an hour.

7:10 - Could Amy be having a Brett Favre like change of heart? I wonder how her team feels about this? I wonder how Brett Favre feels about this? Here's the announcement from her web site:

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar will be hosting a live statewide tele-town hall meeting to discuss making health care more affordable and answer questions from her constituents. Joining her will be Dr. Denis Cortese, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Mary Wakefield, the highest ranking nurse in the federal government.

7:15 - In the link above, it suggests that if you're not called by 7:10, you should call her office. I did so and received a message that her voice mail is full. She can't get a town hall meeting started on time, yet she expects us to trust her with our health care?

7:19 - I just got the call. It was a recorded message from Amy. It basically said (not direct quote, but my best shot):

Tonight at 7 pm I hosted a live town hall meeting to discuss health care with Dr. Denis Cortese, CEO of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Mary Wakefield, the highest ranking nurse in the federal government. I am sorry that you were unable to join in this discussion. However, I am posting meeting in it's entirety on my website: Thank you for participating in this important discussion.

This stinks! I was unable to join because she refused to have the meeting in person, then refused to let me control my own access. I followed every protocol she required and yet I never got the call. It would be especially bogus if the meeting lasted more than eighteen minutes, as her staff could have connected me into it instead of giving me the 'too bad' phone message.

I signed up for this town hall meeting through my employer's internet connection. I wonder if she screened my IP address to identify me as a potential caller who disagrees with her?

In any event, Senator Klobuchar, if you or your staff is reading this, this is the question that I wanted to ask you:

Senator Klobuchar, as an employee of a large corporate health insurer, I was concerned to read President Obama's statement in the Wall Street Journal (July 7) that we need a public option as a mechanism to 'keep private insurers honest'. My question to you is, do you believe that most of the 1500 or so private insurers in America are not honest, and if you don't believe that then why do we need a public option?

7:30 - I'm still steamed. It's worth noting that in July I sent e-mails to Senators Klobuchar and Franken as well as Rep. Eric Paulson expressing my dismay that health care reform was being fast tracked at the expense of a comprehensive discussion. I was surprised that only Senator Al Franken sent me any reply at all. It was the usual 'Thank you for your input' e-mail, but at least it was something.

This liveblog and my initial Fraters post is over!

The Elder Adds-- The timing of NIGP's inaugural Fraters post and this article in today's WSJ is...ahem...interesting:

The health-insurance industry is sending thousands of its employees to town-hall meetings and other forums during Congress's August recess to try to counter a tide of criticism directed at the insurers and remain a player--and not an outsider --in the debate over the future of the health-care system.

Among the throngs of Americans crowding the sessions across the country, the industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.


Friday, August 21, 2009
You Gotta Have Something

Rep. Tim Walz, during his teleconference earlier this week, on the urgency to enact the Obama health care reforms:

"We cannot afford to do nothing," Walz repeatedly said.
Reminds me of a classic MASH episode. The hospital was catching artillery fire from unknown combatants and Frank Burns was running around shrieking: "We need to do something! Anything!"

Hawkeye Pierce interjected: "I agree with Frank, let's do anything."

Of course, if Hawkeye, as played by Alan Alda, were around today, he'd be all for Obama Care and probably fronting a group called Doctors for Taxpayer Funded Abortions for Lesbian Illegal Aliens NOW.

But way back then during the fake Korean War, he had a good point. Problems are not solved by doing "anything". In fact, they can be exacerbated by doing the wrong thing, especially when the solution is not well thought-out, rushed, or clouded by misdirection and hyperbolic fear mongering.

As Thomas Sowell notes:

Is [the current system] ideal? Of course not. But nothing is going to be ideal, whether the current medical care legislation passes or not. The relevant question is: Are the problems created by the current situation worse than the problems that will be created by the pending legislation? That question never seems to get asked, much less answered.
That is the question that salesmen for Obama Care, like Tim Walz, need to be asked. Then again, the teleconference where he was repeating his mantra "We can't afford to do nothing" included only pre-screened questions. Good luck getting to any issues he'd rather not talk about in that format.

The myth serving as the foundation for Waltz's tap dance is that Republicans want to do nothing regarding the problems with the current health care system. Anyone paying attention and being intellectually honest knows that is false. Rep. Eric Cantor in the House and Jim DeMint in the Senate, among others, have prominently outlined plans that would be the basis for a conservative approach to reform.

But the truth is conservatives have precisely zero ability to enact these reforms at the Federal level. Democrats have absolute control of the Executive and Legislative branches and for all their happy talk of bi-partisanship, they have shown no interest in compromising toward a more free market based reform package. And they don't have to. The voters gave them all the power they need and they don't have to share it.

The catch is, that also gives the Democrats exclusive responsibility for effectively solving the problems they encounter. That doesn't mean doing "anything" and that doesn't mean doing something that makes things worse and that doesn't mean whining about your impotent opposition standing in your way. The floor is yours Democrats and Tim Walz to do it right. Don't choke.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Icy Incline

A couple of long-time readers of Fraters write to comment on where Obama Care might lead.

Tim leads off:

I have another nutty thought about what might happen if our government starts making healthcare decisions on our behalf. If you think it is time for me to check myself in, I trust that you would tell me so.

Under this health care program that Obama insists we just have to have, I would assume that the decision to give or not give a person needing a liver, kidney, or other organ transplant would come from some sort of government organ transplant approval board. Nothing really disturbs me too much about that because that sort of approval is needed today; a board of doctors routinely decide who is in the most dire consequences and would benefit most from an organ transplant.

But this is where I get a little creeped out by the thought of Obama care. I know this is a reach, but so was $5 gas.

Think about the supply of healthy donor organs. A fair number of organs come from people involved in accidents who had to be put on life support. Do we want the same organization that decides what regular health treatment will be extended to you also be the same organization that decides when you should come off of life support, and the same organization that decides where your organs will go?

Am I the only one that sees a conflict of interest here?

I know this is macabre, but when I saw "Coma" and "Logan's Run" in the theaters, I thought they were just movies, not docu-dramas.

Taken at face value in current circumstances, it's easy to write off Tim's concerns as paranoid. But, as has been stated often before, the problem is that once you turn over control of health care decisions to the government you open the door to a whole range of possibilities. Some may seem crazy to even consider their coming about today. But what about five years from now? Ten? Twenty?

The people writing the plans today may well have no desire to ever see some of the worst case scenarios come about, but their intentions today aren't going to mean much to someone making decisions about how to ration care twenty years from now. And as John Stossel notes, as much as proponents of government care don't like to use term, it is all about rationing:

This brings us back to end-of-life consultation. As the government's health care budget becomes strained, as it must -- and, as Obama admits, already is under Medicare -- the government will have to cut back on what it lets people have.

So it is not a leap to foresee government limiting health care, especially to people nearing the end of life. Medical "ethicists" have long lamented that too much money is spent futilely in the last several months of life. Are we supposed to believe that the social engineers haven't read their writings?

And given the premise that it's government's job to pay for our heath care, concluding that 80-year-olds should get no hip replacements makes sense. The problem is the premise: that taxpayers should pay. Once you accept that, bad things follow.

Bad things that would seem likely to get even worse in the future.

Amy writes to remind us that we don't have to look that far into the past to see that it might be a prologue for what that future holds:

If you think that the Politburo and the Compulsive Liar and Chief care one whit about us Kulaks, you're nuts. They will pass, covertly if they must, some sort of "culture of death" healthcare. It's in their nature.

I find it strange that there are those who are now worried about healthcare and "death panels" when it is their ass on the line (I know, I know, human nature). There were indications a few years ago that were in their face but they chose to ignore it and perhaps even cheered it on. You don't thinks so? I've got two words for ya': Terri Schiavo. Now what?

...let the crying begin.

I don't think it's time for tears quite yet. There's still time to stop the slide.


The Award for Best Orchestration Goes to .....

Andy Driscoll of KFAI is a veteran broadcaster, public affairs specialist, award-
winning documentarian, and investigative journalist. (If you don't believe me,
just read his bio.) I think he's worthy of another award for this direct, first-hand
evidence of the orchestration and media manipulation associated with the
Obama health care plan protest rallies.

I got a call today from Representative McCollum's office in St. Paul.
Tomorrow the so-called tea party guys are supposed to show up at
11 AM tomorrow. And they're trying to get the media to come in and
put these guys on the hot seat.

That's a blockbuster. Government officials arranging for journalists to show up at rallies
to put citizens "on the hot seat" for exercising their First Amendment rights. Is
that legal for Congress people and their staffs to do?

Regardless, I can only imagine the convulsions of rage this would inspire among
local Demcrats (in and out of the media) if Michele Bachmann tried something like
this. She was mocked, scorned, and nearly run out office by these same people
for her far less inflammatory suggestion that perhaps the media should investigate
her fellow members of Congress.

Never fear, being an award-winning member of the media, I assume Mr. Driscoll
laughed at the notion that he would even consider obeying a government official's
request to participate in a coordinated effort to investigate her political opponents.

Well, there was some laughter involved. Unfortunately, it was laughing along with
these governnment officials instead of at their highly inappropriate suggestion.
Andy Driscoll, from the comment section of a MinnPost article by Doug Grow
about this rally:

I was present for this melee, and the growing hysteria that consumes
the worst of the teabaggers also set the mob in motion and led to an amazing
string of vitriolic anti-government claims of fascist takeover of our lives.

It was difficult not to laugh out loud at the outlandish claims-cum-
slogans that came rolling out of the angriest of them. Heath care was the front
issue for a much deeper set of complaints about "government takeover of our
lives." This betrayed a set of platitudes obviously spouted by conservative talk
radio and cable news. All attempts to extract reason from individual conversation
inevitably led to an insistence, among other thing, that not everyone in this
country deserves access to health care.

Doug Grow's outstanding coverage above barely touches the depth of disgust
and disingenuousness of this crowd's mental set.

Nice job, Doug. Enjoyed laughing together.

If an actual riot didn't break out at this rally, at least the media had their own
laugh riot, at the protestors' expense.

There is no mention of whether Doug Grow was called by Rep. McCollum's office
and tipped off to attend and put the protestors "on the hot seat." But his
reporting included this exchange (excerpts):

After the meeting, I approached an older woman who had made strong
statements in opposition to "government-run programs." (....)

"Could I have your name, please?" I asked.

"Who are you?" she said.

I re-introduced myself as a reporter from MinnPost.

"I'm not going to give you my name,'' she said. "It may end up on an
enemies list."

By design or not, hot seat applied Twin Cities media. Mission accomplished.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Product Not The Pitch

William McGurn on the reaction to the rejection:

Right now the entire Beltway--including the West Wing--seems obsessed with finding out what went wrong with the administration's sales pitch. No one appears to think the problem might be substance. Or that the vague answers and vitriolic rhetoric we get from Democrats such as Mr. Reid convey a sense that the plans they favor will not hold up under public scrutiny.

This might be hard for most of the media and political class to grasp, but maybe, just maybe opposition to the Democratic health care reform plan isn't rooted in racism, right-wing radio, or uninformed rage. Rather--as was the case with the opposition to immigration reform--it's that most Americans have examined the issues, do understand what's being proposed, and are against it in principal because they just aren't buying that it would be good for them or for the country. Nah, couldn't be that simple, could it?


Dissing The 'Rupting

One of the things that has surprised me in the last couple of weeks was how quickly most of the media adopted the Democrats narrative that opponents of the health care reform bill were "disrupting" the town hall meetings. Check out the Wikipedia definition of what a town hall meeting is:

A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting derived from the traditional town meetings of New England. Similarly to those meetings, everybody in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear the responses from public figures and elected officials, although attendees rarely vote on an issue. In today's heterogeneous communities with large populations, more often, town hall meetings are held so that people can influence elected officials in their decision making or to give them a chance to feel that their voices are being heard.

There are no specific rules or guidelines for holding a town hall meeting. If the turnout is large, and the objective is to give as many people as possible an opportunity to speak, the group can be broken down into smaller discussion groups. Participants all hear an opening presentation and then group-up to discuss an aspect of the presentation. Each group appoints someone to summarize their group's discussion.

So they are intended to be a forum for community members to show up voice their opinions. In recent years however, town hall meetings have degenerated into largely staged events where politicians carefully control the course of the meetings and messages coming out of them. The dog and pony shows that masqueraded as "town halls" during the 2008 campaign were a grotesque twist on the original intent and purpose of the meetings.

I always chuckled when candidates talked about all the suffering and misery they heard about at their health care town hall meetings. Really? Gee, you think maybe the people who bothered showed up might just not be representative of the community at large. Not many folks are going to come out to such an event to let you know that everything's just fine.

So now, the politicians (and media) are shocked when opponents of government health care actually are turning out to such events, challenging the politicians to answer their questions, and demanding that they get a chance to have their voice heard. Seems to me that's exactly what town hall meetings are really supposed to be all about.

As Michael Warren noted last week, Rude protests are an American tradition:

In any event, the Founding Fathers would likely be appalled by the notion that vigorous protests--yes, even those that are rude, obnoxious and interfere with the carefully orchestrated plans of government officials--is "un-American."

UPDATE: e-mails to brag on their impact at town halls:

Our demand for real reform is getting through in communities nationwide, thanks in big part to MoveOn volunteers organizing events across the country. Check out the latest:

* At a debate in Dallas, Texas, the MoveOn Council brought over 120 people--far outnumbering right-wing protesters.

* MoveOn members around the country have been tenacious in getting through to key senators. In the last two weeks, members have had face-to-face conversations with senators in Indiana, North Dakota, Maine, and Nebraska.

* In Boulder, Colorado, pro-reform constituents packed a town hall with Rep. Jared Polis. The message they sent was positive, respectful, and crystal clear.

Our democracy is burning.


Monday, August 17, 2009
You Get What You Pay For

One of the few things that it seems that almost everyone can agree on in the health care debate is that as a country we spend far too much on health care both as an aggregate figure and as a percentage of GDP. But before we accept this as a given, this underlying assumption deserves to be examined more closely. Craig S. Karpel does just that in today's Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Obama has said that "the cost of health care has weighed down our economy." No one thinks the 20% of our GDP that's attributable to manufacturing is weighing down the economy, because it's intuitively clear that one person's expenditure on widgets is another person's income. But the same is true of the health-care industry. The $2.4 trillion Americans spend each year for health care doesn't go up in smoke. It's paid to other Americans.

Somehow the impression has been created that spending money on health care is somehow wasteful and that money could be better spent elsewhere. But why? Is spending money on schools, roads, housing, transportation, welfare, or consumer goods better than spending money on health care? Perhaps. But it's not automatically so and certainly that question is open for debate.

The basic material needs of human beings are food, clothing and shelter. The desire for food and clothing drove hunter-gatherer economies and, subsequently, agricultural economies, for millennia. The Industrial Revolution was driven by the desire for clothing. Thus Richard Arkwright's water frame, James Hargreaves's spinning jenny, Samuel Crompton's spinning mule, Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Elias Howe's sewing machine.

Though it hasn't been widely realized, the desire for shelter was a major driver of the U.S. economy during the second half of the 20th century and the first several years of the 21st. About one-third of the new jobs created during the latter period were directly or indirectly related to housing, as the stupendous ripple effect of the bursting housing bubble should make painfully obvious.

Once these material needs are substantially met, desire for health care--without which there can be no enjoyment of food, clothing or shelter--becomes a significant, perhaps a principal, driver of the economy.

As countries mature economically and grow richer it's natural to expect that they will spend more on health care. The question then becomes what is the "right" amount to spend? And who determines what that amount is, the market or the government (or some form of both as we currently have)?

No matter what one thinks of the state of the American health care system, it is impossible to deny that the US is a leader in innovation care and advances in medical technology and treatment. It is not a coincidence that while we spend the most on health care we also produce the most advancements and breakthroughs in health care.

We should carefully consider what the impact of attempts to limit that spending will have on our ability to continue to lead the world in medical advancements. And whether measuring the amount that we spend on health care--as an aggregate or percentage of GDP--is truly an indicator of whether the system works or not.


We are the wind beneath the right wing.

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