Monday, December 28, 2009

British Conservative leader meets NHS privatisation campaigners

David Cameron has met a health care pressure group that advocates full privatisation of the National Health Service - a meeting that could infuriate doctors and nurses. The Conservative leader held an hour of talks with the leader of the group Nurses For Reform (NFR) in his private office in the Commons two weeks ago.

His decision to meet the radical group, which calls the NHS a "dystopian, Soviet-style calamity", will be seen as foolhardy after the painstaking efforts he has made to reassure voters that the NHS is safe in Tory hands. The meeting risks reigniting the row which exploded four months ago when Mr Cameron was forced to distance himself from a leading Tory MEP who suggested that the NHS was a "mistake". The Tory leader's meeting with the leader of the group, Helen Evans, is revealed on her internet blog where she claims she was invited by him to present the group's ideas.

Among others, she says, these included "the view that the state should not own or have any of its agents manage hospitals." In comments which could embarrass Mr Cameron she says: "If he becomes Prime Minister I have no doubt NFR will meet with him and his policy team again. But whatever happens, he can rest assured that NFR will remain very much on the outside of his – and any other party political – tent. We will remain dangerous and continue to think the unthinkable."

A spokeswoman for Mr Cameron said: “David Cameron meets with lots of people of different views but his commitment to the NHS is clear and it should be an NHS that is free at the point of delivery.” However the meeting is bound to be exploited by Labour ministers in the run-up to the election. Nurses For Reform, by its own admission, is the most extreme pressure group calling for NHS privatisation in Britain.

On its website it denounces the NHS as a "Soviet" organisation which must be dismantled. "The idea that state can do it all, on its own – for everyone – is dead," it says. "Sixty years on from the inception of the NHS, British patients, voters and politicians are rightly moving away from the calamity of fully nationalised health care." Britain is a society "that is fast turning against the dystopian realities of unsustainable Soviet-style medicine."

It says a hugely slimmed down NHS should remain only as a "last resort" provider for those who cannot afford private health care. The vast majority of people would get care through insurance schemes or simply pay themselves. It also calls for controversial "top-up" care to be brought in now, so that people currently using the NHS can pay extra to get better treatment, drugs and services if they have the money.

The group, which describes itself as a "pan-European network of nurses" dedicated to health care reform across the world, says the government should "recast" the NHS as "simply a funder of last resort alongside an insurance and self-funder based market."

Dr Evans, a senior nurse with more than 20 years experience in the NHS, is now a health policy consultant with Farsight Strategic Political Intelligence Ltd, which describes itself as Britain's leading predictive public affairs consultancy in health policy. She also works with right wing, free market organisations such as the Centre for the New Europe, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Libertarian Alliance.

In August Mr Cameron was forced to distance himself from the Conservative MEP Dan Hannan after he said the NHS "hasn't worked, it's made people iller". Although he did not discipline the MEP, Mr Cameron said: "I don't agree with Daniel Hannan. The Conservative party stands full square behind the NHS ... We back it, we are going to expand it, we have ring-fenced it and said that it will get more money under a Conservative government, and it is our No 1 mission to improve it."


Australia: Elective surgery wait shows that government hospitals are still not coping with many medical needs

And that's despite the fact that 40% of Australians have private insurance and go to private hospitals

ALMOST 200 Queenslanders have been waiting more than five years to have elective surgery. The 183 patients have conditions classified as "non-urgent" but under Queensland Health guidelines should still have had their operations within 12 months. Another 310 people have been languishing on the waiting list for up to two years, despite having more serious illnesses or injuries that should have put them in an operating theatre within 90 days.

However, the figures – revealed in an answer to an Opposition question on notice to the Government – have improved significantly in the past year. Twelve months ago, almost 400 Queenslanders had been waiting more than five years for surgery. The release of the figures comes as Health Minister Paul Lucas prepares to unveil a new initiative to tackle the so-called long-waits for elective surgery.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said yesterday the State Government needed to go back to the drawing board to address the problem. "No Queenslander should be waiting any longer than the recommended time for elective surgery, particularly these 310 category two patients who have waited more than 90 days even though some of them have quite serious conditions," Mr McArdle said.

Mr Lucas said hospitals performed 115,000 elective surgery operations each year, so it was a small percentage that waited longer than the recommended times, but agreed it was "not acceptable". "Frankly it should be 0 per cent. It is simply not acceptable to have people waiting more than five years for surgery, even if it is the non-urgent type," he said. "By this time next year, I want that figure reduced to zero." Mr Lucas remains tight-lipped on his plan to tackle long waits but earlier this month took time out to meet surgeons.

One of the options believed to be under consideration is turning the Royal Children's Hospital at Herston into an elective surgery centre once the new children's hospital opens in 2014. The move would help ensure elective surgeries went ahead.

According to the figures, 310 category two patients who should have their surgery within 90 days have been waiting between one and two years for surgery, 83 have waited up to three years and 21 for four years.


Cross the River, Burn the Bridge

Obamacare is the fast-track to a permanent left-of-center political culture

By Mark Steyn

Last week, during a bit of banter on Fox News, my colleague Jonah Goldberg reminded me of something I’d all but forgotten. Last September, during his address to Congress on health care, Barack Obama declared: “I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last.” Dream on. The monstrous mountain of toxic pustules sprouting from greasy boils metastasizing from malign carbuncles that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve is not the last word in “health” “care,” but the first. It ensures that this is all we’ll be talking about, now and forever.

Government can’t just annex “one-sixth of the U.S. economy” (i.e., the equivalent of annexing the entire British or French economy, or annexing the entire Indian economy twice over) and then just say: “Okay, what’s next? On to cap-and-trade . . . ” Nations that governmentalize health care soon find themselves talking about little else.

In Canada, once the wait times for MRIs and hip surgery start creeping up over two years, the government distracts the citizenry with a Royal Commission appointed to study possible “reforms” which reports back a couple of years later usually with recommendations to “strengthen” the government’s “commitment” to every Canadian’s “right” to health care by renaming the Department of Health the Department of Health Services and abolishing the Agency of Health Administration and replacing it with a new Agency of Administrative Health Operations which would report to a reformed Council of Health Policy Administrative Coordination to be supervised by a streamlined Public Health Operations & Administration Assessment Bureau. This package of “reforms” would cost a mere 12.3 gazillion dollars and usually keeps the lid on the pot until the wait times for MRIs start creeping up over three years.

The other alternative is what the British did earlier this year: They created an exciting new “Patient’s Bill of Rights,” promising every Briton the “right” to hospital treatment within 18 weeks. Believe it or not, that distant deadline shimmering woozily in the languid desert haze can be oddly reassuring if you’ve ever visited a Scottish emergency room on a holiday weekend. And, if the four-and-a-half months go by and you still haven’t been treated, you get your (tax) money back? Ah, no. But there is a free helpline you can call which will give you continuously updated estimates on which month your operation has been rescheduled for. I mention these not as a preview of the horrors to come, but because I’ve come to the bleak conclusion that U.S.-style “health” “reform” is going to be far worse.

We were told we had to do it because of the however many millions of uninsured, yet this bill will leave some 25 million Americans uninsured. On the other hand, millions of young fit healthy Americans in their first jobs who currently take the entirely reasonable view that they do not require health insurance at this stage in their lives will be forced to pay for coverage they neither want nor need. On the other other hand, those Americans who’ve done the boring responsible grown-up thing and have health plans Harry Reid determines to be excessively “generous” will be subject to punitive taxes up to 40 percent. On the other other other hand, if you’re the member of a union which enjoys privileged relations with Commissar Reid you’ll be exempt from that 40 percent shakedown. On the other other other other hand, if you’re already enjoying government health care, well, you’re 83 years old and, let’s face it, it’s hardly worth us giving you that surgery for the minimal contribution you make to society, so in the cause of extending government health care to millions of people who don’t currently get it we’re going to ration it for those currently entitled to it.

Looking at the millions of Americans it leaves uninsured, and the millions it leaves with worse treatment and reduced access, and the millions it makes pay significantly more for their current health care, one can only marvel at Harry Reid’s genius: government health care turns out to be all government and no health care. Adding up the zillions of new taxes and bureaucracies and regulations it imposes on the citizenry, one might almost think that was the only point of the exercise.

That’s why I believe America’s belated embrace of government health care is going to be far more expensive and disastrous than the Euro-Canadian models. Whatever one’s philosophical objection to the Canadian health system, it is, broadly, fair: Unless you’re a cabinet minister or a bigtime hockey player, you’ll enjoy the same equality of crappiness and universal lack of access that everybody else does. But, even before it’s up-and-running, Pelosi-Reid-Obamacare is an impenetrable thicket of contradictory boondoggles, shameless payoffs, and arbitrary shakedowns.

That’s why Nebraska’s grotesque zombie senator Ben Nelson is the perfect poster boy for the new arrangements, and not just another so-called Blue Dog Democrat spayed into compliance by a massive cash injection. There is no reason on earth why Nebraska should be the only state in this Union to have every dime of its increased Medicare tab picked up by the 49 others. So either that privilege will be extended to all, or to favored others, or its asymmetry will be balanced by other precisely targeted lollipops hither and yon. Whatever happens, it’s a dagger at the heart of American federalism, just as the bill’s magisterial proclamation that the Independent Medicare Advisory Board can only be abolished by a two-thirds vote of the Senate strikes at one of the most basic principles of a free society — that no parliament can bind its successors.

These details are obnoxious not merely in and of themselves but because they tell us the truth about where we’re headed: Think of the way almost every Big Government project bursts its bodice and winds up bigger and more bloated than its creators allegedly foresaw. In this instance, the stays come pre-loosened, and studded with loopholes. Because the Democrat operators — the Nancy Pelosis and Barney Franks — know that what matters is to get something, anything across the river, and then burn the bridge behind you.

My Republican friends often seem to miss the point in this debate: The so-called “public option” is not Page 3,079, Section (f), Clause VII. The entire bill is a public option — because that’s where it leads, remorselessly. The so-called “death panel” is not Page 2,721, Paragraph 19, Sub-section (d), but again the entire bill — because it inserts the power of the state between you and your doctor, and in effect assumes jurisdiction over your body. As the savvier Dems have always known, once you’ve crossed the Rubicon, you can endlessly re-reform your health reform until the end of time, and all the stuff you didn’t get this go-round will fall into place, and very quickly.

As I’ve been saying for over a year now, “health care” is the fast-track to a permanent left-of-center political culture. The unlovely Democrats on public display in the week before Christmas may seem like just a bunch of jelly-spined opportunists, grubby wardheelers and rapacious kleptocrats, but the smarter ones are showing great strategic clarity. Alas for the rest of us, Euro-style government on a Harry Reid/Chris Dodd/Ben Nelson scale will lead to ruin.


Health Care, Barack Obama, and the U.S. Constitution

In the aftermath of the Senate’s passage of an Obamacare bill, Attorney’s General from multiple states have begun to announce that they are launching investigations into the legality, and constitutionality of the Senate legislation. Chief among their concerns is the possibility that that the bill places Americans outside the state of Nebraska at a significant disadvantage, financially and otherwise, to residents of the state of Nebraska.

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, along with the Attorneys General in the states of Washington, Michigan, Texas, Colorado, Alabama and North Dakota – have joined forces to consider, among other things, if the Obamacare bill in the U.S. Senate violates the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 10th Amendment stipulates that powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states by the constitution of the United States , are reserved to the states or the people.

As such, the 10th Amendment may pose constitutional challenges to the Obamacare bill itself. Does the constitution grant to the federal government the “power” to provide healthcare? More curiously, does the constitution grant to the federal government the “power” to mandate that people buy anything - including health insurance (the Senate version of the healthcare reform legislation stipulates both)?

Additionally, state Attorneys General should also be concerned about Obamacare for another reason: it could be in violation of the “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Concerns over the Fourteenth Amendment appear to be present (this is based on what we know of the legislation, which, because of Pelosi and Reid’s secretiveness, is not a lot) in the portion of the Obamacare bill that grants special (and expensive) privileges to residents of the state of Nebraska. In the Senate’s Obamacare bill, the state of Nebraska is afforded special financial advantages from the federal government - to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars every year – for the funding of Medicaid. The reason this provision appears in a Senate healthcare bill, as many readers of this column are aware, is because the bill could not be passed without the vote of Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska .

Obamacare is strongly opposed by roughly two-thirds of American voters. And according to a survey published less than two weeks ago by the Tarrance Group polling firm, sixty-seven percent of Nebraskans oppose Obamacare, while ninety percent of Nebraskans are happy with the heatlhcare they currently receive and don’t want it to change.

Additionally, the Senate Obamacare bill is vague, at best, as to when and where it funds abortion procedures – and Nebraskans overwhelmingly find the aborting of unborn children to be abhorrent. And for all these reasons, Senator Ben Nelson had every reason to vote against the Obamacare bill.

So, given Senator Nelson’s incentives to oppose the Obamacare bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid crafted a special deal to incentivize Nelson to vote in favor of the bill. The “incentives” included special economic incentives for the state of Nebraska , incentivizes that people in the other 49 states don’t receive.

Using the law to single-out certain individuals, or certain groups of individuals, and impart to them either special privileges or penalties that don’t apply to other Americans, is, well – Un-American. And it may very well prove to be un-constitutional in court.

Residents in the other forty-nine states pay taxes according to the same federal taxation structure as do Americans in Nebraska. Furthermore, in as much as we are U.S. citizens, we are all deserving of the same “protections” under the law to which Nebraskans are subject.

But the Senate Obamacare bill sets aside Nebraskans, and makes a special privileged class of them. If this bill becomes law, Nebraskans will be entitled to subsidies from the federal government that those of us who belong in the category called “non-Nebraskans” are not.

This disregard for the U.S. Constitution and matters of “equal protection” do not begin and end with Senator Ben Nelson. Earlier this winter, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) was asked a simple question by reporter Nicholas Ballasy of CNSNews.Com: “What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate that individuals have to purchase health insurance?”

In response, Senator Landrieu (who, much like Senator Nelson of Nebraska did, essentially “sold” her vote in the Senate despite opposition to Obamacare in her home state of Louisiana) replied “we’re very lucky as members of the Senate to have constitutional lawyers on our staff, so I’ll let them answer that.”

Yes, of course – “the lawyers clean up all details” as American poet (and “classic rock” star) Don Henley once lamented about his country. The fact is, however, that Senator Landrieu couldn’t answer the question if she tried.

But just like the legal profession itself, our current President and Congress have little regard for the U.S. Constitution, and for the rights of the human individual. Just as it is with the practice of law, the process of “law making” revolves around “leverage” – what can one individual or group force another individual or group to do? What does it take to accomplish what we, the politicians, want to accomplish?

Will any more among the 535 elite Americans in Congress dare to raise any constitutional concerns about this? And how about the Attorneys General of the other 43 states? Does the Constitution matter any more?


Pro-Life Democrat Predicts Senate Health Care Bill Will ‘Go Down in Flames’ in House, Unless Changes Made

The Senate health care bill is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives unless major changes are made, including removal of special “carve outs” for Medicaid funding for certain states and inclusion of language barring taxpayer-funded health plans that cover abortions, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) told on Tuesday.

Faced with the possibility that House Democratic leaders and the White House will try to force the U.S. House to accept “as is” the health care bill that the Senate is poised to pass on Christmas Eve, the pro-life Democrat said the Senate bill differs too much from the version passed by the House to be accepted. “If they expect the House to accept the Senate bill, it’s going to go down in flames,” Stupak told in an interview. asked Stupak: “Are you prepared to vote for a bill that looks more like the Senate bill – and Senator Nelson’s language on abortion – than the House bill, with your language?” “No, absolutely not,” said the Democratic congressman, whose district encompasses all of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and roughly one-quarter of the territory in the remainder of Michigan.

“The Senate bill will not receive support in the House,” Stupak said. “If they tell us we have to take that bill without changes, it will not survive the House. Regardless of the abortion language, there are just too many objectionable items in there that at least I see, and in talking with maybe a half-dozen other members, they sort of see the same thing.”

Stupak, like many in Congress, takes strong exception to the fact that, under the Senate plan, certain states would receive special “carve outs” for increased funding for Medicare/Medicaid. “That’s not what it’s all about,” he said. “This is about health care, this is providing health care for all Americans – it’s not to see who can strike the best deal for their state. This is the wrong piece of legislation to try to do carve outs, or get an exception for your state and the rest of the country is supposed to pick up the tab. That’s not what health care is all about. That’s not the policy, that’s not the principle behind the bill.

In exchange for their votes for the Senate bill, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) reportedly obtained $100 million in additional Medicaid benefits for Nebraska and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) obtained $300 million in additional aid for Louisiana. In addition, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) managed to obtain a carve-out for 800,000 Floridians, who will keep their Medicare Advantage plans, while those in other parts of the country are slated to lose their Medicare Advantage plans under the bill’s targeted cuts.

Stupak was incensed at the special deals. “All the rest of us that live in states that did not receive that exception, why would we [be] inclined to give Nebraska or Florida or Louisiana a special break underneath the bill and expect the rest of us to pay for it?”

Beyond the carve-outs, Stupak pointed out that seniors “take some cuts in the Senate bill that are not found in the House bill [that] members are not going to accept” -- and that the bill would tax people who have “decent” health insurance programs. “Aren’t you really going to force more people off health insurance?” Stupak said.

He added: “If you just take a look at my three main constituencies – Right to Life, labor unions, and senior citizens – the Senate bill is contrary to all their interests,” Stupak said. “I’d have no real desire to vote for this bill the way its being outlined in the media," he said. "I know the bill’s not finalized yet, but if that holds true, if they expect the House to accept the Senate bill, it’s going to go down in flames.”

Stupak, who succeeded last month in getting 64 House Democrats to join him in attaching his pro-life amendment to the House version of the health care bill, also firmly rejected language in the Senate bill regarding abortion. The “Stupak amendment,” as his provision is known, would prohibit the federal government from allocating taxpayer money to pay for any part of any health insurance plan that covers abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is in danger.

But the abortion language in the Senate bill secured by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), which attempts to segregate taxpayer money from paying for health plans that provide abortion, does not contain an outright ban on taxpayer money going to fund abortion. Stupak, however, added: “Even if they fixed the abortion language, if it’s the Senate language, I have to vote for – I’m not voting for it.”


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