Monday, February 22, 2010

Australia gives another instance of government dental care at work: Desperate senior citizen takes takes pliers to his teeth

WHEN pensioner Baxter O'Brien was told he would have to wait more than a month to see a public health dentist for an aching tooth, he went looking for some pliers. The 75-year-old, from Babinda, south of Cairns, opted to extract the tooth himself, not prepared to go through Christmas and New Year in pain. "It was very, very painful. I couldn't bite on it or chew on it or anything," he said. "I got my bent nose pliers and pulled the tooth out myself. "There was no anaesthetic or anything. How do you describe pain? It was about a nine, I suppose, out of 10."

Mr O'Brien said he took matters into his own hands after being told the public dentist at Innisfail would be unavailable from December 4 to mid-January. "I don't want to make a hero or a brave man out of myself. This is to show how pathetic this bloody health system is," he said.

Figures released by Queensland Health last week revealed that in the last three months of 2009, more than 111,000 people were waiting to see a public dentist. The median wait for a check-up was 712 days and for a toothache so bad it kept you awake at night, such as Mr O'Brien's, it was 31 days.

Australian Dental Association Queensland president Ian Meyers, who resigned as the state's chief dentist late last year, said QH did not have sufficient dentists to meet the huge demand. "You've got about half the Queensland population that's eligible for care in the public sector, which has only about 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce," he said. "Unfortunately, there has been . . . pay inequity over the years and the remuneration that hospital dentists get is not in the same vicinity of the private sector. "There isn't the career path to keep them going."

Dr Meyers said QH had been investigating new models of care designed to reduce public dental waiting lists. "I think the Government is certainly keen and eager. They're ready for reform," he said. But any changes were likely to be delayed in the lead-up to the next federal election, expected later this year. "Obviously, the State Government is not likely to implement a whole lot of new changes just to have them changed again at a national level."

In a report to the Rudd Government seven months ago, the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission called for a $3.6 billion-a-year Denticare Australia scheme that would offer universal access to dental care. Dr Meyers said Denticare was an "option that should be explored".


Democrats press forward on ObamaCare, reconciliation likely

It looks like the president and Democrats are ready to make a push on ObamaCare, which will likely be forced through Congress using reconciliation:
President Barack Obama is expected to publish his healthcare plan as early as Sunday or Monday, combining features of the two Democratic bills passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, congressional aides and healthcare advocates said on Friday....

The legislation the White House will post on its website is expected to reflect common ground negotiated over the past several weeks by House and Senate Democratic leaders.

Those agreements are likely to be combined as a privileged budget reconciliation bill, which only needs a simple 51-vote majority to pass the 100-member Senate instead of the 60-vote supermajority that has become routine in the Senate and gives Republicans power to block the healthcare bill.

“I believe that’s the path we are going to take,” a senior congressional Democratic aide said.

The government-run health care option is not off the table, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). One thing I’m not clear on is whether this will be a new bill or the House will vote on the Senate’s version and produce a second bill, through reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not a cureall for Democrats’ problems with ObamaCare. As Jeff Davis notes at The New Republic, the process is anything but fast. and the minority can offer an unlimited amount of amendments, each of which must be voted on.

It’s uncertain whether the votes are there in the House to move this through. Remember, there are two vacancies on the Democratic Party’s side of the aisle (Robert Wexler resigned on January 3rd and Jack Murtha died earlier this month) in the House that were present with then they pushed ObamaCare through in November of last year by just three votes. There will be a third vacancy as of February 28th, when Rep. Neil Abercrombie will resign to run for Governor of Hawaii. Also, Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA) has publicly stated that he will not vote for ObamaCare again.


Another reason to doubt Obamacare’s adequacy

By Hugh Hewitt (Note that the attack on Avandia is a complete crock from a scientific point of view but the politics of it are another matter)

Avandia is a prescription medicine that treats diabetes. According to an Associated Press account of a Senate Finance Committee staff report released Saturday, the drug may have caused up to 83,000 heart attacks from 1999 to 2007. Expect the cable ads to begin airing this week that encourage users of Avandia who suspect they may have been harmed to contact the law firm sponsoring the ad. Lots of them. Even more than those seeking sufferers of mesothelioma. (There is no worse way, really, to hire a law firm than via a television ad, but that’s a column for the future.)

Do a little math on the exposure now associated with Avandia. Imagine that the costs and damage associated with the average heart attack run about $10,000 — a very low estimate. What sort of liability is GlaxoSmithKline looking at when it’s summoned to the roulette table known as mass tort litigation?

Given this headline and the scale of these numbers, it might be useful for the Republicans convening at the so-called Health Care Summit this week to put the looming Avandia avalanche of lawsuits at the center of the table and raise two huge issues illuminated by the controversy.

The GOP might first ask the president how the various schemes put forward by him, or the House or Senate, propose to dispose of the enormous costs associated with this drug — or, for that matter, any drug gone wrong.

GlaxoSmithKline will be absorbing heavy costs if the allegations are remotely true — or, even if untrue, believed by a significant number of juries — and those costs will have to be paid from somewhere.

The left will declare that the shareholders of GlaxoSmithKline ought to pay every cent of every judgment, and they will — at the cost of many jobs, new research and development, and breakthrough treatments — and then only to the limit beyond which bankruptcy lies. How can any proposal that doesn’t deal with such train wrecks purport to be “reform”?

A second and even more important set of questions flowing out of the Avandia report has to do with basic governmental competence. The Senate staff report concludes with an ominous warning about Big Pharma’s record of criminal sanctions in recent years and a demand for increased FDA diligence. If the staff report is correct and Avandia — an approved FDA drug — is crippling tens of thousands of patients, why are we considering giving government regulators more power over the health care system when we cannot even expect the lavishly funded FDA to police the drug industry and spot killer medications?

One answer is that the Senate staff report is a great deal of hyperbole put out in the service of an agenda of demonization of pharmaceutical companies that serves the interests of the mass tort bar. But it issues from the Senate Finance Committee, the same committee that did most of the work on Obamacare. So if we really don’t believe the staff report, why would we believe the same staff’s work on Obamacare?

And if we do believe the staff report, why are we asking a government health care bureaucracy that cannot even prevent mass victimization of the citizenry to take on even more responsibility over the people it so poorly serves?

The Avandia report arrives at exactly the right time to raise again the fundamental doubts about Obamacare just as the left is readying one last push to jam this disaster down our throats. If the federal government cannot spot killer drugs, it ought not be tasked with vastly expanded authority over our lives.


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